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Saturday, July 9, 2005

Mom and I had tickets to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival today. That meant getting up early enough to catch the bus, and (in my case) trying hard to be sociable at such an early hour on a Saturday morning. Luckily, there were only about ten other people on the bus, and they were all friendly and congenial (not to mention older than me).

We were a little early getting to the City, so we were given a tour of Golden Gate Park, which is undergoing so many changes I hardly recognized it. The old Steinhart Aquarium is a big hole in the ground now, and the new De Young Museum isnít quite beyond the stage where it looks more like a prison than a work of architectural grandeur.

After the park we were taken up Haight Street (and past Ashbury, of course), which is now a neat little tourist area, with shops that were never dreamed of in the sixties. But there are still a few reminders of what that district meant. Itís colorful, in a paisley-slash-tie-dyed sort of way, with its ďJerry LivesĒ stickers in the windows of its ďsmoke shops.Ē

But where we were really headed for was the Castro District, equally colorful and historic in its own way. We had a terrific lunch at the Sausage Factory and then walked up the block to the Castro Theatre, where the festival was being held. Itís a three-day event, and we didnít know until today what film we were going to see.

It turned out to be a Brazilian classic from 1929, Sangue Mineiro, by one of the most influential directors in the shaping of Latin American cinema, Humberto Mauro. The film itself is very much a product of its era, with long takes and extreme close-ups. Itís the story of a love triangle, set in the region where Mauro lived and designed to show off the Brazilian countryside. It had some things in common with modern movies that I like, such as humor, warmth, and strong characterizations. The story was simple and a little odd, with the heroine ending up with the man who tried to force himself on her, but the dramatic tension moved the picture along well.

This print was saved by Brazilian film historians, but it hasnít been restored. There are a few scratches and marks on the film itself, but considering how so many movies from that era are lost to us because of deterioration and neglect, itís in remarkable condition. It was flown to San Francisco from Brazil for this showing. I know, because we saw it being wheeled into the theater as we were standing in line.

On our way out of the City, John our driver took us through the Presidio of San Francisco and (of course) back across the Golden Gate Bridge and up through Marin, then home to Santa Rosa. The weather in San Francisco was windy but fairly clear. It was cloudy north of the Bridge, but by the time we got back home we were again under clear, sunny skies. Iím glad I was able to go, even though it did mean getting up way too early and missing a chance to get some work done. Thereís always tomorrow for sleeping late and writing spreadsheets.

9 July 2005

Castro Theatre marquee.

The interior of the Castro Theatre is quite ornate and rococo and art deco and the like, emblematic of the architecture of the 1920s, when it was built. It features murals and sculptures and so much variety of design that you could almost say it reflects the diversity of San Francisco itself. There are some photos of I took inside the theater here. It was dark, so theyíre not very good, but it will give you an idea of what itís like in one of the few great movie houses of the twenties still operating as a film theater.

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The movie wasnít even the real highlight for me. Bay Area guitarist and composer Mauro Correa had composed an underscore for the entire 90 minutes of the picture, and he played it along with an ensemble from the Latin American Chamber Music Society. And it was magnificent! It would have been worth the price of the tickets just to hear this musical piece, which was influenced by Brazilian music such as that used by the director in some of his later, sound-era films. They received a long standing ovation at the end of the performance, and it was well deserved.

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