Friday, May 29, 2015

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2015, Day #01: All Quiet on the Western Front

Yesterday was the end of doing typical tourist stuff, and I kind of ran down by mid-afternoon, but not not quite enough that I was at the Castro early enough to get much more than one quick picture before picking up my pass and sitting down:

It's a nice looking place; I'll share some better looks at it with later entries, when I've got a little more time to take them. I really like this theater so far.

It being opening night, there were some guests before the films making a few words and announcements. One was from NBC Universal; they sponsored the opening night program and announced that they were expanding the restoration efforts announced for their 100th anniversary a few years ago, with fifteen more silent films being restored within the next three or four years. After that, the film itself was introduced by a man from the Library of Congress.

One thing that was kind of cool during all this was that there was an ASL interpreter on the stage during the intros, and a whole section of seating for the deaf/hearing-impaired where he could easily be seen. Kind of a nifty "hey, why don't we do that" thing to consider for the Boston area's silent screenings.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, silent version)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 May 2015 in the Castro Theatre (San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 35mm)

Film length can be a killer. At two and a quarter hours, the 1930 sound version of All Quiet on the Western Front is long, especially for its period, but not uncomfortably so. That's a really long silent, though, enough that the intermission is much appreciated, though it still manages to wear.

Even taking that into consideration, this is still an excellent movie, one that says just about everything about war, from the march to it to PTSD afterward, and which has seldom been matched in that area in the eight-five years since its release. Lacking sound does nothing to diminish its power.

What it does highlight is just how much it did, in some ways, always resemble a silent as much as the early talkies, with fantastic cinemtography and editing (the film is re-cut by Milton Carruth for the silent version, but I don't believe he changed it too much), just as intent on telling the story visually as through dialogue and sound. I suspect this gets mired in conversations that go on a bit long less, but it also never feels like the film is trying to avoid dialogue, either.

It helps immensely that there was great accompaniment by the Mount Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, one of the best groups I've ever heard doing this peculiar but exciting sort of work. If Universal includes this version on a future Blu-ray release of the film, I hope they keep this soundtrack. One of the things I liked was how, during combat, the orchestra actually pulled back and let the sound effects guys do their thing. I'm kind of glad I didn't see how they were actually doing the work until afterward; the bass drum rumbling like thunder was obvious, but the microphone which must have been stuck right inside an old mechanical typewriter to give the impression of rifle shots was even better (though it might not have been if I knew what it was beforehand).

Full review on EFC (sound version).

A pretty good first night, and now it's off to the first full day's worth of films!

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