Tuesday, March 21, 2006

2006 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview

"True art transcends time." That's the slogan of the popular San Francisco Silent Film Festival, held annually in July at the Castro Theatre. Though these films predate pre-code, it is always a treat to see them the way they were meant to be seen - in a grand movie house with live music. It is amazing to me that many of these films evoke more true emotion and feeling without saying a word than many of today's cookie-cutter movies. Last year's "The Sideshow" was just such a film, a B-picture in its day, but still powerful, funny, and poignant.

Four of the films on this year's program have been announced:

Frank Borzage's Oscar winner "Seventh Heaven," with Best Actress Janet Gaynor.

Tod Browning directs Lon Chaney in "The Unholy Three," another sideshow tale!

A brand new 35mm print of "Sparrows," with silent film queen Mary Pickford.

"Show People," a satire of Hollywood starring Marion Davies and gay film star William Haines and lots of cameos from other big names of the era.

Five more features will be announced later this spring. The 11th annual festival runs the weekend of July 14th-16th.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Great Lover

Silent film star John Gilbert was bigger than Valentino at the height of his fame in the '20s. He made four films opposite Greta Garbo, including their first hit "Flesh and the Devil." But the dawn of sound seemed to spell the end of his career. Though legend has it that audiences laughed when they heard his milquetoast voice in the talkies, most agree that arguments with MGM studio head L.B. Mayer helped seal his fate. Though he made a comeback of sorts in 1932's "Downstairs," based on a short story Gilbert wrote, the studio sent him lousy scripts as he was out of favor with Mayer. Sadly, he hit the bottle and died of a massive heart attack in 1936.

Judge for yourself whether Gilbert's voice is cause for amusement in two pre-code films featured on TCM early tomorrow morning (all times Pacific) :

Monday, March 20
4:45 AM
The Phantom of Paris (1931)

A magician is charged with killing his fiancee's father.

6:00 AM
Fast Workers (1933)

Tod Browning ("Freaks") directs Gilbert in his last film under contract with MGM. Also stars Mae Clarke and Robert Armstrong ("King Kong").

Monday, March 13, 2006

She Took the Yellow Ones...

We interrupt this blog to bring you news of a long-awaited DVD releases of two classic films (though they are not classic in a pre-code sense). Yes, the camp classics "Valley of the Dolls" and "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" are finally coming to DVD. Amazon has both films up for pre-order, with a release date of June 13th. It appears they both will be special editions - so we can hope each will be packed with extras (Judy Garland's work on VotD before she was canned from the production, anyone?). Perhaps Patty Duke has been persuaded to participate. She used to disown the film, but in recent years has had a sense of humor about it. I will never forget seeing the wonderful Barbara Parkins in person at the Castro about 7 years ago in a Q&A session before a screening. She said Susan Hayward was "hyper," but had nothing but good things to say about the late Sharon Tate.

As Helen Lawson might say, "Get outta my way - I got a DVD waitin' for me!"