July 11th, 2008

carole lombard 05
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Silents are Golden (Gate), or sowing Moore "Oat"



San Francisco ranks among most people's favorite American travel destinations; I had the good fortune to spend a few days there in October 1999. And while most California filming takes place down the coast in metro Los Angeles, the Bay Area is nevertheless a prime region for movie buffs, home to a sophisticated film community.

We've previously noted the Stanford Theater, a splendid revival house in nearby Palo Alto (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/29489.html), but San Francisco's Castro Theatre also has a great repertory heritage. This weekend, beginning tonight, it's home to the 13th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

This is the largest silent festival in the U.S.; last year, attendance was nearly 11,000. Films aren't just shown, but analyzed from a cultural and educational perspective. Moreover, the festival doesn't limit itself to big hits from Hollywood -- films shown include documentaries, early animation, foreign titles and more.

The cost isn't cheap -- this year's festival charges tickets at $14 to $20 per film -- but for such rare and wide-ranging product, many find it's a price worth paying.

Carole Lombard isn't featured in any of this year's titles, but you can be sure she saw a few of these films in her youth. For me, the highlight of the program -- and the film I'd probably make my first priority to see if I were in San Francisco this weekend -- comes on Sunday afternoon, with the showing of the 1927 comedy "Her Wild Oat" (and it is indeed singular, not plural). It's a rare chance to watch Colleen Moore, a big star in her time, as many of her comedic vehicles are lost.

For many years, it appeared this, too, was lost -- but in the fall of 2001, a print of it was found at the Czech National Film Archive, and it's since been fully restored. "Her Wild Oat," with re-translated English titles, has been screened on a few college campuses and film societies -- but it's safe to say most people under age 90 have never seen it, or even heard of it. Apparently, that news comes as a shock to Colleen:



Colleen Moore, as stated earlier, was extremely popular; only Clara Bow rivaled her among comedic actresses of the late 1920s. She managed to have some success in talking films, too. But most of the silents she made in the middle and late '20s, when she was the quintessential "flapper," are no longer available.

"Her Wild Oat," in which she portrays a lunch counter owner who meets a rich lad, then uses a disguise (as seen below) to pursue him one weekend, isn't considered a particularly outstanding movie, but it at least gives modern viewers an idea of why Moore had so many fans.



There's another interesting angle to this film. Just as Lombard had a brief, uncredited part in the Mary Pickford comedy "My Best Girl," also issued in 1927 (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/33953.html), "Her Wild Oat" provides an unbilled glimpse of a future star -- one nearly half a decade younger than Carole. We are referring to 14-year-old Loretta Young, seen second from left in this still from the film:



This was Young's seventh appearance before the camera, all in bit or uncredited parts, dating back to 1917. (She can be seen as an Arab girl in Rudolph Valentino's 1921 hit "The Sheik.") Her beauty is already evident, but it wouldn't be until 1928, when she co-starred opposite Lon Chaney in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh," that she would gain recognition among most moviegoers.

For Moore, er, more on this film, go to http://www.altfg.com/blog/actors/colleen-moore-and-her-wild-oat/.

The festival has some other fascinating films, too, including the 1928 Marion Davies hit "The Patsy" (featuring Marie Dressler as her mother), which she made for director King Vidor before they collaborated on the now better-known "Show People":



The schedule:

Friday
"The Kid Brother"
(1927): 7 p.m. Starring Harold Lloyd. With the short "Broncho Billy's Adventure" (1911).

Opening-night party: 9:15 p.m. Harold Lloyd-themed party with food, drinks and music.

Saturday
"Amazing Tales From the Archives":
10 a.m. Free program on film preservation.

"The Soul of Youth" (1920): 11:40 a.m. A portrait of society's unwanted babies, unloved orphans and unlawful urchins. Directed by William Desmond Taylor, later victim of one of Hollywood's most mysterious murders. With the short "The Old Family Toothbrush" (1925).

"Les Deux Timides" (1928): 2:15 p.m. Rene Clair's farce about a shy lawyer courting a woman whose father is arranging a marriage for her to a convicted wife abuser. With the short "Les Fromages Automobiles" (1907).

"Mikael" (1924): 4:15 p.m. A landmark in the history of gay cinema. With the short "L'Historie d'une rose" (1911).

"The Man Who Laughs" (1928): 7:45 p.m. "Batman" creator Bob Kane credited the title character, whose face was disfigured into a gruesome grin, as the inspiration for the Joker (who, of course, will be portrayed by the late Heath Ledger when the new Batman film premieres later this month). With the short "The Voice Invisible: Making a Record" (1919).

"The Unknown" (1927): 10:45 p.m. Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford star in this horror tale. With the short "The Last Call" (1922).

Sunday
"The Adventures of Prince Achmed"
(1926): 10:30 a.m. Earliest surviving feature-length animated film, and the first made by a woman. With the short "The Bottom of the Sea" (1914).

"The Silent Enemy" (1930): 1:10 p.m. Documentary about the Ojibway Indians fighting hunger.

"Her Wild Oat" (1927): 3:50 p.m. Romantic comedy about a lunch-wagon owner who tries to be a lady of wealth for a weekend. With Mary Pickford Technicolor test for "The Black Pirate."

"Jujiro" (1928): 6:10 p.m. A film filled with symbolism and distorted architecture. With the short "Kaleidoscope" (1925).

"The Patsy" (1928): 8:45 p.m. Marion Davies stars in King Vidor's comedy. With the short "Lost: A Yodel" (1920).

For more on the festival, go to http://www.silentfilm.org/
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