Sunday, July 15, 2007

It Must Be Wonderful To Be A King!

Day One, San Francisco Sielnt Film Festival
The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg
Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer

The opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival featured a screening of The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg (1927) (available on VHS from MGM). The film was introduced by film writer Mick LaSalle, author of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. He commented that we would walk out of the theater feeling what the audience felt seventy years ago. Yes and no. I think people now and then experienced the same sadness at the ending, but I think the modern audience had a different expectation. It was interesting to hear the audience reaction to the film at the after party; several people said to me that they thought the prince Karl would go back to the barmaid, Kathi and that there would be a happy ending. I think the original audience probably fully expected him to renounce love for duty. Ultimately this film concentrates not on doomed romantic love but on personal sacrifice.

The love story itself is rather weak; it lacks the transcendent quality of Sunrise (1927) (DVD, Fox) or Seventh Heaven (1927) (VHS, Critic's Choice). However, the director Ernst Lubitsch perfectly captures first love- awkwardness, lustfulness, idealism and hopefulness all rolled together- simultaneously intensely felt and ludicrous. This love is predicated on youthfulness and nativity, it is not the kind of love that can exist in the real world, only in a nostalgic Germany full of beer gardens long before the devastation of The Great War. It can only exist in this time of Karl's life while he is still only a prince and a youth. Kathi when she first meets Karl remarks that "A prince, after all, is a human being." A prince may be just a man, but a king is both more and less than a man. For Karl to fulfill his destiny, the love itself is not the important thing, the renunciation of it is.
Karl's journey as a character in the film from his arrival on the train as a boy to assume his position as the heir apparent to his marital carriage ride at the end reflects his inner journey from child to man. When we first see Karl, he is a child clinging to his nurse, terrified of his uncle, the mustachioed stern-faced King. Lubitsch keeps the King inhuman at all times, he never seems to express any emotion at all. This is Karl's future; the regal outsider. Later, a group of boys admire the young prince's photograph in a shop window and remark that it must be wonderful to be a prince. Lubitsch shows us the reality, a sad faced boy behind a barred gate looking longingly at a group of boys playing rowdily with a ball. He imitates them on his side of the gate but cannot join them.
The King sends Karl's nurse away. The boy runs wildly after her but is stopped short by the presence of The King. The nurse is replaced by a tutor, Jean Hersholt in a wonderfully warm performance. The tutor Juttner mediates between the loving world of early childhood and the adult world of responsibility. He's Karl's teacher and loving friend. He accompanies Karl to Heidelberg where Karl finally gets a chance, as a student, to be one of the groups. He is accepted by the other students, drinks with them and finds love with Kathi. This is temporary. The king grows ill, and we see the painful process of Karl losing all that he loves, his Kathi, his tutor and his friends.
At the end of the film, he rides in a glorious wedding procession, emotionally bereft. An old couple looks at him and remark "It must be wonderful to be a king!" Lubitsch deftly expresses so much in this moment. It echoes two earlier scenes of Karl's photograph being admired with a similar sentiment expressed by the peasants who only see his outer reality, wealth and privilege. His people envy him because they don't see the sacrifice he has made for them. The choice of an old married couple underscores the irony of what they say. This couple has what Karl has sacrificed, someone to love and love in return.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, July 13 - 15


The 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs this weekend, July 13th through July 15th, at the historic Castro Theatre ( This year, as in previous years, the festival features a remarkable array of rarely seen films including intense romantic dramas, comedic shorts, European epics, British silent noir and Hollywood studio fare. For a complete listing of the films go to Once again it is a chance to see films not avaible on home video the way there were designed to be seen in a movie palace, with live musical accompaniment and an audience. If that weren't enough, this years festival boasts several special events as well as a line up of interesting special guests.

The opening night screening of Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg, accompanied by organist, and Seattle favorite, Dennis James, will be followed by an opening night party featuring German food and live music by Big Lou's Polka Casserole (Tickets $40). It gives the film goers a chance to socialize with the guests of the festival. For those wanting to splurge, for an extra twenty bucks, they get admission to the pre-show champagne soiree.
On Saturday morning, special guests, Robert Stone of the UCLA Film & Televison Archive and film critc Leonard Maltin will be in attendence for the screenings of four of legendary comedy producer, Hal Roach's shorts. Maltin, who has a truly remarkable knowledge of classic films, will also take part in, along with TCM's Robert Osborne and other film book authors, a series of book signings through out the festival. San Francisco indpendent bookstore, The Booksmith, sponsor of the signings, will have a table in the mezanine offering a variety of books on silent film throughout the festival. Maltin will be signing books directly after the Roach screening. Check out the complete list of author appearances here,
Later on Saturday, actor and silent film enthusiast, Frank Buxton, famous for voicing Batfink!, and his daughter, Oliva Sears, Founder and President of The Center for the Art of Translation, will perform the live English translation of the Italian intertitles for the Italian Strongman meoldorama, Maciste. Following Maciste, there will be a speical triubte to Turner Classic Movies, who have done some wonderful work in promoting silent film through airings of classic films and distribution of some beautiful DVD sets. TCM host and film critc Robert Osborne and TCM head of programing, Charles Tabesh will be in attendence for the screening of Camille featuring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino. Osborne will be signing books after the screening.
Actor and writer William Wellman, Jr and Parick Loughney of Geroge Eastman House will be the special guests for the screening of William Wellman's Beggars of Life that follows Camille on Saturday night. Wellman, Jr. will be signing his book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, preceding the screening of his father's classic flm.
Sunday kicks off with an free-admission event unique to the festival. Patrick Loughney of George Eastman House, Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress, and Rob Stone of the UCLA Film and Television Archive will present More Amazing Tales From The Archive. This year's Tales will demonstrate, through clps and slide presentations, the tough work film preservationsts face trying to save classic movies for future generations. Later in the afternoon, Mike Mashon will introduce, William DeMille's (brother of Cecil B Demille) domestic drama, Miss Lulu Bett.
Sunday night begins with a screening of A Cottage of Dartmoor a sort of silent Britsh Film Noir, introduced by Eddie Muller president of founder of The Film Noir Foundation. Muller, author of the witty and informative, Dark City:The Lost World of Film Noir, will attend a booksigning following the screening. The festival end with The Godless Girl which will be introduced by Scott Simmon of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
For information on tickets to the festival go to
For more on the Silent Film Festival as well as silent film events in the Seattle are ,check out David Jeffers aritcle, A Silent Feast,