Sifting through the Silent Film Fest's treasures
Technology induces unrealistic leaps of optimism, and so it was that usually reliable New York Times film critic A.O. Scott recently imagined a future in which "you will be able to watch whatever you want whenever you want." Drawing back a hair, Scott admitted that "there are still hundreds more titles awaiting transfer to digital media." The reality is a good deal grimmer, with thousands of titles lost or languishing in various states of disrepair and such estimates do not take into account the colossal numbers of nonfeatures, everything from promo spots to pornography.
This year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents two programs emphasizing some of the bygone era's lost treasures. "More Amazing Tales from the Archives" (Sun/15, 10:30 a.m., free) is an education in itself, with representatives from the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Rochester, N.Y.'s George Eastman House demonstrating preservation techniques and spoils. This year's program features films restored from 28mm (even the formatting is archaic!) and rare ephemera (Clara Bow fragments, San Francisco newsreels, something called Mushroom Growing). Parisian collector Serge Bromberg looks to be packing a lot of heat in his artfully arranged "Retour de Flamme" program (Sun/15, 12:45 p.m., $13) of early French cinema: trick films, travelogues, skin flicks, Josephine Baker, a "strange music-hall performance from 1907, with a dancing pig," and other confectionary surprises along the way.