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Music of the Silents Coming to Castro Theater

May 21, 2015

Asta Nielsen, star of the 1925 film <em>The Joyless Street</em>, at last year's S.F. Silent Film Festival, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.Matti Bye, seen above accompanying The Joyless Street screening, is called an "amazing musician" by S.F. Silent Film Festival Artistic Director Anita Monga.

Bye and his ensemble, Monga says, "played straight through for 2 1/2 hours of Joyless, and then went to a midnight gig at the Café du Nord. Matti is a Guldbagge (the Swedish Oscar) award winner for contemporary film scores as well, such as Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments and for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, among others."

At the upcoming 20th Silent Film Festival, May 28-June 1, in the Castro Theater, the Matti Bye Ensemble will be busy, accompanying Flesh and the Devil (U.S., 1926) on May 30 and Norrtullsligan (Sweden, 1923) on May 31.

Unlike other festivals, where you have to search far and wide for the names of musicians, at the Silent Film Festival, they are front and center, the vital, creative link between century-old cinema and today's audiences.

The festival presents 21 programs over five busy days, all in the Castro. The films come from around the world, in restored and preserved prints, to be accompanied by world-renowned musicians.

Silent Film Festival triumph: U.S. premiere screening in 2012 of Kevin Brownlow’s 5 1/2-hour restoration of Abel Gance’s legendary 1927 <em>Napoleon</em> with Carl Davis conducting his marathon score (Photo by Pamela Gentile/S.F. Silent Film Festival)Here are just some of the "sung heroes" of the Silents:

  • The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra — an all-student ensemble from Boston’s Berklee College of Music and the world’s only undergraduate degree program in film scoring — will accompany The Last Laugh (Germany 1924) on May 29.
  • Earplay will accompany Man Ray's 1927 Emak-Bakia and Stephen Horne provides music for Dimitri Kirsanoff's 1926 Ménilmontant (Pauline Kael's "favorite film of all time") in a program called Avant-Garde Paris on May 31.
  • Horne is also performing for When the Earth Trembled (US, 1913) and The Ghost Train (UK/Germany, 1927) on May 29; The Swallow and the Titmouse (France, 1920) on May 31.
  • The Gower Gulch Players — named for the street in LA where Hollywood began — will accompany The Donovan Affair (US, 1929) on May 30.
  • Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra from Colorado will accompany the epic All Quiet on the Western Front (US, 1930), opening the festival on May 28; Harold Lloyd's 1929 Speedy on May 30, and Why Be Good? (US, 1929) on May 31.
  • Donald Sosin plays along with Amazing Tales from the Archives (presentation by the restoration team for Maurice Tourneur’s 1914 House of Wax) and Cave of the Spider Women (China, 1927) on May 29; He’ll also accompany the first Sherlock Holmes (US, 1916) on May 31.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].