The Castro Theatre goes silent

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday April 30, 2019
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Still from director William Wellman's "You Never Know Women" (1926). Photo: SFSFF
Still from director William Wellman's "You Never Know Women" (1926). Photo: SFSFF

The Castro Theatre kicks off May with a signature event, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, reminding Castro regulars of the movie palace's origins. Opening in 1922, the Castro replaced the first Castro Theatre, now home to Cliff's Hardware. It's a 1,450-seat neighborhood marvel, and swings into repertory with a state-of-the-art sound system.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival: This collection of silent era (roughly 1900-33) movie-making is tribute to a time when every neighborhood had its own Nickelodeon. The Silent Fest also recalls a time when film was shown on nitrate stock (very flammable), which is why many silent films have been lost forever. (5/1-5)

"Amazing Tales from the Archives" A free program demonstrates the methods by which our precious silent-film heritage is preserved for future generations.

"Wolf Song" (1929) This end-of-the-silent-era classic finds a youthful Gary Cooper in a nude bathing scene directed by Victor Fleming. Coop's stab at stardom featured a fine supporting cast: Lupe Velez, Louis Wolheim, Constantine Romanoff. Music by Philip Carli.

"The Oyster Princess" (1919, Germany) Billy Wilder's favorite silent-era director, Ernst Lubitsch, delivers a satire on romance among the capitalists. Music by Wayne Barker. With Ossi Oswalda, Victor Janson.

"Earth" (1930, USSR) Director Alexander Dovzhenko captures a harrowing moment in Soviet history when peasants confronted "factory farming" and ruthless Stalinism. Set in Ukraine, music by the Matti Bye Ensemble.

"The Signal Tower" (1924) Clarence Brown directs this Mendocino-set thriller. A rural family confronts a runaway train and Wallace Beery. Music by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius.

"Opium" (1919, Germany) Director Robert Reinert offers a hallucinatory tale of drug addiction and revenge. With a youthful Conrad Veidt (Humphrey Bogart's Nazi antagonist in "Casablanca")and color tinting. Music by Guenter Buchwald. (all six, 5/2)

"You Never Know Women" (1926) Hollywood stalwart William Wellman ("Wings") helms a tale set in a Russian circus troupe. Music by Philip Carli.

"Tonka of the Gallows" (1930, Czechoslovakia) Karel Anton directs the story of a country lass (Ita Rini) whose stint as a prostitute brings her a night with a man awaiting execution. Music by Stephen Horne.

"Husbands and Lovers" (1924) In John M. Stahl's Jazz Age comedy, Lewis Stone is an unfaithful hubby to a loving wife (Florence Vidor), and Lew Cody is the loveable cad. Music by Philip Carli.

"Rapsodia Satanica" (1917, Italy) A Faustian bargain lies at the heart of this end of WWI-era short, with Lydia Borelli as an aging countess. Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

"The Love of Jeanne Ney" (1927, Germany) Director G.W. Pabst's love story is set in the brutal post-Bolshevik era of White vs. Red. Music by the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble.

"West of Zanzibar" (1928) "Freaks" creator Tod Browning presents a revenge drama with silent greats Lon Chaney, Lionel Barrymore, Mary Nolan & Warner Baxter. Music by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius. (all 6, 5/3)

"Lights of Old Broadway"(1925) Marion Davies is a pair of twins: Anne becomes a society matron, while Fely is a slum kid who heads for the stage. Music by Philip Carli.

"Hell Bent"(1918) John Ford's vintage Western used a Remington illustration for inspiration. Ford's rep company includes Harry Carey, Duke Lee, Neva Gerber & Vester Pegg. Plus the short "Brownie's Little Venus" (1921), with Baby Peggy. Music by Philip Carli.

Still from directors Andre Roosevelt & Armand Denis Goona Goona (1920, France). Photo: SFSFF  

"Goona Goona" (1920, France) Directors Andre Roosevelt & Armand Denis filmed this dramatic romance in Bali. Music by Club Foot Gamelan.

"L'Homme Du Large" (1920, France) A Balzac short story is the basis for this Brittany-set drama about the plight of a Breton fishing clan. Music by Guenter Buchwald & Frank Bockius, intertitle narration by Paul McGann.

"The Wedding March" (1928) Erich von Stroheim's modest tale of an impoverished prince (von Stroheim) torn between his passion for an innkeeper's daughter (Fay Wray) and his parents' insistence that he marry rich girl ZaSu Pitts. Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

"L'Inferno" (1911, Italy) This version of Dante is considered Italy's first full-length motion picture. Co-directors Francesco Bertolini & Adolfo Padovan create a series of inventive sequences. Music by the Matti Bye Ensemble. (all six, 5/4)

"Japanese Girls at the Harbor" (1933, Japan) Director Hiroshi Shimizu's decadent crime thriller is set in the port city of Yokohama. Music by Guenter Buchwald & Sascha Jacobsen.

"The Home Maker" (1925) Director King Baggot's portrait of married couple (Alice Joyce & Clive Brook) who are out of sync with their roles. Music by Stephen Horne.

"Shiraz: A Romance of India" (1928, India) Director Franz Osten's story concerns the origins of the Taj Mahal. Music by Utsav Lai.

"Sir Arne's Treasure" (1919, Sweden) Swedish director Mauritz Stiller's chilly drama is based on Nobel Prize-winning Selma Lagerlof's novel dealing with revenge and murder.

"Our Hospitality" (1923) Buster Keaton (with John G. Blystone) directs and stars in this slapdash comedy about rival Southern clans. Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. (all five, 5/5)