Passes and tix are now on sale for the 27th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, taking place April 10–14 at San Francisco’s historic Palace of Fine Arts. The Beaux Arts-style Palace was originally built for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition. The iconic landmark was rebuilt in the ‘60s and renovated about 15 years ago.

The program is truly an embarrassment of riches. A restoration of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s Technicolor swashbuckler, “The Black Pirate” (1926), will be presented opening night. Among other silents to be shown are “Dancing Mothers” with Clara Bow, William Wyler’s “Hell’s Heroes,” and several foreign films, including Yasujiro Ozu’s superb “I Was Born, But…,” Victor Sjostrom’s “Phantom Carriage,” G.W. Pabst’s “The Devious Path,” and “Haxan,” an outrageous exploration of witchcraft.

Comedies include a 100th anniversary screening of Buster Keaton’s brilliant “Sherlock Jr.,” Harold Lloyd’s “The Kid Brother,” a trio of newly restored 1928 Laurel and Hardy shorts, “Oh! What a Nurse!” with Syd Chaplin, and “Poker Faces” featuring Edward Everett Horton, about which more below.

The films are invariably accompanied by live music, as they were meant to be seen. The late Carl Davis, Philip Carli, Robert Israel, Dennis James, Donald Sosin and Alicia Svigals, the Alloy Orchestra, the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, and the Mont Alto Picture Orchestra, are but a few of those who have provided in-person scores during the festival.  

To quote my friend Leonard Maltin, SFSFF is “a feast for lovers of classic film and live music that is as elaborate, ambitious, and masterfully mounted as any I’ve seen.” I could not agree more. The presentation is never less than flawless and the schedule always contains some wonderful surprises. (

Meanwhile, a pair of short new documentaries narrated by Maltin, “Cinema Finds Its Voice” and “Cinema’s First Colors,” are being streamed exclusively in Flicker Alley’s Facets of Film series. Made by Eric Lange & Serge Bromberg and produced by Steamboat Films, both doc films run just under an hour each and are being presented as digital-only premieres.

Rare film footage (accessible to the filmmakers as two of today’s preeminent archivists and preservationists) distinguishes both docs. “Colors” dazzles us for example with tantalizing snippets of experiments leading up to “The Black Pirate” and the first three-color Technicolor feature, “Becky Sharp” 1935). (

Reginald Denny may be best remembered today for playing the cranky Brit trying to take a bath on the train in “Cat Ballou,” near the end of his half-century career. But in his prime—before essaying supporting parts in Garbo’s “Anna Karenina,” Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and dozens of other movies—he was a popular light comedian in the silent era. He’s hilarious as a hypochondriac at the mercy of loan sharks in “Oh, Doctor!” (1925), recently restored by Kino Lorber. 

It’s a treat to see Mary Astor, Denny’s co-star in this comedy, so early in her career, before she gained renown in the sound era for the likes of “The Maltese Falcon.” But the best reason to acquire this Blu-ray is that it’s actually a two-fer, and the companion feature is the aforementioned “Poker Faces” (1926), a delightful situation comedy. 

Like Denny, Horton was also a funster who won lead roles in silents, but he didn’t really catch on until he could employ his inimitable voice onscreen, rising to stardom as a character comic in such films as “The Front Page,” “Top Hat,” and “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.” Horton’s leading lady, the delightful Laura La Plante (“The Cat and the Canary”), is herself overdue for a rediscovery.

Unlike most silent comedies, “Poker Faces” contains few out and out gags and little slapstick, depending almost entirely on the personality of its actors. You can easily picture the great Charley Chase in the lead, but arguably only Horton could have done the premise justice with his wonderfully expressive face. Largely unavailable for decades, this gem is yet another reason to hang onto that Blu-ray player and keep it in good working condition. (

Author: Jordan Young