Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sir Arne's Treasure

I went to the San Francisco Film Society's screening of Sir Arne's Treasure at the Castro Theater.

Sir Arne's Treasure; directed by Mauritz Stiller; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by The Mountain Goats; (1919)

Sir Arne's Treasure was part of a silent film series which SFFS has sponsored for the past few years. They present silent films with commissioned, live scores by contemporary musicians. I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephin Merritt and The Lost World with Dengue Fever. The results have been modest. I thought the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea performance was horrible and Dengue Fever's score for Lost World was interesting but not appropriate for the film.

John Darnielle who has performed solo as The Mountain Goats was the lead vocalist that night. He performed with Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster. I can't say the music was remarkable but it was the most befitting of the films I've seen in the series.

In this case, I was a little disappointed in the film. The story involves three Scottish mercenaries in Sweden. They escape from prison and nearly starve to death in the tundra. Driven mad by hunger & isolation, the commit barbarous act including robbery & murder. The sea gods seem to be displeased because the harbor is iced in thus stopping their escape by sea. It's not until the Scotsmen receive their punishment that the sea ice breaks apart.

The plot was melodramatic; too much so for my taste. However, the film was impressive for 1919. It appears that many of the exterior scenes were actually filmed in wintertime Sweden. There are some impressive visual feats such as a horse falling through cracked ice on a lake, a conflagration at a castle and a large but solemn funeral procession over an iced inlet.

Judged within its historical context, Sir Arne's Treasure was a groundbreaking epic. However, at 91 years of age, its difficult for me to view this film as anything but a time capsule of filmmaking.

Direct Mauritz Stiller would go on to make a Czech silent film called Erotikon (1929) which I saw at the 2009 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. That was a much different film about a couple illicit affair and its aftermath.


The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has announced the program for its Winter Event on February 12 at the Castro Theater.

The program begins with It’s Mutual: Charlie Chaplin Shorts, three of Chaplin's early two-reelers - The Pawn Shop (1916), The Rink (1916) and The Adventurer (1917). That is followed by L’Argent (1928), an adaptation of the Émile Zola novel. The final film of the day is King Vidor's La Bohème (1926) starring Lilian Gish and John Gilbert.

Live accompaniment will be provided by Donald Sosin and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (and perhaps a third accompanist for La Bohème).

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