If youíve never seen silent movies on a big screen in a big, packed movie house with live musical accompaniment, then let me just tell you that itís an awesome experience. Itís a little weird that a low budget western made in 1917, with the simplest plot line, can still resonate today. But it does, and itís mostly because of the people involved, including John Ford (in his first year as a director) and the great cowboy star Harry Carey.
So today Mom and I took the bus to San Francisco to see Bucking Broadway (thatís the actual title) at the beautiful old Castro Theatre. Itís the second year in a row weíve gone to the Silent Film Festival there. Last year it was an exotic Brazilian film from later in the silent era, but this time we saw this movie:
Cowboy falls for the rancherís daughter and they get engaged, but before the wedding she is lured away to New York by a sleazy horse trader who has shifty eyes and twirls his mustache (in case you couldnít tell heís a bad guy). Cowboy gets word that the girl is unhappy and follows her to New York, followed in turn by the whole bunkhouse gang and their horses. Cowboys fight Sleazy and his sleazy friends, our hero wins the girl, and we all go back to Wyoming happy as can be.
Thatís the movie, but that doesnít account for quality of the acting and the great faces with long takes and extreme close-ups so you can see every emotion in the charactersí eyes. This film was lost for decades until a print was discovered in France six years ago and restored. What a stroke of luck that we were able to see it today.
The second half of the double feature was a late silent by the French director Julien Duvivier from 1930, Au Bonheur des Dames, based on a novel by Emile Zola. Itís full of innovative camera techniques that are far ahead of their time, including montages that take you inside a characterís mind. Itís realistic and melodramatic at the same time, and a little jarring because the heroine loses everything because of the villain, then forgives him and they ride off into the future together.
That wouldnít fly in this century, and it got some uncomfortable laughs from the audience today, but I guess there was a point, because she tells him that he isnít at fault, progress is. And she pulls the sourest face you can imagine to emphasize her point. But the film was a great achievement for its time, and I enjoyed it immensely. (Well, all but the sappy ending. If Iíd been the filmmaker, they both would have died, to tell you the truth.)