Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tiburon International Film Festival

I was able to catch two films at the Tiburon International Film Festival. Both films screened at the Tiburon Playhouse.

On March 21, I saw The Brothers Warner (2008) - Official Website. The documentary was directed by Harry Warner's granddaughter, Cass Warner Sperling, who was in attendance. I was familiar with Harry & Jack Warner but was unaware that there were two other brothers involved with the studio. Originally, each brother had a specific role. Harry was the studio boss and focused on strategy, Abe handled the finances, Sam was in charge technology and baby brother Jack handled day-to-day operations. Sam was instrumental in producing the first talkie (The Jazz Singer - 1927) and died shortly thereafter.

Warner Brothers Studios continued to flourish through the 1930's and 40's by carving out a niche by producing socially relevant movies such as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang which (according to Sperling) resulted in reform related to the treatment of prisoners.

The film consisted mostly of old photos, home movies, film clips and talking head interviews of WB stars such as Angie Dickinson, Dennis Hopper and George Segal. The juiciest part of the story was the rivalry between oldest brother Harry and youngest brother Jack. Eventually, Jack engineered the takeover of WB and ousted his two brothers.

I found the film to be fascinating but I love old movies and the Golden Era of Hollywood. KRON movie critic Jan Wahl interviewed Sperling after the film. Wahl & Sperling mentioned something about trying to get the documentary shown in public schools. That took me aback as this film, although entertaining, doesn't qualify as essential history.

On March 22, TIFF screened the aforementioned The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson. Unfortunately, the film was projected from video. I was hoping for a 35mm print. The film was dated especially Jolson's performance. Jolson was supposed to be a young man in the film but he was 41 years old when the film was made. The film was mostly silent although the DVD had a score and voice over for the songs. The intertitles were retained for the dialogue. Only a few minutes of the original film had sound. I was aware of this going in but the film failed to impress me. As a historical artifact, the film was worth seeing but having seen silent films from the era, I can only imagine its success was rooted in its technological innovation.

I learned from The Brothers Warner that the Warners were from an immigrant Polish Jewish family (I can't recall their original surname). I've always thought The Jazz Singer was a bold choice for the first talkie - the plot revolves around a Jewish cantor and his son. Much of the film takes place in a synagogue. Antisemitism was more prevalent (or at least public) during the era so marketing a film about Jews was a curious choice. I now wonder if the choice was related to the Warner Brother's faith and commitment to social consciousness.

One of the interviewees had a great quote in The Brothers Warner; it may have been Tab Hunter. The quote (and I'm paraphrasing) was "Hollywood was a strange place during the Golden Era. The films were produced by Jews, censored by Catholics and marketed to Protestants."


The crowds at the two films were sparse. The theater capacity was probably around 70 or so. There was ~30 or so at The Brothers Warner and less than that at The Jazz Singer.

I was thinking about taking the ferry but the r/t fare was $19.50! The price was moot because the last scheduled ferry left was before the films ended.


I rarely get over to Marin County and it really is a different world. Everywhere else I go in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the crowds are fairly ethnically diverse but the crowd in Tiburon uniformly white. Over the course of the two days I was in downtown Tiburon, I only saw six minorities. There was the Hispanic parking lot attendant, the Latina that bussed my table at the cafe where I had coffee, the black man that served me popcorn at the theater and a family of Asians that parked behind the theater. As I was cutting across the lot, the man's face lit up when he saw me. I thought I knew him from somewhere and was scrambling to place his name and face. Instead, he made a beeline for me to ask directions to a local hotel. I couldn't help him but I guess he was glad to see a similar looking face.

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