The San Francisco Bay Area is becoming a Mecca for silent film.
In its near 20 year history, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has grown to become the leading and largest such event in the Western Hemisphere. Last year, it sponsored an epic, even historic screening of Napoleon that made news around the United States. And in June, it is putting on a three day event at which all nine of Alfred Hitchcock's silent films will be shown.
Over in the east bay, the Niles Essanany Silent Film Museum has been showing silent movies every weekend for nearly 10 years. They also put on an annual Charlie Chaplin Days event and Broncho Billy Film Festival.
Silent films are also occasionally shown in the north bay, at the Rafael Film Center, in the south bay at the Stanford Theater, and in Berkeley at the Pacific Film Archive. And don't forget the Berkeley Underground Film Society, an all ages club for collectors, researchers, and film enthusiasts whose weekly programs of rarely projected, or otherwise obscure 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm prints includes a fair number of early and silent cinema.
Another east bay contribution is The Second International Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema, which this year will be held from February 21-23 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Following the successful first Berkeley Conference on Silent Cinema in 2011 (which had the theme "Cinema Across Media: The 1920s"), this year's conference similarly explores an aspect of film and film culture in the silent era.
Each of the conferences is designed to advance research and promote public interest in silent cinema by combining a three-day academic conference (free and open to the public) with an evening series of screenings at the Pacific Film Archive related to the topic under discussion.
This year the conference focuses on the theme "On Location." Four plenary speakers, thirty invited presenters, and six introduced screenings will explore the ways in which films in the silent era created new possibilities for experiencing place in a cinematic way.
This year's plenary speakers are Jennifer Bean (University of Washington),
Donald Crafton (Notre Dame), Aaron Gerow (Yale), and Scott Simmon (University of California, Davis). Among the other speaks are Janet Bergstrom (UCLA), Mary Ann Doane (University of California-Berkeley), Anton Kaes (University of California-Berkeley), and Shelley Stamp (University of California, Santa Cruz). Each is the author of a notable book in the field of film studies.
Two more films remain on the schedule. They are The Bargain (1914) on Thursday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m. This special event marks the West Coast premiere of the Library of Congress’s 35mm restoration of a deeply unconventional border-town Western, starring William S. Hart in his first feature and the Grand Canyon, where it was made, in all its majesty. Also on the bill is the short Sierra Jim’s Reformation (1914), starring Raoul Walsh. The program will be introduced by Scott Simmon, with Frederick Hodges on piano.
Also seen will be The Ghost That Does Not Return (made 1929, released 1930) on Friday, February 22 at 7:00 p.m. It is a Soviet made story of a revolutionary in which the grand and forbidding vistas of Azerbaijan stand in for an unnamed, oil-rich South American country. Also on the bill is another Soviet picture, Abram Room (1930). The program will be introduced by Anne Nesbet, and will feature Bruce Loeb on piano.
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer and early film buff, as well as the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks' films around the world. He also edited the "Louise Brooks edition" of The Diary of a Lost Girl.