Mute Witnesses

The myth still persists in some circles that the silent film era was a bastion of primitivism, a tedious mime show of bathetic sentimentality and clumsy artistry. A single movie chosen at random at the cannily curated San Francisco Silent Film Festival is typically sufficient to erase such misconceptions, even if you don’t know Harry Langdon from Rudolph Valentino. It’s categorically impossible to choose wrong with this year’s nonstop parade of masterworks, featuring immortals Harold Lloyd, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Marion Davies, René Clair, and Conrad Veidt. We’re particularly intrigued by rarities like The Soul of Youth, William Desmond Taylor’s social-issue melodrama about abandoned children (before the Depression, mind you). The late-night temptation of Tod Browning (Freaks) directing Lon Chaney in The Unknown is lent further allure by an introduction by Canadian filmmaker and silents enthusiast Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World). The kids’ matinee on Sunday features the marvelous cutout animation of The Adventures of Prince Ahmed, Lotte Reiniger’s Arabian Nights adaptation. There’s nothing remotely dusty or dull about the Silent Film Festival (which we picked as one of the top four local movie bashes in our Best Of issue), a raucous revival of the good old days.
July 11-13, 2008

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