An eager audience, featuring many locals among the other festival attendees packed in to give the Castro Theatre a full house for the return of The Last Edition. The screening, part of the 2013 program of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival was even briefly held up to ensure that every seat was filled.
The beautiful Castro Theatre – which opened in 1922, three years before The Last Edition was filmed – appeared the perfect venue for the presentation of this restored San Franciscan film, and its valuable documentation of the city in the 1920s. The film’s trailer was shown, before Rob Byrne, San Francisco Silent Film Festival Board President, and the film’s restorer, took to the stage. Rob gave thanks to the Library of Congress, for its preservation of the film’s trailer, and the supply of the trailer for use in the restoration of the feature. Further thanks were offered to those who helped fund the restoration, partnering institution EYE and the Haghefilm Digitaal lab which produced the new film elements. Rob described his original encounter with the film at EYE’s archive, comparing the emergence of views over San Francisco amongst the nitrate damage to the city clearing through the fog, drawing knowing laughter.
The impressive interior of The Castro Theatre in San Francisco
Stephen Horne, accompanist for this screening of the film was introduced, before the audience settled in to enjoy the brand new 35mm print. Cheers greeted familiar sights of the city, and the audience made clear its enjoyment in particular of the stuntwork and schtick of Rex Lease. A brief issue with the projection was received sympathetically, with Stephen improvising through this interlude, much to the enjoyment of the audience. Throughout, his use of piano, accordion and flute accentuated the resonance of the narrative, developing the presentation of the film into a layered performance.
Applause burst out as the film reached its emotional climax – suggestive of Johnson’s skill in encouraging empathy for the good natured spirit of his pressman, Tom McDonald. The applause was sustained, with the audience rising to its feet as the film closed, signalling their pleasure at Stephen’s thoughtful accompaniment to the now happily restored The Last Edition. From here, the print travels to The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, as one of the first items in the newly established San Francisco Silent Film Festival Collection. Here, careful conservation will ensure The Last Edition remains available for future audiences for hundreds of years to come.