Wednesday, July 23, 2008

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

I must begin with a word of gratitude to the wonderfully generous Michael ("Maya") Guillen of The Evening Class, who invited me to the festival, offered his fabulous pad for me to stay in, and arranged for my press credentials.

A highlight of my trip was meeting up and spending time with Darren, who flew in from Tennessee. Michael threw us a party and invited the San Francisco film/cinephile community to it (thanks again, Michael!). It was fun to meet and hang out with fellow film-bloggers like Brian Darr of Hell On Frisco Bay, Ryland Walker Knight of Vinyl Is Heavy, The House Next Door, and Free Nikes, Shahn of Six Martinis and the Seventh Art, Michael Hawley of The Evening Class, Miljenko Skoknic, and Adam Hartzell.

I was startled by the high level of quality of the films at the festival (both the terrific prints and the films themselves). My favorites were: Dreyer's Mikael (rich, delicious mise-en-scene, and a knockout, transcendent ending); Kinugasa's Jujiro (expressionist avant-garde Japanese film packed with nonstop formal experimentation); William Desmond Taylor's The Soul of Youth (a moving social problem melodrama that is included in the DVD box set Treasures III, Social Issues in American Film, 1900–1934); Harold Lloyd's The Kid Brother (a good analysis might be written about the imaginative way in which geometric thinking not only drives the film's gags but also becomes fused with its mise-en-scene and camera movement); Tod Browning's The Unknown (while containing no overtly 'fancy' composition or cutting, every frame of this film is imbued with an audacious perversity); Rene Clair's Les Deux Timides (all those wonderful split screens and speculative flashbacks); and H.P. Carver's The Silent Enemy (save Nanook, the only silent ethnographic film I've seen--it makes me want to go exploring about in this genre).

I should make particular mention of the festival program book, which contains a specially commissioned scholarly essay for each film. (In a perfect film-world, every festival would do this.) Brian Darr's piece on Jujiro, for instance, enormously helped my appreciation of this movie.

* * *

Some links:

-- At The House Next Door, Ryland writes in detail about his festival experience and also helpfully collects links to other coverage.

-- I reecently realized that Jonathan Rosenbaum's website has an entire section called "Notes" that I'd been unaware of: lots of good reading there. Also, he has an informative report from the Bologna Ritrovato at Moving Image Source.

-- David Bordwell has a terrific, must-read post that begins with this 1927 H.L. Mencken quote: "The first moving-pictures, as I remember them thirty years ago, presented more or less continuous scenes. They were played like ordinary plays, and so one could follow them lazily and at ease. But the modern movie is no such organic whole; it is simply a maddening chaos of discrete fragments. The average scene, if the two shows I attempted were typical, cannot run for more than six or seven seconds. Many are far shorter, and very few are appreciably longer. The result is confusion horribly confounded. How can one work up any rational interest in a fable that changes its locale and its characters ten times a minute?"

-- Andrew Tracy opens his Reverse Shot piece on Hellboy II thus: "Talking faux-seriously about juvenilia has become a marvelous way to avoid talking seriously about the serious."

-- Exciting news from the Toronto International Film Festival: the avant-garde program will include work by Jean-Marie Straub, Nathaniel Dorsky, James Benning, Jim Jennings, Jennifer Reeves, and Pat O'Neill, among others.

-- Craig Keller: "If we have to classify the films of Louis Feuillade — and we don't, because there are no rules in cinema or criticism (love or war) — ...we'd do well to stop deferring to the contemporary marketing that announced them as adventure serials, and start referring to these (un-/)determinedly recursive five-plus-hour sagas by what they really are, which are extended psychodramas — dangerous, occult, quasi-cathartic manipulations of the spectating psyche."

-- A commenter at Dan's place indicates that a Murnau/Borzage DVD box is imminent from Fox. (Wow.)

pic: The Danish director Benjamin Christensen (of Haxan and The Mysterious X) plays a painter in Dreyer's Mikael.


Anonymous Andy H. said...

