Clearing Out the World's Incessant Chatter Through Silent Film

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Conrad Veidt as Cesare in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.'

The modern world is full of nonstop chatter. We have texts and app notifications coming in on our phones, alerts for likes and RTs bleeping from 12 open tabs on our laptops, and iChat and Gchat and QRSTUVWXYZchat windows popping up constantly.

And ironically, in a time when other peoples' noise is louder than ever, we are increasingly alone.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival takes this equation—or inequation, if you will—and turns it rightfully on its ear. Our solitude is replaced with the company of hundreds of other moviegoers, and the chatter is gone. Ah, silent film: the byproduct of early 20th-century technological limitations that had no idea how valuable it'd be to our technology-addled, noise-polluted psyches 100 years later.

Five programs comprise the fest's autumn schedule at the Castro, including a collection of Laurel & Hardy shorts, Rudolph Valentino's final film The Son of the Sheik (1926), and the Buster Keaton masterpiece The General (1926). That's not a shabby lineup by any means, but worthy of special note is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Robert Wiene's groundbreaking thriller about a murderous carnival soothsayer, seen here in a brand-new digital 4k restoration.

Live music from the Alloy Orchestra and Donald Sosin accompanies all the day's films, and Sosin in particular gets a workout during A Night at the Cinema in 1914. One after another, 14 short films screen to bring the viewer the closest possible experience to going to the movies an entire century ago. Newsreel footage, short documentary features, British comedies, war stories, musical shorts and a very early Charlie Chaplin film make up the program.


Tickets to individual screenings are $15-$20. But if you've had enough of the world's chatter and want to clear your mind with 12 straight hours of cinematic quietude, an all-day pass runs just $60.