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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 29, 2007
5:30 p.m. Kevin Brownlow: Introduction to Silents

Lecture by Mel Novikoff Award Winner Kevin Brownlow
Judith Rosenberg on Piano


When I first became interested in the silent film era, I was told that silent films were jerky, flickery, ludicrously acted curiosities. I was dismayed that even some of the old stars and directors believed the propaganda. However, practitioners and viewers alike invariably were astonished by the high quality of these films when they took the time to consider them anew. I began a campaign to prevent the technicians of the past from being forgotten, and to revitalize interest in, and appreciation for, their great works among contemporary filmgoers. The entire silent era lasted a little more than thirty years, during which time writers and directors made extraordinarily rapid advances in narrative techniques. The films I will show and discuss in this program are not necessarily classics, but all are top-quality 35mm extracts that have come my way over the years. From one-minute, one-shot films of the late 1890s to the spectaculars of the late twenties that exploited the entire language of cinema, and with detours to the fantasies of Maurice Tourneur, the genius of Keaton, the pictorialism of Rex Ingram, and the stunning brilliance of criminally overlooked gems from the era, these silent films continue to inform and astonish. Has cinema advanced as much in the past thirty years?

—Kevin Brownlow

• Program includes excerpts from: Biograph actuality of Ealing Broadway (director, year unknown). Broncho Billy's Adventure (Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, 1911). Suspense (Lois Weber, Phillips Smalley, 1913). The Blue Bird (Maurice Tourneur, 1918). Home Made (Charles Hines, 1927). One Week (Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, 1920). Scaramouche (Rex Ingram, 1924). The Chess Player (Raymond Bernard, 1930). The Mysterious Lady (Fred Niblo, 1928). The Fire Brigade (William Nigh, 1926)

(Total program time: c. 120 mins)