Mr. Rosenbaum refers to that "Notes" section as an "ongoing blog" in the most recent post in his "Featured Text" section and suggests that it gets less traffic than the rest of his site because people haven't yet become aware of it. I think he's wrong: this section of his site probably gets less readers because it's impossible to subscribe to it via an RSS reader, which is how many people (myself included) read blogs.

If he were to combine the two sections, "Notes" and "Featured Text," into one proper blog (which would also involve breaking his "Notes" entries down into discreet entities) I suspect both sections would attract more readers.

I say this because there's no place on his site where I can make this comment and I think it's possible he might see it here.

July 23, 2008 3:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy, I wrote to Jonathan over the weekend telling him the same thing--and suggesting that he might arrange it so that his Notes page publishes a separate RSS feed. Like you, I also do nearly all my blog reading via my RSS readers.

July 23, 2008 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Andy H. said...

For a long time I was wary of RSS readers, for a lot of the same reasons the economist Tyler Cowen doesn't like them. Now that I've figured out how to "manage" them, though, they're my primary means of accessing the blogosphere. I wish I would have come around sooner, before our exchange of letters a few months ago (many months ago?), Girish--that could have been an interesting discussion.

July 23, 2008 4:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy, I'm hooked on RSS readers too. I primarily use Newsfire for the Mac (I love the interface; and always thank Rob Davis for turning me on to it a couple of years ago), and also Bloglines for times when I don't have my Apple with me. I just checked out Google Reader and it seems good too.

(Idly musing: I wonder if people have favorites among RSS readers? And what they like/dislike about them?)

July 23, 2008 6:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I should also mention that Michael is hosting a Kiyoshi Kuorsawa Blog-a-Thon at The Evening Class that kicks off this Friday (the 25th) and lasts for a week. To prime myself for all the reading, I'm planning to soon watch a few Kurosawas I've never seen: Bright Future, Doppelganger, Retribution.

July 23, 2008 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent Jones give a fair amount of praise to Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata in the recent issue of CinemaScope.

July 24, 2008 1:49 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

Andrew (if you're around), your Hellboy II review made my day.

July 24, 2008 9:18 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish, I'm glad you and Darren had a fun time while in San Francisco. I enjoyed sharing the festival with you. Thanks for the shout-out about the blogathon as well. I decided to go ahead with it largely from things I'd read that more or less divided Kurosawa's career from the recently acclaimed Tokyo Sonata from his past work, not only as a new direction he's going off on but a new direction he wanted to go off on. So the blogathon is primarily for work up until Tokyo Sonata, which hopefully I'll catch at TIFF.

July 24, 2008 11:57 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

...whereas, with all due respect to Darren, Andrew's post makes me glad he's copyrighted the term "prissy fusspots who’ve forgotten how to have Fun." At least he's included that mirror in his funhouse diatribe.

July 24, 2008 1:37 PM  
Blogger andrew tracy said...

Thanks Darren! I really enjoyed your post on The Unknown - a wonderful movie. I'll never forget Chaney's wild laugh when Nanon and Malabar happily inform him that they've fallen in love. And I also like your analysis of Maddin's inevitable, inadvertent(?) camping up of that which he professes to take seriously...

Maya: actually, I wasn't copyrighting the phrase, merely acknowledging Universal Studios' exclusive rights to "Fun" for the week of July 11-17. (Currently held by Warner Bros., obviously.)

Girish: glad you got home safe and sound after the "revels" last week! Hope your day at the Film Ref was productive.

July 24, 2008 4:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I really enjoyed your Unknown post as well.

Andrew, the revels were much fun and I'd love to do it again. Perhaps the last night of TIFF (like we did last year), if we find our schedules open.

July 24, 2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

On RSS - it took me a while to get around to using readers, but I finally was overcome with guilt for not reading all the blogs I wanted to read, so I set up google reader. It certainly makes it possible to keep up with things a bit better, though it creates new problems - now, I don't go back to posts as much as I want to - a nuisance when there are lots of comments. You can usually subscribe to comments as well, but I haven't really found a way to make that work right: individual comments, without context, aren't much help.

