Even in its earliest years, the toddling American film industry quickly discovered that while the public was fascinated by moving-picture stories, it was positively mad for stars. The funeral of 31-year-old Rudolph Valentino on a memorable August day in 1926 drew 100,000 mourners (many of them hysterical) onto the steamy streets of Manhattan. Rudy isn’t on the marquee of the annual A Day of Silents marathon this Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Castro, but the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has summoned a litany of immortal names from the heavenly firmament.
Charlie Chaplin hot-wires the program with three kid- and adult-friendly shorts from 1915, then makes way for the adult shenanigans of Ernst Lubitsch’s playfully adulterous and exuberant 1926 romp So This Is Paris (whose cast, I must concede, is not engraved in the book of household names). Then we’re off to radical Russia and Sergei Eisenstein’s legendary pro-labor paean Strike, followed by the landmark German drama Different From the Others. Written by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and starring Conrad Veidt, the film dared to tell a sympathetic story of (unlawful) gay attraction in 1919.
The prime-time slot goes to The Last Command, a comparatively unknown title in the great Josef von Sternberg’s filmography that boasts the great Emil Jannings and William Powell squaring off on a Hollywood set to the careening accompaniment of the superlative Alloy Orchestra. The day wraps with the glorious Gloria Swanson as the titular Sadie Thompson, a San Francisco working girl adrift on Pago Pago with Lionel Barrymore and Raoul Walsh -- whose acting endeavors ceased after he lost an eye in a car accident following this film, though it didn’t affect his extensive and remarkable directing career. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival evokes a time when the movies offered something for everyone.