San Francisco Silent Film Festival: Part 1

Days like these remind me how much I’m going to miss San Francisco. Scott and I volunteered at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and saw two pretty fantastic movies with really incredible live accompaniment. Basically we had to be festival bouncers for about 20 minutes and then we got to sit in the balcony (what we were informed were traditionally the most expensive tickets in the silent era: more leg room and best acoustics) and watch the movies for free. 

Here are some perks about volunteering at the silent film festival:

*Meeting interesting people. This man named Kyle told us all about the aforementioned balcony seats. Scott’s favorite film history professor (Ms. Scott, eerily enough) talked with us about our theses. And my San Francisco mega-crush Jesse (he hosts the Midnites for Maniacs events at the Castro) was really nice and funny and cute and interesting as usual. And now I can actually say that from personal experience…

*The Castro Theatre. This place is incredible. Check out this ceiling:

*Free Free Free! Usually the Castro is a little too expensive for me. I always go to the Midnites for Maniacs because I get to see three films for the price of one (and this upcoming weekend: FIVE!) but last weekend I skipped Lawrence of Arabia because I just don’t have that kind of money. Volunteering allows me to see awesome movies without the guilt.

*Power!!! Being a bouncer means you get to make a lot of people really mad. I love that.


Les Deux Timides (Rene Clair, 1928 )
The first film of the day is somewhat famous for its innovative use of split screens. The editing was superb. The split screens sort of flow seamlessly into the narrative and the characters look like they are interacting with each other unknowingly through space. 

An abusive husband spins a yarn about how he really treats his wife.

I think the most refreshing thing about this film compared to other silents I’ve seen is the fact that it’s French and escapes the silly conventions of the American Production Code. Oh my God! A married couple shown in bed with the implication of upcoming sex? Scandalous! 

So many good, subtle jokes. The story follows a lawyer who defends a domestic abuser poorly and sends him to jail for the maximum sentence (a whole three months). Two years later the lawyer and the abuser fall in love with the same woman. Wackiness ensues. The timid lawyer finally “gets some cojones” (as sexist people and some awesome people say) and stands up to the abuser, ending in a pretty hilarious slap fight.


Mikael (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1924)

I love Dreyer. And I feel like I can say that having only seen two of his films because I feel like the two films of his I’ve seen (The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet) have been two of the most influencial in all of my experience with film. Dreyer seems to be able to combine drama and spirituality in ways that completely boggle me. Paul Schrader has this to say about my man Dreyer: “Throughout Dreyer’s films and his writings about film there runs a consistent thread of ambiguity: whether art should express the Transcendent or the person (fictional character or film-maker) who experiences the Transcendent; whether the Transcendent is an outer reality or an inner reality” (Transcendental Style in Film, 112). 

Mikael is Dreyer’s take on the style called Kammerspielfilm (chamber play films). This style of filmmaking is intended to be more intimate, simple and symoblic. Again, Schrader: “Complex psychological states were revealed through meticulous staging, an insinuating manner, weight, deeply-felt gestures, and a ponderous slowness” (114-115.)


This certainly describes Mikael, a love triangle themed drama with homosexual undertones. The fact that everything remains symbolic and yet just under the surface was impressive to me. For example, the main character, a painter who has become attached to the young man who poses for him, continually refers to Mikael as a son, but the real relationship between the painter and Mikael is fairly obvious. Again, a gay drama from 1924? I love countries that aren’t the U.S.!

The film looks beautiful, takes its time, and in the end is a successful, moving tragedy. But not quite the same kind of tragedy of this little gem:


Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is a soft focus on John Travolta. And a dog with a feather in its mouth.

Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is a soft focus on John Travolta. And a dog with a feather in its mouth.


Filed under Whitney

9 responses to “San Francisco Silent Film Festival: Part 1

  1. Sounds like quite an awesome fest if you ask me.

  2. Dreyer was a fabulous director … I am waiting with nigh onto maniacal intensity for Criterion’s Vampyr to appear. I am showing The Passion of Joan of Arc to a bunch of Presbyterians on Tuesday …

  3. brian

    i’ll have to see that dreyer one. the passion of joan of arc and ordet have also been, to quote you, two of the most influential in all of my experience with film.

    but dont sleep on all the american films from then. i saw this one lon chaney (sr) movie where he was a clown and was in love with his adopted daughter (once she hit her twenties). that movie had quite a homosexual subtext.

  4. brian

    but that lon chaney movie wasn’t great. i actually think i blogged about it a long time ago:

  5. I must see this Michael movie (not the John Travolta one)

    how come y’all don’t have contact information on your page? Why ya hiding?

  6. Fuck yes! I had been planning on volunteering for as much of this as possible, but then I hadda back out because I was supposed to go to NY (which then fell through).


    I got my volunteer fix at Another Hole in the Head though, which was rad. Also, I concur with your crush on Jesse “The” Hawthorne “Maniac” Ficks. That dude is completely a badass.

  7. brian

    here’s how to contact us:

  8. Keith, you should come to Sundance next year and volunteer there, too. Scott and I will be there so you would have a place to stay.

    I’m only saying this because we share a love for the adorable, badass Jesse.

  9. hi,really fantastic jeans,do you know where i can find that.thanks,bill

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