Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Beau Geste (and a couple of shorts)

Back for the first time in weeks at my local silent film theater. And I won't be back for another month, what with Cinequest and SFIAAFF (Asianfest) coming up. And the house was packed last night. Surprising given there weren't many pre-sales.

First short, CHARACTER STUDIES (1925): Carter DeHaven is an amazing impressionist. He does impeccable makeup disguises of the great stars of the day. Why, I could swear he literally turned into Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks. And I still can't figure out how he shrunk himself to become Jackie Coogan. It was a riot!

Then THE TRAMP (1915): Shot just up the road in Niles, it's the movie that made history by "naming" and indelibly linking Chaplin to his little tramp character. Charlie saves Edna Purviance from some hobos (cleverly using the brick they switched for his sandwich). Out of gratitude, her father gives him...work. And so he causes no small amount of chaos as a farmhand. The hobos return, and Charlie saves the family again. But when he realizes he'll never get his hoped-for reward (Edna's hand in marriage), he hits the road again, walking right up Niles Canyon. Awesome to finally see this on the big screen.

And after an intermission, the feature film BEAU GESTE (1926): Famously remade many times, I've seen no versions, and so I've started with the first. The movie opens with a battalion of the French Foreign Legion approaching a fort, warned of an impending Arab attack. They find a mysterious scene. First a trumpeter goes over the wall, and disappears. So the captain goes over. He finds everyone dead (but propped up on the walls to appear as a defending force). The fort's commander is dead, with a french bayonet in his back. Another corpse is holding a letter of confession about a sapphire called "The Blue Water". The captain opens the gate, walks out, and starts describing the scene to his men. And then the fort spontaneously catches fire, and burns to the ground. The rest of the movie is about getting us back to that scene.

Flash back to the Geste brothers--Michael (Beau), John, and Digby--as young boys in England. They're from an aristocratic family, and play at being soldiers. The Blue Water is a family treasure. But the family is on hard times, and has to sell it. So Beau steals it and runs away, or so says his note. In fact, John claims he's only covering for him, and he runs away too. And Digby does the same, all covering for each other. And they all, to escape their self-condemnation, join the French Foreign Legion. There they are split up, but the bonds of brotherhood are stronger than any bond, and they brave the desert, a sadistic commander, attack by Arabs, and a plot to steal Blue Water. All ending in a viking funeral in the desert.

An amazing adventure film, epic in scope, and made more amazing by Jon Mirsalis, who provided the score. And this night, we wheeled the piano away and he brought in his synthesizer for not just a piano score but trumpets, gunshots, and even howling desert wind. Awesome

Total Running Time: 139 minutes
My Total Minutes: 172,196
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