Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for the big 5th Anniversary Party

That is, the fifth anniversary of playing movies every Saturday night at the Edison Theater at the Niles Film Museum. In three years, we'll celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original theater. 5+3 = 100, because we're bad at math.

By the way, before I forget, some anonymous donor has offered a $2,000 challenge to the museum. If they raise $2,000 in donations by the end of the month (I know, 1 week away), they'll match it with $2,000. I know we took in quite a lot last night, but I don't know the total. I was looking around the website for a donation button, but couldn't find one. So I guess show up during museum hours (noon-4 pm, Saturday and Sunday) or call at (510) 494-1411. Donations of $25 or more get you 1) entered into a super-duper raffle for fabulous prizes (DVDs, books, museum membership, etc.) on Jan 31st, and 2) you name on a slat on the wall in the theater. Or for $500 you can sponsor a poster restoration project. The poster will hang in the museum with a plaque with your name beside it, and you'll get a reproduction for your home.

Okay, with that out of the way there were also movies last night, specifically movies that were restoration projects of the museum.

KNIGHT OF PYTHIUS CORNERSTONE LAYING AND PARADE, FRUITVALE, CA (1913): A document of history. Town leaders give speeches (which of course we don't hear), lay a cornerstone, have a parade.

SOL LESSER HOME MOVIES (1925): Lesser was a San Francisco native and film producer/distributor (He worked with Jackie Coogan and Baby Peggy, and made a lot of Tarzan movies later in his career). These are home movies with him and his family clowning around. Sometimes funny, especially the William Tell scene.

SECRETS OF LIFE: THE BIRTH OF A BUTTERFLY (1924): Produced by Sol Lesser, and an interesting early look at amazing ultra-close-up photography. A caterpillar hatches, eats, and forms a cocoon. Only problem, it stops at the cocoon, and we never actually see the birth of a butterfly.

The first three movies were accompanied by Judy Rosenberg. Which reminds me, normally we have one pianist per night, but for this special night we had 4. Each got up beforehand and talked about how they came to silent film and to Niles in particular. That was cool (especially Frederick Hodges, who I'll get to at the end).

Okay, more movies:

THE BIG SWIM (1926): Accompanied by Greg Pane. An old Mutt and Jeff cartoon. And now I have to confess that I'd never seen Mutt and Jeff, so I don't know which is which. So anyway, with news celebrating someone swimming across the English Channel, they decide to make really, really big news by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean. One swims while the other follows in a boat. Easier than it sounds, with the help of a cork-lined swimsuit. Wacky hijinx ensue, and it was really funny.

Then an intermission, some punch and cake, some donations (I got my wall slat reserved), and then back to the movies, with some actual Essanay Studios products:

BILLY MCGRATH ON BROADWAY (1913): Accompanied by Bruce Loeb. An Essanay production from the Chicago studio, Billy McGrath decides to produce a Broadway play. Problem is, the actors walk out. No problem, the stage hands fill in, and wackiness ensues. Includes Augustus Carney, famous as Alkali Ike in Essanay westerns in Niles. He went to Chicago for a while but the tightly regimented schedule worked him too hard and he returned to Niles. Suck it, Chicago!

VERSUS SLEDGE HAMMERS (1915): Accompanied by Frederick Hodges. A Niles Essanay production, and one of the few surviving Snakeville comedies. Margeret Joslin is Sophie Clutts, the only eligible woman in Snakeville, AZ, and sweetheart of Mustang Pete (real-life husband Harry Todd). Tall, svelteVictor Potel is a count visiting from out of town who has his eye on Sophie, and so the battle begins. Googly-eyed Ben Turpin plays the Count's valet, who does helpful stuff like light his hat on fire (I guess you had to be there).

Oh, and I said Frederick Hodges had the best "coming to silent film" story of all the pianists. Turns out when he was nine he asked Santa Claus for a Sears-Roebuck film projector--and got it. It came with rolls of silent films, and he'd watch them in his room. But they were silent, and he was learning piano and liked ragtime (BTW, we sell his CD's in the museum) and learned to play along with the movies. Later in college he formed a film club and played whatever he wanted. One day he was playing PANDORA'S BOX for an audience and realized it didn't have a soundtrack (most silents were released with a soundtrack accompaniment). So he ran down to the piano that was fortuitously at the front of the theater, and started playing along. And the rest is history.

Running Time: Not listed, so I'm estimating about 90 minutes
My Total Minutes (estimated): 167,608
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