For Anita Monga, silent film is more than just a quaint curiosity. It’s as vibrant and immediate an art form as any other, as well as the mainspring of modern cinema. When I spoke to her on February 1, 2013, she pointed this out with something I had not thought of before. The first section of the award-winning Pixar film, WALL-E is, for all practical purposes, a silent film, as in, no spoken dialogue.
Those are the moments that make me look forward to my conversations with Monga, the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. In addition to the main festival in the summer, there is also an annual winter program, which was the reason for this interview. A one-day extravaganza of comedy, drama, fairy tales, and high-flying adventure, it’s the perfect distillation of what made the silent era so magnificent. The chat covered by Buster Keaton’s comedy is timeless, the enduring charm of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (the model for the title character in THE ARTIST), and the unexpected (sort of) link between a 1916 live-action version of Snow White, and Walt Disney. Monga also discussed the powerhouse that was Mary Pickford beneath the blonde curls, and German Expressionism’s particular affinity for the Faust legend.
The 2013 Silent Film Festival Winter Program is a one-day extravaganza of action, adventure, flying carpets, wicked witches, Buster Keaton and Satan himself. An adjunct to the festival’s summer program, it tides over the silent film lover until regular July festival, and gives people who don’t yet know that they love silent films, a chance to find out as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. performs acrobatic feats of derring-do as THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD. Buster gets into all sorts of predicaments in a series of short films, Mary Pickford works with her real-life future husband in her last silent film, MY BEST GIRL, and a smart man makes a dumb deal with the devil in Murnau’s Faust. The one-day festival happens February 16th at the fabulous Castro Theater.