Silents, Please! — a preview of this weekend's San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Years ago I had a friend who would always ask me the same thing after I’d attended an important theatrical or musical event: “How was the audience?” At first I thought he was being perverse. But eventually I realized that the attentiveness, the excitement, the conduct of the audience betrayed their engagement with what they were watching, and that if the audience had been good, the production probably had been, too.

In this town where there are more film festivals than in any other, my favorite festival also has my favorite audience. That’s the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, whose major event (there’s another, shorter one in December) unspools, as they say, this upcoming weekend, July 13-15, at the Castro. Its fervid, eclectic audience comprises film buffs of many stripes (suited to the eclectic line-up that includes everything from American comedy shorts to unknown rarities drawn from Italian and French archives), nostalgics who attend in period dress, and those such as myself who plop themselves down in a seat and watch anything that the Silent Film Society chooses to show me. The whole room seems to be attending the same party, and they’re all happy to be there.

The special thrill is that every movie is accompanied by live musical accompaniment, whether it be a single pianist, a master of the Castro’s venerable Mighty Wurlitzer, or a several-piece orchestra – often playing scores specially devised for the Festival.

And, just as an extra added, the Castro is in a neighborhood that’s a hotbed for snacking and dining, whether you grab a sandwich at Rossi’s across the street, dash down 18th to the Samovar Tea Room for a fusion bento box, or run up Castro to the Anchor Oyster Bar for half-a-dozen cold ones. I can’t wait. And I’ll be writing here about what I see, hear, and eat.

–Meredith Brody

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