After a two-year break the San Francisco Silent Film Festival roars back to life on May 5th. This 25th anniversary edition lasts until May 11 and is jam-packed with films. Among these treasures is Below the Surface (1920), preserved by the Festival through the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation. The premiere of the restoration occurs on Friday, May 6, at 2pm, and we hope you can make it.
Below the Surface was the follow-up to the notorious revenge melodrama Behind the Door (1919). It reunites producer Thomas Ince, director Irvin Willat, star Hobart Bosworth, and cinematographer J.O. Taylor (later to film King Kong). Both films have action aboard submarines and a macabre shipboard denouement. In Below the Surface Bosworth plays a diver in small-town Maine who’s assisted by his loyal son (Lloyd Hughes). Their relationship is threatened when the female half of a pair of grifters wraps the son around her finger, forcing Bosworth to employ extreme measures.
“This production has all the ingredients of a success and is bound to interest and please any audience anywhere,” according to Variety. Willat had “extracted every ounce of value from the story.” As for Hobart Bosworth, “his personality is magnetic and he seems to live the part rather than play it.” Wid’s Daily also praised the direction and staging: “They call this one a special and it certainly is worthy of the name...the story gets away to a wonderful start introducing a sequence that is loaded to the sprocket holes with thrills and suspense.”
To preserve Below the Surface, the Festival worked from a duplicate negative (in black and white) at the Library of Congress and an edited, tinted nitrate print at EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The latter was used as a color reference for tinting and to supply shots and sequences that had decomposed on the LOC negative. Now complete for the first time since 1920, Below the Surface awaits adventurous cinemagoers at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.