MY father brought home a defective cathode-ray-tube TV set when I was in sixth grade, a hand-me-down he procured from a repair shop.
It was bulky but more advanced compared to its contemporaries, except that its speakers didn’t work. I sat in front of the screen day in and out, imagining whatever dialogue was taking place based on context.
Then I stumbled upon silent films, a world dominated by the likes of the great mime Charlie Chaplin. Naïve as I was back in the day, I learned that there really are actual movies that could convey messages without a need for spoken dialogue. If something was ought to be said, it would be delivered through muted gestures and title cards, or a copious use of music—upbeat, suggestive or dour—that elicits the kind of emotions even poets fail to accurately put into words.
I thought that silent films are an anachronism in this age where movies are awash with drama, which would rather tell it than show it, until I learned of the movement that is the International Silent Film Festival in Manila, which takes the cudgels for the appreciation of silent pictures by bringing them back to the silver screen.
Now on its 11th this year, the Philippine-Italian Association, the Japan Foundation Manila, Goethe-Institut Philippinen, the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Instituto Cervantes, the British Council, and the embassies of the US, France and Austria will bring together the very best of silent cinema, which will be accompanied by the best Filipino musicians on the scene and a French-Vietnamese guest artist.
Slated from August 31 to September 3 at the Shang Cineplex in Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong City, the festival reels off on August 31 with Instituto Cervantes presenting the 1918 classic action-cum-comedy El Golfo, directed by José de Togores and stars Irene Heredia, Mariano Ozores and Ernesto Vilches.
The film tells the story of tramp Enrique Villar who goes through much trouble to win the heart of his love. The rock band Talahib will enliven the film with a live performance.
Meanwhile, the British Council will present the iconic item from another time, thanks to the discovery of an alternative print at the Brussels Cinematheque Royale and the advancement in photochemical and digital techniques. This said, the British Film Institute has restored the magnificence of Anthony Asquith’s Underground, a 1928 silent romance that reveals the era’s London life in the underground tube system. A live musical performance by dub band Goodleaf will accompany the film.
Scored by the French-Vietnamese harpist Heloïse LaHarpe, Marcel L’Herbier’s Inhumaine (The New Enchantment,1923), the Embassy of France to the Philippines’s entry relates a timeless story of love, deceit and everything in between.
For their part, the Philippine Italian Association, together with the Embassy of Italy, will screen the world premiere of an experimental silent film by Filipino-Italian director Ruben Maria Soriquez, Una Famiglia Perfetta (2017) to be live-scored by the instrumental rock trio Tom’s Story.
Japan Foundation-Manila will, on the other hand, feature Hijosen no Onna(1933) by Yasujiro Ozu, a screening that will feature a rare performance by Ichiro Kataoka, a noted benshi or silent film narrator, actor, storyteller from Japan, who will provide a live interpretation of the silent film. The screening and narration will be accompanied by The Celso Espejo Rondalla, a group that plays Filipino music on traditional native strings.
The Philippines’s two-person drama, Gym Lumbera’s Taglish (2012), will be accompanied by the stoner-metal quartet Kapitan Kulam. The last film made and released by Sascha-Film, the first major film studio in Vienna, will be courtesy of Embassy of Austria. Titled Cafè Elektric (1927), the flick will be live-scored by Rivermaya.
Goethe-Institut Philippinen will screen one of silent cinema’s masterworks, George Wilhelm Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), which is based on the controversial plays of Frank Wedekind and features the dazzling Louise Brooks in her classic bobbed hairstyle as Lulu. Pandora’s Box will be accompanied by the Raymond Marasigan-led Sandwich.
Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton’s most revered silent comedy film of the silent era, The General (1926), will be presented by the US Embassy, and scored by Flippin’ Soul Stompers.
Written by Vernon Velasco for Business Mirror