Buster Keaton, Lon Chaney Headline Silent Film Festival's Winter Bash


The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will host its fifth annual Winter Event at the Castro Theatre this Saturday, with special guests including film preservationist Robert Byrne, New York Times bestselling author Mark Vaz and Melissa Cox, granddaughter of Buster Keaton, scheduled to appear. Those eager to revisit the movies that first introduced the world to cinema as a serious art form can choose from the following titles:

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack are best known for unleashing the fury of King Kong in 1933, but Chang – shot in Siam (now Thailand) and featuring a cast of 400 elephants, tigers, leopards and pythons – is just as enthralling a depiction of man versus nature.

Nominated for “Artistic Quality of Production” at the first-ever Academy Awards, the movie follows the struggles of a family living on the edge of the jungle, where the threat of the wild is all but impossible to ignore. Pianist Donald Sosin will accompany Chang with an original score, with Vaz (Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong) on hand to introduce the film. (United States, 1927)

Set against the backdrop of the Great War – depicted here in remarkable detail by director Abel Gance, who re-enlisted in 1918 to capture the horrors of combat as they unfolded before him – the original 162-minute cut of J’Accuse was withheld from American audiences due to its antiwar leanings. Nine decades later and recently restored, the French epic makes its stateside premiere at the Castro, with Robert Israel, a former music director for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, performing an original score on the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer. (France, 1919)

Sherlock Jr.
Buster Keaton directed and starred in this fantastical comedy about a projectionist who yearns to be a brilliant detective and gets his wish when an out-of-body experience transports him onto the screen and into the adventure of a lifetime. As Sherlock Jr., a renowned investigator with confidence to spare, Keaton defies death, solves the mystery of a stolen pocket watch and grapples with the wonderfully unpredictable existence of a man living in a cinematic world.

Hailed by San Francisco critic Jeffrey Anderson as “the greatest film ever made,” Sherlock Jr. will be preceded by another Keaton-directed production, The Goat (1921), and followed by an on-stage conversation with Cox and What’s Up, Tiger Lily? co-author Frank Buxton. (United States, 1924)

West of Zanzibar
Lon Chaney, playing a crippled magician, ventures deep into the heart of the African jungle to kill the ivory trader he blames for his life’s misfortunes. Wrongheaded from the start, his revenge scheme backfires, and the resulting drama is tense and powerfully grim. (United States, 1928)

For more information about the Silent Film Festival’s Winter Event, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

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