Monday, July 14, 2008

Marion, Harold and the 13th San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The 13th Annual San Francisco Film Festival, another amazing weekend of classic movies in archival 35mm prints, accompanied by world-class musicians, closed with a hilarious Marion Davies comedy last night.

I'm still collecting my thoughts, such as they are, after this splendid moviegoing experience - and vowing to, next time, remember to save up for a Festival Pass! Again, I extend big time bravos, kudos, etc. to all those involved in producing and presenting the festival.

A few observations:

  • Marion Davies, based on her performances in The Patsy (last night's piece-de-resistance) and Show People (the "closer" from the 2007 SFSFF) is, hands down, the most underrated comedienne in the history of motion pictures.

  • Harold Lloyd, remembered as the indefatigable go-getter who epitomized the spirit of the 1920's, remains an unparalleled master of comedy construction and strikes me as a tad underrated.

    Perhaps Lloyd is underrated because his style and approach differ than his counterparts and friends from "The Big Three", Keaton and Chaplin. Harold's great silent pictures from 1923-1928 remind me more of Doug Fairbanks, even though he undeniably shares a stunt-filled physicality and ability to seamlessly blend comedy and action/adventure elements with Keaton. Fairbanks, at his best, made rousing adventure flicks spiced with humor, while Lloyd produced comedies packed with thrills and swashbuckling action.

    The Kid Brother, enhanced last Friday night by the superb score by the Mont Alto Picture Orchestra, represents the apex of his approach to screen comedy. He starts with short comic scenes that introduce the characters, follows them with longer, more intense sequences (all the while advancing the storyline) - and skillfully builds the pacing to the crescendo, a breathless finale. The centrifugal force behind everything is Harold's character, who could be summed up thusly: "you may be brawnier and more powerful than me, but I'm smarter, faster and more resourceful than you - and since I'm also a sweet guy who appreciates women, I'll get the girl!"

    You could make a successful comedy film, right now in the 21st century, using the structural principles of Lloyd's silent features.

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