I have newsfire, but haven't really tried it yet - it does look easier to organize feeds into groups, which would be a big plus. (I don't like Google at all for that, though I could be doing something wrong.) On the other hand, exporting existing google feeds to newsfire didn't work, and resubscribing to everything is a daunting task... I can see the appeal though...

July 24, 2008 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Andy H. said...

But I finally was overcome with guilt for not reading all the blogs I wanted to read.

I use Google Reader and one of the things I like about it is the "Mark All As Read" feature. You can make all those blog posts you're not keeping up with disappear in one fell swoop. Out of sight, out of mind. . . .

July 24, 2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy, I use the "mark all read" feature quite a bit too, esp. since I'm subscribed to so many blogs (about 120+ film-related).

Sam, I'm subscribed to a few comments feeds (not very many) and it seems to work best for blogs that don't post over-frequently (e.g. blogs that don't post daily), so it's easy for me to keep track of which comments go with which post. (Dan Sallitt's blog is the one I'm thinking of here--he'll often get comments to older, non-current posts that are also useful to read.)

I like Newsfire mainly because the interface is very elegant and minimal and honestly, a real pleasure to deal with. The Bloglines interface, on the other hand, gets the job done but I find it just sort of ugly and indifferent in the way it looks and feels. Since I use the reader software every day, aesthetics and visual appeal do matter to me, I find.

I'm surprised that Google Reader doesn't have a good export feeds function--maybe they're making it harder for people to switch away from Google but that seems sneaky.

July 24, 2008 9:53 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

I've been so satisfied with Bloglines that I've never really flirted with any other RSS reader. Because I browse on three or four different computers daily, I need something totally web-based. Plus, I really like the Bloglines iPhone app.

July 24, 2008 10:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, every time I hang out with you for a few days, I come home and I'm this close to splurging on one of those iPhones.

July 24, 2008 10:55 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Me too!! Darren should get some kind of commission from iPhone.

July 25, 2008 12:03 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Hey, Girish, thanks for the linkage. It sure was a pleasure to not only meet you in person but hang out with you and Darren. Sounds like you've been having a fun summer filled with great social gatherings. A great reminder to those inclined to stay indoors, at home, as I'm often drawn.

I dig your idea for an essay about _Kid Brother_. It's rather similar to a lot of discussions I had the week following the Fest in class discussions of _The Darjeeling Limited_. Another funny/cool link.

In any event: I hope our paths cross again and we can drink a few beers to go with a few films. It's a ways away but maybe I will start saving for TIFF 09...

July 25, 2008 10:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Ryland--Yes, I enjoyed our wide-ranging conversations too. If you think of it, you should let me know how that US independent cinema course turned out. The social time of the last few weeks is now coming to an end and I'm headed indoors for the next 4 weeks to get all my class preps together for the fall.

July 26, 2008 10:42 AM  
Blogger whitney said...

I really loved Mikael, too. I wrote about it over at my blog, but it was a silly write up. In actuality Dryer has affected me more than any other film maker.

July 26, 2008 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Andy H. said...

It looks like Jonathan Rosenbaum is following your advice, Girish.

August 05, 2008 6:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Andy. After you posted, Jonathan wrote to say so as well. Great: we can now follow his "Notes" section regularly.

August 06, 2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

Boy, that Andrew Tracy piece on Hellboy II irritated the heck out of me. He's certainly entitled to not like the movie, but the premise of his whole approach -- stated in detail -- is that it's dishonest to apply critical thinking to what he terms "juvenilia."

He goes on to expand his complaint to include the non-serious pursuit of examining the "most readily, tyrannically available" films over those that are "strange, obscure, or entertaining in different and novel ways."

But I suspect he doesn't really mean easily-available over obscure. If I chose to write a treatise on The Werewolf of Washington (1973), I don't think he'd be much happier.

I think what he doesn't like is movies that aren't about serious subjects, certainly not movies about superheroes. Yes, he's complaining about Hollywood summer blockbusters, but I think it goes farther than that.

August 21, 2008 6:38 AM  
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April 20, 2009 9:46 AM  
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- I wrote to Jonathan over the weekend. Too
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