Last Saturday I spent my entire day watching silent movies in the Castro Theater in San Francisco. It was a nice little escape from the busy life of working and college. I saw quite some majestic elements of film and painfully dull ones.

I was a tad moody on this day because I had forgotten to take my pills, so I shall try to not be as blunt when it comes to criticizing films I disliked.

It was six whole movies! I missed the Chaplin Essanay shorts because we had arrived late, but I got just in time to get good seats for the Lubitsch film. Oh right. I had a pass to see all the films. Paid by my hard-earned money of dealing with vexatious costumers.

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So This Is Paris (1926)

This was the main reason why I attended this mini-festival. Lubitsch is my main man! I’ve seen more of Ernst Lubitsch’s silents from Germany, so I had mixed feelings about how this film was going to be. Since The Marriage Circle bored me to tears, I wondered if this one was going to annoy me with all its flapperism and vampy female roles. There’s no one like Pola Negri, you know. Anyway, once the starting scene with the couple reenacting a scene of possibly The Sheik, I was immediately absorbed. Maurice was such a handsome sheik; with his curls! I found myself laughing at his silly dances. His wife, Georgette, was so charismatic and lively that I loved her instantly. Monte Blue was cute as well! His wife…eh not so much. This film kept me giggling! I just sat back and thought, “Damn, Lubitsch, you have done it again.” There’s this part where a cop asks Monte Blue to insult in him in a slower pace so he could write them all down. Oh, how I laughed! The dance part just kept my legs moving! I loved how Georgette danced! I’m not a dance party person, but  I think I would’ve enjoyed this party! Another masterpiece from the master, Ernst Lubitsch. I clapped hard when this ended. (P.S: Before the film started, there was little information on the screen regarding his work before this film and there was mention of Ossi Oswalda and Mary Pickford. Are you kidding me? Mary Pickford wasn’t as important in his career as Pola Negri was. Clearly, Madame Dubarry was more important than Anna Boleyn. No mention of Pola Negri. How insulting.)

Strike (1925)

I tried to keep myself open-minded before the screening. I tried to get past my disillusionment with Man With A Movie Camera. Maybe another Russian film would astound me! Maybe Sergei Eisenstein would become another favorite of mine. On our thirty minute break, I googled Sergei and read big rave about him and his films. I didn’t know he was gay? I was also dreading this because of its massive communist propaganda. This was the number one reason why I haven’t gotten around to seeing Battleship Potemkin yet. Once it started, it was fantastic. The people with the mini orchestra made it exciting! There were bizarre sounds being made with keyboards and drums. The beginning was intense with the workers moving around and the phenomenal camera work. “Wow, I’m liking this!” I thought. Half an hour or so later, I wanted to close my eyes. I felt so sleepy. I was bored as hell. It was the same persistent thing during the entire film. Yeah, yeah, capitalists are fat, rich people, and the workers must form a revolution!!!! I cringed during that part with the cow. Some of the Russian lads were cute. It really wasn’t my cup of tea. It was so boring and the pace was so slow it was quite a struggle to stay awake. The ending didn’t even impress me. The cinematography is exceptional, but the rest is just a cure for insomnia.

Different from the Others (1919)

Ah, the first gay movie. Way ahead of its time, I should say! I had seen this two years ago and loved the heck out of it. Now, I’ve seen more movies and I can just say…”eh”. I like the message of it, but the film just sucks. The young student is idiotic. Conrad Veidt is great though. I love gay people, but I just felt this film was just a part of the huge LGBT propaganda that liberals are trying to push into every aspect of our lives. Even before the film started, we saw some newsreels and there were some suffragettes featured and everyone started to clap loudly. I didn’t clap because for the past year I have hated how feminists use this as manipulation to enforce their extreme ideologies. Back then, it was necessary. Now, it is not at all. They even featured some LGBT/Queer activist to speak about the film. I felt annoyed on how they’re so obsessed with pushing their LGBT propaganda all the time! Gays are cool and they love each other, okay. Let’s move on. It’s not really a big deal. I wish more people would accept them so we wouldn’t have the huge gay propaganda. I must admit I snorted when men dressed in Victorian women’s fashion appeared in the film. I almost lost it. It reminded me of the times when I would snicker in church without wanting to.

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The Last Command (1928)

Okay, I was feeling moody before the film started. My sister and I had just gone out for a little lunch break. We were having a nice meal until this girl walked in and started crying right next to us. The news of the recent Oakland fire was on. It was so horribly awkward I couldn’t even look at her. “Freakin’ San Francisco and its weirdness. Can’t wait to get outta here!” I thought. I hate showing emotion in front of people, especially strangers. I don’t do hugs either. This was so uncomfortable I felt the girl had ruined my meal. I felt sorry for her, but, God, I just wanted to eat in peace. Anyway, by the time we came back, I was with my serious face. I wanted to go home. I was dreading the next two films. I felt angry. I had realized that I have no idea what career I wanted to have, since I really can’t deal with people. I thought I no longer liked silent movies. Negative thoughts were unstoppable. I wasn’t even excited about this because I was in such a crappy mood. So, by the time the film started, I kept thinking of how unhappy I was and how there wasn’t anything left for me to do anymore. I was feeling quite depressed. I could relate to the sullen look of Emil Jannings. William Powell was there, so maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad. He’s funny. Everybody was treating Jannings like crap. I remember he is a good actor. I remembered moving back to the United States and not being treated as special as people in Peru treated me. Then the film went to a flashback on how he was a Russian general shortly before the Bolshevik revolution. “God, more Russians?” I thought. “I hope this isn’t more commie propaganda.”

