Meet Robert Byrne, President, Board of Directors of San Francisco Silent Film Festival, film restorer and engineer. We sat dow to talk about how he developed his passion for silent films, the legacy of silent films and his work in restoring silent films. We also find out why Byrne switched his major from film and theatre to computer science. After working as an engineer for many years, he went back to pursuing his primary passion in films.

Many films were destroyed or lost over the decades. But every now and then a lost print will surface like the 1916 on Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette. Byrne was involved in the restoration of this iconic  film since Gillette is the one who created that memorable get-up for Holmes through his stage play, which later on became a silent film. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle approved of Gillette’s stage play on Holmes. That long coat,  curved pipe and the deerstalker hat are creations of Gillette points out Byrne.

Every June the San Francisco Silent Film Festival takes place where they showcase silent films from around the world. The festival recreates the silent film era experience complete with live music by well-known orchestras. This year the San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs from June 1 through June 4, 2017 at the Castro Theatre.

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Video: The Silent Picture Experience at Cinequest with Dennis James

Dennis James at Wurlitzer Organ

Dennis James at Wurlitzer Organ

If you have ever watched a silent picture in a cinema hall then you know what the whole experience is like.The silent film is usually accompanied by a live musician or an orchestra and it is an absolute treat to be transported back in time. There is an interactive element to the whole experience and you don’t mind if people make a comment every now and then since this is not a talkie film.

Last night we got to see King Vidor’s brilliant film “The Crowd” (1928) at the beautiful, art deco California Theatre in San Jose. The film was part of this year’s  Cinequest Film Festival line-up. The live music for the silent picture was provided by noted silent film  musician Dennis James. He played non-stop for nearly 110 minutes on a restored Wurlitzer organ. I had a front row seat and it was amazing to see how he barely paused during the course of the film and was deeply observed in watching the film and making sure that the music was in-sync with what was unfolding on the silver screen.

If you have never seen a silent picture with live music, here is a quick look at it. Watch the dramatic way in which James comes up  from what seems like the bottom of the stage and then sits right in front of the silver screen. And when the film comes to an end, he goes down the stage. Imagine what a thrilling experience it must have been for an audience in the 1920s.