2018. If there was one film I wanted to see at the festival it was The Lighthouse Keepers (Jean Grémillon, 1929) in the gorgeous Japanese print from the Komiya collection. But our plane from Paris was delayed, and when Emile Mahler and I arrived at the hotel after long hours of travel, it was already 9 p.m. in San Francisco and, for us, morning by France’s clock. Nevertheless, we struggled against exhaustion and went to the Castro where we arrived as the theater lights had just gone down.
The first five minutes of the film, a stunning 35mm print from an unfortunately decaying nitrate print, were amazing. Then, for me, the light went out, and I must admit I fell asleep like a log.
When I woke up, I grabbed the last five minutes and again was thrilled by what I saw. When the film ended, there was a roar of applause in the theater that made me regret we had not flown in one day earlier. We went out, hugged a few friends that I would be seeing over the next few days, and soon we were by ourselves on the sidewalk in front of the Castro with SFSFF’s Anita Monga and Stacey Wisnia.
They told me how happy they were that we had finally arrived, and I answered that not seeing Lighthouse Keepers was the saddest moment in the year. And I begged them to give me an email address or contact for Hisashi Okajima from the National Film Archive of Japan, so I could contact him to organize a new restoration of this masterpiece.
They laughed. A taxi arrived. And so did a man, coming out of the Castro. “Would you want to share a taxi with our good friends from Lobster Films, dear Hisashi?” they said … Ten seconds later, Mahler and I were in the same taxi as the head of the Japanese National Archive, on our way to the hotel (the same, by pure chance). By the time we arrived five minutes later, the project of restoring this masterpiece was approved.
Soon, on the SFSFF screen and thanks to our two guardian angels, we will see the new 4K restoration of The Lighthouse Keepers, a collaborative work between the National Film Archive of Japan and Lobster Films.
It only happens in dreamland … or at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
SERGE BROMBERG is the founder of the Paris-based Lobster Films and brainchild of the Retour de Flamme live shows of early cinema treasures that have thrilled audiences around the world. He’ll be live and in person for screenings of King of the Circus, starring Max Linder, and Julien Duvivier’s The Divine Voyage.