The 16th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival returns to the Castro Theatre tonight to celebrate some of cinema's earliest pioneers, including Yasujirô Ozu, F.W. Murnau and and John Ford.
The four-day festival, which gives film enthusiasts the rare opportunity to see silent-era classics brilliantly restored on the big screen, with live musical accompaniment, concludes Sunday evening with a 7:30 screening of He Who Gets Slapped, Victor Sjöströ's poignant 1924 drama about a luckless scientist (Lon Chaney) who becomes a circus clown to vent his life's frustrations. Alexander Payne, the Oscar-winning author of 2004's Sideways, will host.
First things first, though. Ford's Upstream, a 1927 comedy about an egocentric actor's dalliance with a knife-throwing vaudeville couple, kicks off the festivities tonight at 7; Murnau's Sunrise (1927), about a philandering husband who plans to murder his wife before breaking down and begging her forgiveness, will follow, accomplanied by Giovanni Spinelli on electric guitar.
Other highlights include:
Friday, July 15
11 a.m. "Amazing Tales from the Archives: Archivist as Detective," followed by an invitational archivist's lunch.
2 p.m. Huckleberry Finn (1920, USA) , William Desmond Taylor's critically acclaimed take on Mark Twain's 1884 novel, accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano.
4:15 p.m. I Was Born, But... (1932, Japan), Ozu's bittersweet story of brothers who begin to question their father's integrity, accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano.
7 p.m. The Great White Silence (1924, UK), Herbert Ponting's stunning account of the British Antarctic Expedition's ill-fated race to the South Pole, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.
9:30 p.m. Il Fuoco (1915, Italy), about a predatory femme fatale (Pina Minchelli) who chews up and spits out an unassuming painter (Febo Mari), accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano and introduced by Modern Lovers founder Jonathan Richman.
Saturday, July 16
10 a.m. Walt Disney’s "Laugh-O-Grams," accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano and hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin and historian J.B. Kaufman.
12 p.m. "Variations on a Theme," featuring the festival's musicians on stage.
2 p.m. The Blizzard (1923, Sweden), the tale of a deluded young man (Einar Hanson) restored to sanity by love and music, accompanied by Matti Bye Ensemble.
4 p.m. The Goose Woman (1925, USA), Clarence Brown's story of an alcoholic ex-star whose last-ditch attempt to grab the headlines lands her son in the thick of a murder investigation, accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano.
6:30 p.m. Mr. Fix-It (1918, USA), a breezy romantic caper starring a young Douglas Fairbanks, accompanied by Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer.
8:30 p.m. The Woman Men Yearn For (1929, Germany) finds Marlene Dietrich catching the wandering eye of a marrying man (Uno Henning) and leaving him understandably smitten. Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
Sunday, July 17
10 a.m. "Amazing Tales from the Archives," featuring film historian and Academy Award honoree Kevin Brownlow (1975's Winstanley) on 50 years of restoration.
12 p.m. Shoes (1916, USA), Lois Weber's drama about a working girl (Mary MacLaren) who sells her body for a pair of shoes, accompanied by Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer.
2 p.m. "Wild and Weird," short-film favorites (including Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, Red Spectre, The Acrobatic Fly and Princess Nicotine) , accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.
4 p.m. The Nail in the Boot (1931, USSR) and Chess Fever (1925, USSR), accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano. Boot, Mikhail Kalatozov's propaganda piece about the dangers of careless workers, was roundly critized at the time of its release by Communists who dismissed the film as an empty spectacle informed by half-baked ideology.
7:30 p.m. He Who Gets Slapped ( 1924, USA), Sjöströ's compelling tragedy, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.