Monday, July 2, 2012

Jason goes to the first night of the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival

It's the biggest weekend of the year at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. A whole weekend devoted to their film festival (which pre-dates the brick-and-mortar museum.) Friday night was the big kickoff, starting with a little get together with snacks and socializing with the guests. And then, on to the movies

THE ARRIVAL OF ESSANAY IN NILES (2012): That's right, this year. We started the festival with the movie that the members of the museum shot on April 1st (no fooling) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Broncho Billy and his crew arriving in Niles. It's pretty fun to watch the train pull into the station just across the street, and see all these people you know get off it in period garb (hey, that Broncho Billy guy looks just like Bruce!) It's equally fun to spot the obvious anachronisms. While the actors are dressed in period garb, bystanders are taking pictures with modern cameras. While antique cars drive off, there are modern cars in the background. All good fun. And oh yeah, this was shot on film, using 90 year old cameras. Pretty damn cool.

ATLANTIS (1913): This was an incredible nearly 2-hour long movie from Denmark at the time when nearly all American films were one or two-reelers. Before WWI played a bit of havoc on Europe, in many ways European films were more advanced than American films (BTW, thank you David Shepard for the informative talk) and this was produced by Nordisk, the oldest continually operating film production house still in operation today (some that were started earlier, like Pathe, went through bankruptcies and reorganizations so can't really claim the continual operation that Nordisk can.) It's based on the novel by Nobel Laureate Gerhart Hauptman, and features the sinking of an ocean liner in the big action piece. It's important to note that the novel was published just before the Titanic sunk, but obviously the movie was made afterwards, and certainly the sinking scenes are informed by the real event. Anyway, it's the story of a doctor who has a bit of a mid-life crisis. His wife is suffering from hereditary mental illness, and his latest paper of bacteriological theories has been rejected by the University of Berlin. So he runs off, falls in love with a dancer, follows her on a cruise (which sinks) and is rescued and they are brought to New York. And it's a bit of an epic just in terms of length and the patience you need to stick with it. But it rewards that patience and attention, and is really an accomplishment that's ahead of its time.

Oh yeah, and the best part is that Nordisk typically would make alternate unhappy endings specifically for the Russian audience, since they preferred tragedy. In this case, because Hauptman had written a happy ending (spoiler alert) and insisted the film not deviate from it, the Russian ending was made with instructions only to show it in Siberia (where presumably Hauptman's reach wouldn't extend.) For the record, I kinda prefer the Russian ending, but most importantly it was a treat to get to see both endings. Almost like a DVD extra, but actually on the film (which was a beautiful print, struck directly from the negative.)

Well, at this point it was about 10:30 and we were all tired, none more so than the pianist Frederick Hodges. We could only talk him into one more one-reeler, and it had to be a comedy, so after a quick leg stretch, we got one little bonus.

THE TOURISTS (1912): Mabel Normand and a gang of tourists stop at in Indian village and get into a bit of shenanigans. Mostly the Big Chief's wife doesn't like how the Big Chief is so accommodating in showing Mabel around the village.

And that was it. The festival continues today (Saturday) but I'm missing it so I can spend the whole day drinking and watching soccer (Go Quakes! Beat the hated L.A. Galaxy!) But I'll be back on Sunday for the finale.

Total Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 288,824
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