The Second Annual Silent Film Festival (7/13/97)

Special Report By Andrea Chase

The Silent Film Festival was founded by two plucky kids with a dream and excellent organizational skills. Melissa Chittick and Stephen Salmons channeled their mad passion for silent cinema into an outlet that would allow others to become hooked, too. They were convinced that modern audiences would go gaga if they were given the chance to see the outsized glamour, romance, and slapstick presented with excellent prints, projected at the proper speed and shown in the ambience of a vintage movie palace. They were right. Each of this year's four shows at the 1,500 seat Castro Theater (built 1922) was packed. Here's why.

Mary Pickford was America's sweetheart and a movie mogul, to boot. In "The Poor Little Rich Girl," she originated her specialty of playing children. It worked because she wasn't trying to fool anyone wearing all that lipstick and mascara. The magic was in the child-like, never childish, exuberance, especially for mischief, that she projected onscreen. I'd stack her up against Shirely Temple's saccharine any day.

Norma Shearer, a star in the talkies, was just as big in the silents. In "Upstage," directed by the unjustly forgotten Monta Bell, Norma's a small-town girl trying to make it in the big city. It doesn't take long before the would-be stenographer is a Broadway sensation. Norma changes from confident career gal to swell-headed cover girl to has-been tomahawk target without once losing her legendary poise.

Harold Lloyd's rarely seen "Dr. Jack" has the silent comic playing a country doctor who realizes that sometimes medicine ought to be the remedy of last resort. It has sharp insights into human nature that spur its intricate sight gags.

And finally, John Gilbert, who was dashing, gorgeous, and darn near married to Greta Garbo. He stars in "The Merry Widow," an opulent and delicately debauched melodrama, as a prince caught between love and duty when he falls for a showgirl. With his huge dark eyes and open, good-natured smile that doesn't quite mask a healthy libido, he's a dream of romance and naughty fun.

In addition to the feature films, theater historian Steven Levin, who help secure landmark status for the festival's venue, the Castro Theater, gave a talk on the theater's history. And Keith Lawrence, of the Mary Pickford Foundation, introduced Miss Pickford's personal print of "The Poor Little Rich Girl," with a link to the past by sharing what it was like to meet her when he was a child.

If you'd like to know more about next year's festival, or get involved in helping to get out the good word about films that don't need to talk, write to:

The Silent Film Festival,
659 Fillmore Street #12,
San Francisco, CA 94117.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 7/16/97

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