Whoever said what’s old is new again should get a medal. Or at least a gift card to Blue Bottle Coffee. I mean, we’ve got hipsters with beards like Forty-Niners (the Sutter’s Mill kind, not the Levi’s Stadium variety); bicycles are becoming more ubiquitous than cars (L.A., you’re excused from this one); and with all the ever-connecting 3.0 technologies around us, a once-forgotten technology that debuted around the same time as Edison’s light bulb is packing ’em in at an iconic San Francisco movie palace.
Now in its 20th year, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has expanded to a five-day celebration of all things Clara Bow, Buster Keaton and Rudolph Valentino. During the festival’s first run, 1,800 curious moviegoers came to experience one silent film. Compare that to recent attendance that has climbed to 20,000 silent-film fans enjoying flicks from around the world, ranging from early Japanese gangster noir to Russian science fiction novelties, over a nearly weeklong event.
All told, over the last two decades, the SFSFF has shown more than 150 rare and classic silent films, all accompanied by live music performed by accomplished orchestras and musicians, including the Alloy Orchestra. And no matter where you end up sitting during the film, you’re sure to have the best seat in the house (as will everyone else) because screenings take place in another silent-era diva — San Francisco’s lavish movie palace, the Castro Theatre, built in 1922.
And more than just screening films, the nonprofit organization behind the festival is active in publishing information on silent-film history and film-preservation efforts, including showcasing restored classics. Case in point: Three years ago, the festival had the honor of presenting the American premiere of film historian Kevin Brownlow’s fully restored version of Abel Gance’s legendary Napoléon.
How to top that? We’ll give you some clues: Briar pipe; houndstooth deerstalker cap; and a biting wit as dry as a classic gin and tonic. That’s right, the inimitable Sherlock Holmes. But not just any Sherlock. This year, the festival will screen the 1916 production that was long-considered lost, featuring William Gillette, the man who famously took Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth from stage to screen and inspired later interpretations by the likes of Basil Rathbone. The film was digitally restored by the SFSFF in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française, which discovered the film in their vaults.
If you’re planning on attending the festival, another great discovery is that Kimpton is the official hotel sponsor of the SFSFF and is offering special rates. Elementary, you say? Not at all. Our two popular hotels including Sir Francis Drake Hotel and Hotel Buchanan are both offering 15 percent off their best available rates from May 27 to June 2 (click here, and use the special rate code SILENT). So the only drama you’ll experience is onscreen, and not trying to book the perfect hotel during the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Castro Theatre photo: BWChicago/Creative Commons
Updated August 3, 2015