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San Francisco Silent Film Festival (5/28-6/1) 

Wednesday, May 27 2015
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The Silent Film Festival hits the Castro for its 20th year with a typically excellent slew of voice-free moving images. Among the highlights is F. W. Murnau's 1924 The Last Laugh, starring Emil Jannings and his can't-stop-won't-stop muttonchops as the proud hotel doorman whose self-esteem is demolished when he's demoted to washroom attendant. There are no intertitles except for a borderline-meta one toward the end, and the picture is legendary for the innovative ways Murnau moves the camera. In Clarence Brown's 1926's Flesh and the Devil, two boring men (John Gilbert and Lars Hanson) find their friendship tested by a not-boring woman (Greta Garbo). Garbo is often enough of a recommendation, luminescent even when she's supposed to be disheveled, and though its camera isn't quite as kinetic as The Last Laugh's, Flesh and the Devil is arguably one of the last of the silent films that took full advantage of cinema as a visual storytelling medium — dig those superimpositions! — before the dumb stupid Jazz Singer came along the following year and ruined everything with its dumb stupid synchronized sound. And for some comparatively lightweight fun, check out 1929's Why Be Good?, starring the seriously adorable comedienne Colleen Moore, who deserves to be better remembered today than she is.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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