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July 17, 2006

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - July 14, 2006


Almost a full house at the Castro Theater for the 11th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festiva. The opening night film was Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven. I may have seen William K. Everson's 16mm print about thirty-five years ago along with Street Angel and Sunrise. What played at the Castro was a new 35mm print with live music by Clark Wilson on the "mighty" Wurlitzer. Prior to the film presentations, a slide show informed us that Seventh Heaven star Janet Gaynor was an usherette at the Castro in 1922. Before the film's screening, Gaynor's son, Robin Adrian spoke briefly, primarily discussing how Gaynor's adventurous off-screen life traveling through Africa and South America contrasted with her screen image as the helpless waif,

The film festival is also including short film shot in San Francisco, Tonight's film, by San Francisco entrepreneurs the Miles Brothers, was a point of view shot of Market Street taken from the front of a street car. Significantly, this film was shot just four days before the earthquake and fire of 1906. About the only difference between traffic in 1906 and 2006 is that I haven't seen any horse-drawn carriages. Otherwise the cars were weaving in and out of each others' way, challenging other motorists and all pedestrians.

The basic premise of Seventh Heaven, with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell chastely living together was probably considered quaint even in 1927. Borzage's Parisian slum and its people are fanciful, While it is shorthand to note that Borzage was a romantic filmmaker, the film does have moments of documentary-like realism during the scenes of World War One. That Farrell is blinded while David Butler returns from the front missing an arm is indicative of a clear-eyed view of war and its physical and spiritual destruction. Thematically consistent over the years, Borzage's romance and idealism were because of rather than in spite of the realities of the world.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 17, 2006 10:44 AM


Peter, it's been great to see you in town for this festival. I only wish we could have talked longer!

I really appreciate your perspective on Seventh Heaven and I plan to hold your concluding sentence with me as I attend the Borzage retrospective in August.

Posted by: Brian at July 17, 2006 06:50 PM

Peter, glad we got a chance to meet while you were in SF and am enjoying reading your takes on the festival.

Posted by: Maya at July 19, 2006 03:38 AM