Monday, July 16, 2012

The Canadian at the Silent Film Festival

Anita Monga, above, is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and one of the most important characters in the artistic life of the city. From 1988 and for the next 18 years, she was the main programmer for the Castro Theatre which has been one of the great cultural centers in San Francisco. After her shabby dismissal by the Nasser family about seven years ago (click here), she continued on as the programmer for the colossally successful Noir City Film Festival and SF Silent Film Festival. According to a friend, "she knows which studio vault, private collection, and institutional resource of every usable print of every film in just about the entire world is hiding."

Monga is not alone in her Bay Area cinema programming genius, as was attested by an award given to locals Gary Meyer and Tom Luddy, along with Julie Huntsinger above who are the directors of the prestigious Telluride Film Festival, which also features silent film rediscoveries alongside world premieres.

The Canadian was a lost and only recently rediscovered 1926 Paramount silent film about wheat farmers in Alberta, Canada, based on a play by Somerset Maugham of all people. The director was the workaholic William Beaudine (click here for an interesting article about him by Dennis Harvey at the SF Bay Guardian). The simple story is about a pretentious young London woman who is suddenly penniless when her aunt dies and she goes to visit her brother on his wheat ranch near Calgary. In a moment of spite, she marries a field hand trying to start his own farm, and the movie is about the disaster that ensues which manages to resolve itself into an affecting, happy ending.

The greatness of the film is in its mixture of naturalism and the wonderful presence of Thomas Meighan as the husband, who exudes both decency and sadness. At a site dedicated to Meighan, there is this detail: "so many people inside the industry liked Meighan personally that they conspired to keep secret his ongoing liquor problem."

The other reason the movie was so deeply moving was because of the musical accompanist, a British musician named Stephen Horne above, who played a grand piano along with an occasional accordion tune and a flute for the sadder romantic moments. The score he composed/improvised live with the film was delicate perfection.

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