Silent Films Were Never Intended to be Silent ...

Did you know that silent films were never intended to be watched in silence, but were always accompanied by carefully curated musical scores? This year at ADIFF we are screening two new restorations of silent films, The Italian Straw Hat (1928) and Behind The Door (1919).

The ADIFF Podcast team sat down with Rob Byrne of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to discuss his selection of two films that will be shown at this year’s festival - the way silent films were always supposed to be shown - accompanied by live music.

Byrne is the President of the Board of Directors of San Francisco Silent Film Festival and an active film restorer there.

We spoke with Byrne about why he loves silent films:

The reason I love the films so much is because they are real time capsules. You get to look at 1919 Paris, or in early Irish films, you get to see Dublin in the ‘20s, and it’s not a theatrical re-creation. More and more there is a historical aspect to it, but also I think people just discover that they are greatly entertaining. Once they see one they are open to seeing more.

Byrne gave us an introduction to the exciting two films that are coming to ADIFF 2018:

The Italian Straw Hat 

The people who know The Italian Straw Hat appreciate it, but for people who don’t know it, it is really an underappreciated masterpiece. It is the most delightful comedy, so funny, so absolutely charming, and it’s so well directed, well cut … just well done. It’s almost pure cinema, in that it is a French film with French titles, but very, very few titles. René Clair was a master of telling the story and conveying emotion and conveying very subtle jokes and twists strictly with the actions and what the camera focuses on, and the way the camera moves.

Behind the Door

Behind the Door is about as far from a delightful comedy as you could get! It is an incredibly well made film, by a director who I think is very underappreciated, Irvin Willat. Behind The Door is, I think, actually very timely. The publicity for the film conveys it as a revenge film, a propaganda film and a horror film, but I do think in a way it has a very human streak and it is actually (unfortunately) as applicable today as it was when it was released in 1919.

People walk out of this film, in shock of what they have just seen. During the last reel of the film, the last 15 minutes, you could actually hear a pin drop in the cinema. People can’t believe what they are seeing, and really can’t believe that are seeing it from a 1919 film.

We asked Byrne to tell us about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and its aims:

People have a vision of a silent film: that it is scratchy, that it’s fast, it’s herky-jerky, it’s keystone cops and a tinkly piano, but when these films were released nothing could be farther from the truth. They were shown at the proper projection speed, they were shown in beautiful prints. Often they were shown with live orchestras and it was a very big experience, and a very common experience where people were going to the films a couple of times a week. So what the mission of the festival really became, ‘let’s show people what silent film can really be’!

Come and experience the screenings, complete with musical accompaniment:

Sunday 25th February

18.30 Behind the Door   Light House 1

Musical accompaniment: Stephen Horne

Sunday 4th March

14.00 The Italian Straw Hat (The Horse Ate the Hat)   Light House 1

Musical accompaniment: Günter A. Buchwald, Matthew Jacobson, Nick Roth, Derek Whyte

Additionally not to be missed for lovers of silent film:

ADIFF 2018 will screen King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) as part of the Cedric Gibbons Season. Furthermore, one of the festival’s documentaries - Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time -  is a fascinating story about a cache of forgotten silent film reels discovered in 1978 in the Canadian town of Dawson City.

Saturday 24th February

11.00 Dawson City: Frozen Time   Light House 1

Monday 26th February

13.30 The Big Parade   IFI