For years, a movie-fiend friend made annual trips to California for what I thought was an odd arts event: San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He sung its praises and in 2016, I finally joined him. That year, I witnessed silent dramas from Japan, Sweden, Germany, France and the USA. I loved E.A. Dupont's high flying camera angles in Varieté, a circus story starring Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel). I imagined my big city wife as Pola Negri, a sophisticate who finds herself trapped in a small town trying to survive among the rubes in A Woman of the World. There was so much more too, including Nanook of the North, Beggars of Life, Battle of the Century and The Strongest.
Later this month, I return for The Man Who Laughs, a 1928 adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel about a guy whose facial reconstruction surgery didn't turn out quite right.
Among the 22 films screening in 2018 (all with live musical accompaniment) are movies from more than half a dozen nations, including two from Japan. Policeman (1933) is one of only a handful of films to survive Japan's plunge into World War II. The festival describes it as a "stylish crime drama melding the fast pace of Hollywood with the fluid, evocative camerawork of the Germans." Also on tap from Japan: An Inn In Tokyo (1935), directed by the masterful Yasujiro Ozu. In that 80-minute movie, a father "wanders the industrial outskirts of Tokyo looking for work with two young boys in tow."
The festival also includes comedies like Battling Butler (1926), a newly restored Buster Keaton movie with appearances by Snitz Edwards, Sally O'Neil and Walter James.
The 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival is scheduled for May 30 - June 3 at the Castro Theatre.