San Francisco Silent Film Festival celebrates 20th anniversary


Silence, please! It’s almost time for the 20th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, slated to run May 28-June 1 at the City by the Bay’s wonderful vintage movie palace, the Castro. And this writer will be making his first visit to the fest, having decided he’s not getting any younger.

The event opens with the proverbial bang, the long lost alternate silent version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). Recently restored by the Library of Congress, the opening night presentation will feature a new score and live sound effects by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra—which will provide musical accompaniment for films throughout the festival, as will Donald Sosin and others.

Another highlight is “Sherlock Holmes” (1916)—one of the so-called holy grails of lost films—starring William Gillette, the foremost interpreter of the fictional detective on stage. Professor Russell Merritt, supervising editor of the film’s preservation project, says, “There’s not an actor dead or alive who hasn’t consciously or intuitively played off Gillette.” Flicker Alley has just announced it will release the Blu-ray/DVD premiere of the film in October.

Among other films being shown are F. W. Murnau’s “The Last Laugh” (1924), starring Emil Jannings in one of the great performances of all time; Harold Lloyd’s “Speedy” (1928), which includes a cameo by Babe Ruth; Colleen Moore’s delightful “Why Be Good?” (1929); and four shorts by unjustly forgotten comedian-animator Charley Bowers.

A real oddity is an untitled and unreleased film project shot in 1913 and abandoned mid-production, with a cast of black actors headed by famed entertainer Bert Williams. The Museum of Modern Art will present an hour-long assemblage of daily rushes, multiple takes and still photos.

Oscar-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow will present “Flesh and the Devil” (1926), starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. He’ll also introduce the closing night film, “Ben-Hur” (1925) with Ramón Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, the most expensive Hollywood production of its era.


Where to dine before the show—Scott’s Restaurant, Costa Mesa

Jennifer Leitham Trio at Scott’s Restaurant
Jennifer Leitham Trio at Scott’s Restaurant

Few things go together as well as jazz and brunch, especially when you do both as well as Scott’s Restaurant & Bar, across from South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Having patronized the establishment with great satisfaction before a show at South Coast Repertory—or was it Segerstrom Center for the Arts—whetted my appetite for their Sunday Jazz Brunch, which would of course pair perfectly with a matinee. (And yes, for you last-minute planners, Scott’s is serving a Mother’s Day brunch, with the George Gilliam Trio featuring pianist Llew Matthews.)

The Hokkaido Scallops, flown in from their island namesake in Japan, are scrumptious enough to kickstart your repast in style. But the signature appetizer (abundant enough for four) is Scott’s Calamari. It’s so sharp and tangy it almost jumps off the plate as if to say, “Hey, how you doin’?” – or was that the event’s affable host, Bubba Jackson, who’s every bit as personable as he is on Long Beach jazz station KKJZ 88.1?

The Lacinato Kale and Beet Salad, with Medjool dates, almonds and goat cheese, looks almost too good to eat and tastes as good as it looks. The wonderfully savory Wood Fired Shrimp is a more substantial beginning but leaves less room for the entrée, and you do want to leave plenty of room. My suggestion is to dine in no less than a group of four, to taste everything that beckons you from the menu (two is a more intimate number, of course, but could lead to frustration).

If you’ve never had Pulled Pork Pancakes, with the sandwiched between two hotcakes topped with a fried egg and slathered with maple syrup, you haven’t lived. The Spicy Linguica Hash, made with Portuguese smoked pork sausage, Gulf shrimp, potatoes and peppers, served with a side guajillo chile scramble, is as delectable as it sounds. The Shrimp Cake Benedict, while perhaps more appealing to those on a diet, was a disappointment—the only one on the menu.

If you’re a bit full after the entrée, you may be inclined to skip the oh-so-tempting Cheesecake Stuffed Beignets (complete with fresh strawberries, caramel sauce and powdered sugar), and that would be a shame. It may be the most delicious OMG moment you’ll have all day—and there are more than a few thanks to exec chef Mike Doctulero and chef de cusine Porfirio Gomez.

As for the music, it’s notably softer that the typical restaurant entertainment; you won’t be asking them to turn it down a notch. Jennifer Leitham, the superb bassist we heard last week, promised Bubba Jackson she’d return for an encore; meanwhile, Llew Matthews (May 17), saxophonist Jerry Mandel (May 24), pianist George Kahn (May 31) and pianist Ron Kobayashi (June 7) are slated to perform; jazz singer-pianist Carol Welsman is scheduled for a two-evening appearance (May 29-30). For reservations, call Scott’s at (714) 979-2400.