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The Magpie Reviews: 11th Annual International Silent Film Festival

I thought I’d do this new thing where I write specifically about events in Manila for three reasons:

  1. It forces me to live as normally as I would in the States. After 2 and 1/2 months, I need to take ownership of this place as my city, even if it means doing the things I love, that give me life, all by my lonesome. It forces me out of the safe little box I have, if even just for an evening

  2. I can remember all the amazing opportunities living in this bustling city offered during my year here

  3. Maybe my hot takes as a glamorous expat will be picked up by the Filipino Tourism Board and I get sent cool opportunities OF COURSE THIS IS SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION DON’T YOU KNOW ME AT ALL??


So this weekend was the 11th Annual International Silent Film Festival held at the Shangrila Mall. It was completely unique from any other film festival I’ve ever been to. Member countries (including France, UK, US, and Japan) submitted either modern or classic silent films and then a live contemporary Filipino music group was paired with the movie to create a unique, updated score right in the theatre with the audience.

I saw two films. The first was Underground (1928), a study on the quotidien of life in the London Tube and the “ordinary workaday” people who inhabit it. In the story, a sassy shop girl is courted by a morally steadfast porter AND a dastardly plant worker whose scorned ex goes psycho; which literally happens all the time, ammirite ladies?? It was dramatic, thrilling, and stupidly romantic. Like the girl next to me literally swooned.

(Okay, fine, I was the girl next to me)


This look of sentimental admiration is one I only reserve for new John Oliver episodes

The film was matched with a new age dub band called Goodleaf. It shouldn’t have worked at all but it did; somehow the inaccessible modernity of the electrofunk matched with the inaccessibility of the silent, ancient London that no longer exists. And at the same time, a thread of something so transcendent, the emotion of danger and love, tied the whole thing together. I know it sounds dramatic but the audience was transfixed. At one point, the band had been creating a long, complicated beat that didn’t really make sense until a little boy in the film started playing a harmonica. They added the harmonica into the beat and it was like magic.


Me whenever someone besmirches the good name of National Treasure Joe Biden

Following the train theme, the second film I went to was the Buster Keaton US classic The General (1926) paired with a soul/funk band called Flipping Soul Stompers.


The never-ending ennui of emerging adulthood

What I had totally not realized about this film was that the hero, the charming and goofy Keaton as Johnnie Gray, was helping the Confederacy against the comically evil Union Army. It was odd knowing it came out in 1926 when you’d like to think America would have known better but then again the KKK has reared its ugly head in 2017, so what the hey. Surprisingly, very little of it was political so I had to look at it like a bygone artifact. AND Keaton really is that much of a genius that my initial dislike was immediately erased.

The audience ooh’d and ahh’d at every trick of the camera and every daring stunt. Almost 100 years after its filming, even after all the desensitization of movie-goers because of CGI, we still gasped and clapped when Keaton performed every amazing feat. There was something so powerful about knowing it was all real and so risky. It was true talent and we were dazzled.


Dodging a real bullet, like a Tinder bio that says “#MAGA”

The music was fun, light-hearted, and foot-tappingly good. At one point, I was laughing at a pratfall and bobbing my head to the music; they were completely separate reactions but instead of feeling discombobulated, I was delighted.


Silent films and modern music is like pairing a fine wine with an experimental fusion tapas. It works because you enjoy both separate and then together. The whole festival really recaptured my fascination with silent films, how the lack of dialogue forced such creativity to get the same emotional reaction as a “talkie”. I marveled at how nearly century-old jokes got the same reaction half a world away. I, along with the packed filipino cinema, was absolutely charmed and entirely moonstruck.


Magpie Reviews: 10/10


Signing off of social media at the first mention of “…let me play devil’s advocate here but…”

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