The San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off it twentieth season on Thursday, May 28, at the Castro Theatre with a screening of “All Quiet On The Western Front,” followed by the opening night party at the Kit Kat Klub, the Silent Film Festival’s 1920’s Berlin cabaret hosted by Swedish chanteuse Clara Gustavsson in the McRoskey Mattress Company building at 1687 Market Street in San Francisco. Music will be provided by the Craig Ventresco Trio. Guests are encouraged to come dressed in period attire and have their photo portraits taken at the Naughty Boudoir Photo Booth. Silent films and events continue through Monday, June 1.
Honorary Oscar recipient and author Kevin Brownlow will introduce “Flesh and The Devil” on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at the Castro Theatre. Brownlow is the author of several books devoted to silent film like “The Parade’s Gone By,” “Hollywood: The Pioneers,” “David Lean,” “Mary Pickford Rediscovered,” and “The Search for Charlie Chaplin.” The restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon was also a project Brownlow devoted his energies to as he is engaged in film restoration and the development of documentaries about Garbo, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, and Merian C. Cooper.
Mordaunt Hall, film reviewer for the New York Times from 1924 to 1934, claimed that “Flesh and the Devil” was “produced with admirable artistry, both in the unfurling of the chronicle and in the character delineation, “Flesh and the Devil”….is a compelling piece of work in whcih there are but a few conventional movie notes…Miss Garbo is undeniable alluring as Felicitas.”
The review of “Flesh and the Devil” from Photoplay comments that “Here is the picture filmed when the romance of Jack Gilbert and Greta Garbo was at its height. Naturally, the love scenes (and there are several thousand feet of them) are smolderingly fervent…Miss Garbo gives a flashing performance of Felicitas, Gilbert is a dashing Leo…”
“The pay-off when it comes to filming love scenes,” according to Variety’s initial review, hopes that “Miss Garbo, properly handled and given the right material, will be as great a money asset as Theda Bara was to Fox in years past. This girl has everything.”
The raves concerning the release of “Flesh and the Devil” obviously warrant a screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival 88 years after it’s first release not necessarily because of the glowing initial reviews, but because of the enduring quality of the emotions on the screen, the allure of Garbo and Gilbert, the cult of Garbo devotees, and the enthusiasm of silent film aficionados.
As for the classic “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” starring Ramon Navarro and Francis X. Bushman, Brownlow commented during his Q & A on the popular classic film website, The Silver Screen Oasis, that “Ben-Hur” is “full of the kind of film-making that astonishes people who think of silents as primitive and crude – see the galley battle and chariot race. It also has the courage to climax not with a spectacular scene but with a movingly directed moment between the mother, sister and a sleeping Ben-Hur.” The screening of “Ben-Hur” will be preceded with an introduction and conversation with Brownlow and Serge Bromberg of Paris’ Lobster Films.
Brownlow also likes to introduce cinephiles not familiar with silent film classics gradually, and believes “it takes time to learn to ‘read’ silent films, so I tend to start people off with a Harold Lloyd – “Kid Brother” is his masterpiece, but “For Heaven’s Sake” is irresistible (as are all his silent features). And they’re all on DVD. When you feel your audience is watching silent films without strain, move on to “The Crowd”, or “Sunrise.”
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 28-June 1, is having its twentieth anniversary, and includes guests Suzanne Lloyd, John Bengston, Leonard Maltin, Bruce Goldstein and the Gower Gulch Players with LA actor Glenn Taranto, and Josef Lindner of the Academy Film Archive.