Monday, December 7, 2009

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees The Great Nickelodeon Show

And it was such a packed event that I, as a volunteer at the Niles Film Museum, did not get my customary front row seat but in fact crowded onto the stairs in the back. And still, it was absolutely awesome!

The Edison Theatre at the Niles Film Museum (one of the rare theatres that plays silent films every week) was originally built in 1913 (and restored to a theater in 2004/2005), and last Saturday was a time machine back to those days. The films were hand-crankes (by our historian/projectionist David Kiehn, whose book makes a great Christmas present) and the whole affair was wrapped into an interactive Vaudeville show packed full of sing-alongs.

The first of those sing-alongs was the opening find-a-seat-and-park-it song, Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly (Kelly From The Emerald Isle. 1909). A recorded piece with accompanying pictures (all songs had accompanying pictures).

Once we were settled in with that, we were ready for Windsor McCay (Greg Tiede) and his fabulous "interactiv" cartoons LITTLE NEMO (thre king of dreamland) and GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. Simple line drawing animation, but made to be paired with a live Vaudeville patter, and Mr. Tiede did a great job, particularly with whipping Gertie into shape.

Then we saw the gorgeously hand-tinted print of THE GOLDEN BEETLE (1907): A magician creates a brightly colored flying man-bug who takes control.

And then WINTER STRAW RIDE (1906): A groups of ladies go on a ride through the snow, but are pelted by the boys with snowballs. Once their sleigh is stopped, they get out, join in, and get a touch of revenge.

Then some more singing while our projectionist took a break and prepared for his next act. "Hello, Hello New York Town" (1912) is a song about an aviator and his best girl who go all around the world but can't find anyplace better than NYC. Performed by Sean Sharp.

Then in "Oh, You Spearmint Kiddo With The Wrigley Eyes" Mr. Sharp was joined by Lori Leigh Gieleghem to sing about a girl who loved chewing gum. And then they passed out gum to the whole audience.

More movies: THE DANCING PIG (1907): a girl and her giant pig (man in a pig suit) did a few dances and freaked me the hell out.

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903): The seminal movie, the first "story" film, and the big break that started our patron saint G M Anderson on his filmmaking career. Awesome!

Another song, "Take Me Out For A Joyride" (1909) sung by Miss Lori Leigh Giegelhem, about a girl who likes to go riding, no matter the risks.

Then the amazing, magnificent Sebastian Boswell III (Mr. Reed Kirk Rahlman) astounded, amazed, and shocked us all by hammering a four inch spike into his head! Sure enough, it went up his nose with a hammer, and back out with pliers, and a great patter and performance all along.

Then another film, SUSPENSE (1913): A man calls his wife to let her know he'll be home late. Meanwhile, the help quits leaving her defenseless and a prowler tries to break in. So she calls her husband, who has to steal a car and outrace the cops to save her. Whew!

And one last song, "At The Rag Time Ball": a husband and wife (Mr. Sharp and Miss Gieleghem) sing about how they'll wow 'em all at the Rag Time Ball.

And the grand finale, Georges Melies' classic A TRIP TO THE MOON played the way it was originally seen, with live narration. That narration was provided by the Barbary Coast Thespians (Miss Gieleghem, Mr. Rahlmann, Mr. Sharp, and Mr. Tiede), and was a mix of funny and informative (with a dig at conservatives). Lots of fun, but I was left wondering a bit how close it was to the original period narration.

And that was THE GREAT NICKELODEON SHOW.

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