Monday, July 9, 2012

Zorro and More

As I mentioned yesterday, I saw The Mark of Zorro at the Stanford earlier in the year (Sunday, April 15).  The fact that I waited three months to write about it makes it seem as though I knew the film would screening at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) exactly 3 months later.  I did not know that and it is pure coincidence.

The Mark of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery; directed by Fred Niblo; silent with intertitles; accompanied by Dennis James; (1920)

I guess I should say a few words about the SFSFF which runs from Thursday, July 12 to Sunday, July 15 at the Castro Theater.  The first thing I noticed is how many of the films at SFSFF were screened at the Stanford earlier this year.  Stella Dallas, Wings and The Mark of Zorro played at the Stanford on February 17, February 24 and April 15, respectively.  I was able to watch the latter two films.  Josef von Sternberg's Docks of New York played at a PFA retrospective in 2009 at which time I saw it with Judith Rosenberg on piano. 

Of the 16 paid admission programs at this year's SFSFF, I've already seen three and only missed a fourth because I was busy attending Indiefest which I later regretted.  I thought I had seen more but a fifth program consisting of Felix the Cat cartoons reminded me that I have seen Felix the Cat Woo Whoopee multiple times on two occasions - once in 2008 and again in 2010

SFSFF is also featuring Erotikon which was my favorite from the 2009 SFSFF.  That Erotikon was a 1929 Czech film directed by Gustav Machatý; this year's Erotikon is a 1920 Swedish film directed by Mauritz Stiller.  If I see it, it'll be the third Stiller film in 20 months for me following Blizzard (2011 SFFSF) and Sir Arne's Treasure (San Francisco Film Society; December 2010). 

Also, the description for South, sounds a lot like The Great White Silence which played at the 2011 SFSFF.  Great White Silence chronicled Robert Falcon Scott expedition to the South Pole while South appears to do the same for Ernest Shackleton’s more famous journey to the South Pole.

There is much that is familiar but not duplicative in this year's SFSFF.  Little Toys with Ruan Lingyu, Mantrap with Clara Bow, The Spanish Dancer with Pola Negri & Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks interest me the most.


Having seen a handful of Fairbanks action films, I didn't think The Mark of Zorro compared well.  I liked The Black Pirate and especially Gaucho better.  Fairbanks had a certain joie de vivre in those films which was not consistent in Zorro. 

Zorro was made in 1920 whereas Black Pirate and Gaucho were made in 1926 and 1927, respectively.  It could be that Fairbanks had not yet perfected his screen persona.   In Zorro, Fairbanks spends much of the screen time as Don Diego - a boorish fop, amateur magician and scion to his family's fortune.  Fairbanks shows quite a bit range between Zorro & Diego and a fair amount of talent for comedy.  However, nothing can compare with his acrobatics and roguish grin.  A little more Zorro and a little less Diego would have better suited my tastes.

Still, it is tough to criticize Fairbanks.  He gets off one of the best lines as Diego.  When Señorita Lolita Pulido and her family are accosted by the evil governor, Diego is livid.  Diego promises to give the governor a stern talking to...after he wakes from his siesta. 

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