Friday, July 13, 2012
Wings at the SF Silent Film Festival
Living on the cusp of the end of the Age of Film, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival only becomes more interesting and important with each year. The newly expanded four-day festival features restored films from multiple countries, usually with live musical accompaniment, and draws afficionados from all over the world. After the organization's wildly ambitious presentation this March of Abel Gance's 5-and-half-hour Napoleon, complete with live symphony orchestra and three-screen projection, it seemed like anything else this year would be anticlimactic, but the newly remastered print of the 1927 Wings on Thursday's opening night was in its own way just as spectacular.
Paramount Studios is having its 100th anniversary this year, and in celebration they undertook a high-definition digital remastering of the World War One aerial combat film Wings which they released as a Blue-Ray disc, complete with colored flames from machine guns and tinted scenes. It was the most pristine and gorgeous print I have ever seen of a silent era film.
Making Thursday evening's festival opening truly thrilling was the musical accompaniment by the Colorado based, five-piece Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra above, which was joined by by a small army of Foley sound effects artists led by Star Wars veteran Ben Burtt and Mont Alto's Rodney Sauer. The climactic battle scenes with complicated explosions, machine gun fire, and whirring airplane wings was colossally complex and exciting, sounding at times like an undiscovered Iannis Xenaxis percussion score.
Clara Bow stars as the girl next door, but it's Richard Arlen and Charles 'Buddy' Rogers above as the young, small-town flyers who carry the emotional narrative. Arlen's death scene above after Rogers has accidentally wounded his own best friend is extraordinarily touching and romantic, and it even ends up sealed with a kiss. Not only was Wings the first recipient of the Best Picture Academy Award, but it's one of the few films that actually deserved to win. If there is ever a reprise showing with these forces at the Castro Theatre, do not miss it.
For a full schedule of this weekend's film festival which includes everything from old standards to complete rarities, click here. And do get in line early, because the word seems to be out about this festival, and the huge Castro Theatre last night was full to the rafters.