Berklee Silent Film Orchestra to Perform at San Francisco Silent Film Festival

By 
Rob Hayes
May 14, 2015
Press release
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The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra performing Battleship Potemkin at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Photo by Henry Hayes

On Friday, May 29 at 7:00 p.m., the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will feature the West Coast premiere of the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra’s original score to F.W. Murnau’s 1924 iconic silent film, The Last Laugh. The BSFO will perform in the jazz-age Castro Theatre to a new, high-definition DCP print of the film, obtained from the Murnau Stiftung by the festival, and never previously seen in this country.

Advance tickets to the May 29 screening/performance of The Last Laugh at the Castro Theatre can be purchased through the SF Silent Film Festival website at silentfilm.org. Ticket prices are $22/general admission; reduced price tickets are available for SF Silent Film members, and members of the Berklee community.

The Last Laugh is widely considered one of the most enduring silent film classics of all time. The film stars the brilliant Emil Jannings, later winner of the very first Academy Award for best actor. In this, his greatest role, Emil Jannings plays the chief porter at a prestigious hotel, a position affording him respect and dignity.

His military-style uniform is the emblem of his stature­—especially among his poor neighbors—and a source of great personal pride, so his subsequent demotion to washroom attendant and the loss of the uniform is devastating. 

The film’s emotional depth is bolstered by its remarkable technical innovation—Murnau’s “unchained” camera is as beautifully expressive as Jannings’s heartbreaking performance and allows the story to flow without the need for intertitles.


The recipient of a special commendation from the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO) is dedicated to composing new, original scores for silent feature classics, and performing them live-to-picture. Based at Berklee, the student orchestra composes its new works, and performs as an ensemble, under the leadership of Emmy-nominated Sheldon Mirowitz (Outside ProvidenceMissing in America), film scoring professor. The BSFO has performed as part of the Nantucket Film Festival, at the Univ. Massachusetts Amherst, and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

To date, the BSFO has scored nine iconic silent features (SunriseItBattleship PotemkinPiccadillyFaustOur HospitalitySafety LastPhantom of the Opera, and The Last Laugh) all commissioned by the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, as part of the theater’s Sounds of Silents program, which champions silent film music performance.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about silent film as an art form and as a culturally valuable historical record. Throughout the year, SFSFF produces events that showcase important titles from the silent era, often in restored or preserved prints, with live musical accompaniment by some of the world’s finest practitioners of the art of putting music to film. Each presentation exemplifies the extraordinary quality that Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow calls “live cinema.”

It is through these films that the world first came to love movies and learned how to appreciate them as art. They have influenced every generation of filmmakers and continue to inspire audiences nearly a century after they were made.