Now Playing! Contemporary Silent Movies at the Oakland Museum

A scene from 'Artemus Biddle's BEYOND BELIEF: Siamese Twins, Etta & Emma.' (Obsolete Pictures)

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s imminent premiere of its newly restored 1915 two-reeler Jane’s Declaration of Independence has been booked solid for weeks. You might still snag a spot on the waiting list, though, for the Oct. 19 show at the recently renovated and reopened Presidio Theatre. Seeing the earliest surviving theatrical release filmed in the Presidio in the Presidio is bound to be special.

If you can’t join the crowd for Saturday’s silent-era show, the next best thing is a trip to the Oakland Museum of California. There you’ll find, sequestered in the new touring exhibition No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, a half-dozen delicious shorts conceived and produced by San Francisco’s Obsolete Pictures. Wonderfully designed and more than a little tongue-in-cheek, the 21st Century silent films can be found looping inside “The Capitol Theater,” a 12-seat theater-on-wheels devised and built by the Oakland arts collective Five Ton Crane to enthrall sunbaked desert revelers.

Creative whirlwind Allen White and producer and story maven Bree Hylkema are the movies’ key collaborators, employing current gear to evoke the look, feel, innocence and incredulity of early cinema. The films work as both homage and parody, our pleasure deriving from a shared understanding (by the artists and the viewer) of both the constraints that early filmmakers faced and the smugness with which many people watch older films.

The Picnic, the most ambitious Obsolete Pictures work, is a 25-minute, multi-character melodrama that winks and nods at D.W. Griffith, Victor Sjostrom and Man Ray. The most remarkable and artistic piece, though, is Kokolores: Ein Modernener Tanz in Zwei Acte, a pair of dance performances for the camera which salutes Weimar weirdness in Act I and shadow-happy Expressionism in Act II.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man is on view at the Oakland Museum through Feb. 16, 2020. The ideal viewing experience is seated in “The Capitol Theater,” but if you can’t attend in person, you can stream the films at the Obsolete Pictures website.

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