The film introduced us to how Jannings acted like he was entitled to his authority, but he seemed to be really proud of his country. William Powell and this other girl were revolutionaries who were called to his office. Powell talked back and Jannings sent him to get arrested. The girl stayed with him and accompanied him to his dinner with the soldiers. He talked about how proud he was of his country and how he wanted victory for Russia’s sake. He just wanted the best for his country. I could once again see love in Mr. Jannings’ eyes, as I had seen in many of his silents before. She almost killed him, but she didn’t know why she didn’t! By now, I was seriously wondering why this flashback scene was taking so long.

However, I may have been feeling terrible, but I was somewhat drawn to the film. I was paying attention. I started to really get into it when the revolutionaries attacked him outside the train. They took away his dignity and his entitlement. His rank as a general didn’t matter anymore. It was humiliating for him. I was so amazed at how Jannings kept his frozen look intact, even when someone spit on his face. The film started to get really good after this. After the flashback ended, I finally realized that Powell was the director and Jannings a mere immigrant. I was liking this! I mean, this was a twist in the story. Jannings was playing an extra in one of Powell’s upcoming films. Well, I will not include any more spoilers, but will say that I had tears on my eyes once the film ended. I realized that he truly loved his country and just thought of what would be best for it. He just wanted to save it from any harm. He himself meant no evil anyway. It was very human to me. Politics aside, he loved his Russia. When the Russian National Anthem started playing, I was almost in tears. His patriotism was all he had, even after he had been publicly humiliated for being proud of his country. His constant head-shaking was almost heartbreaking. I had always been annoyed by Emil Jannings, his stories of bitchiness and Nazism, but I soon realized that he was an incredible actor. So was William Powell. He was forgiving in a beautiful way.

He truly loved a woman even if they differed in politics and he loved his country. I truly understood being proud of one’s country even with its imperfections and if there was backlash for pride. It was such a powerful ending I didn’t care if I was crying in front of strangers. It is very rare when films make me cry. The beginning may have felt a bit slow, but, hell, it’s worth watching the entire thing. I really could connect to Emil Jannings here. It’s as if we could see it from his perspective in some way. Thank you, Josef von Sternberg.

My reaction to The Last Command.
My reaction to The Last Command.

It is usually in my terrible “giving up” moments that something convinces me to just give life another chance. There is art like this that I must still discover.

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Sadie Thompson (1928)

I had been excited about this one because Gloria Swanson was great during her silent film years. I had seen her in Male and Female and Manhandled and Queen Kelly. And, of course, Sunset Boulevard is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. She was very charming in all. I am also currently reading a book by W. Somerset Maugham, so that was a double bonus for interest. Swanson was quite sassy when the film started. There was this shocking intertitle in the beginning that talked about “raining in the sheets” and I actually had to ask my sister what the hell that meant. Once I learned its meaning, I just gasped and thought it wildly inappropriate. The film was just…dull. Swanson’s attitude was magnetic and attractive, but that’s all that pretty much kept me watching it. The rest of the film was just about her whining to go back to Sydney and Lionel Barrymore constantly reprimanding her about her sins. I was truly bored. I honestly don’t think this film is a masterpiece. Gloria has made other great films, but this one didn’t appeal to me. It just felt dry. I thought more would happen. There wasn’t much to the story.

Before the film, the stepson of her last husband gave an anecdotal talk about Gloria for about ten minutes. He was okay until he brought up the fact that she was a fan of Ronald Reagan, as if it was a bad thing. Everyone gasped about it. Was I the one who actually smiled about that? Pola Negri was an active supporter for Reagan as well. He then went on about how she said that a play that had scantily clad men was disgusting and how it wasn’t theater. I quite agreed with her. Again, he said this like it’s a bad thing.

I was hoping I could get through the festival without any reference to the elections, but that was a fantasy. One of the speakers brought up how the piano player was recovering from the election. I didn’t even laugh like everybody did.

I was already annoyed that everywhere in Castro street I saw Hillary Clinton crap. I used to be a sort of social justice warrior and I loved Castro. Now, I just felt like an outsider. I started to dislike San Francisco for its vulgarity. I’m not really a city person.

My uptight opinions aside, I only liked two movies of the whole thing. I am quite picky. I saw a man trying to buy a Lubitsch in Berlin digipack in the merchandise area and I shyly told him, “That one’s great.”

This was a fun day actually. If you really like silent movies and live around the San Francisco area, this might be the place to come. I had close-minded opinions about some films, but I actually ended up liking some! It is always good to discover new things. I will definitely watch more of Emil Jannings and look more into Josef von Sternberg’s work.

Silent movies are still an art that thankfully survives. Even though I don’t like everything, it is still important on how influential they have been in contemporary masterpieces. I loved being around people who had interest in these films as I did.

(P.S: I am glad Emil Jannings won the Oscar for The Last Command!”)

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