Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Fest--Friday night

Last weekend was the biggest weekend of the year at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, their 16th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (and yes, for those of you who can do simple math and know that the physical museum building was opened in 2005, the film festival does predate the museum theater.)

After a meet-and-greet and some snacks, we started the festivities with BILLY MCGRATH ON BROADWAY (1913): I might as well just copy and paste what I wrote when I saw it a few years ago:
An Essanay production from the Chicago studio, Billy McGrathdecides 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!
That pretty much says it all. Especially the "Suck it, Chicago!" line.

BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET (2013): Now this is the treat of the festival. A brand new silent film (formerly known as THE CANYON) produced by the museum, directed by our historian/projectionist David Kiehn using authentic ~100 year old cameras and genuine black-and-white 35 mm film. It was even edited by actually cutting and splicing film. This was actually a work print, the brightness hasn't been balanced on all the scenes (although they didn't really do that back in the day, so it's kind of more authentic this way) and they need a few more intertitles, but this was the mostly finished version (since everything is done in the camera, there are no special effects to add.)

The story starts--much as G. M. Anderson did before he was Broncho Billy--with a great train robbery. Broncho Billy (our own Bruce Cates) is on the train but instead of running away he pays careful attention to the robbers. Enough that he--along with his crew at the Essanay Studio--can assist the sheriff in catching the bad guys. Lots of adventure, and when it's all over Anderson has a great idea for a movie and it all ends with a proud Anderson and an embarrassed sheriff watching the movie-within-a-movie (that is actually an actual Broncho Billy movie.)

By the way, did I mention that the theme of the festival was "Movies About Movies?" was.

Okay, then an intermission and our feature film.

SHOW PEOPLE (1928): Continuing the theme of movies about movies, Marion Davies stars as Peggy Pepper, a young actress who was the toast of her small town in Georgia so she came out to Hollywood to become a star. More than that--a serious actress. But it turns out she has a knack for comedy and has a bit of success at Comet Studio and makes a friend in Billy Boone (William Haines.) But soon enough she catches the eye of the big High Art Studio and is in the big time. She's even set to marry into (I assume not quite legitimate) royalty. A solid story, but what makes this movie so much fun is the send-up of Hollywood pretentiousness itself, and the parade of celebrity cameos as themselves. A cool way to end the first night of the festival.

Total Running Time: 122 minutes
My Total Minutes: 332,843

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