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Silent Sunday

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I used to complain about the lack of revival film showings in the area where I live. Not anymore. Recently, a group of local film lovers decided to do a series of silent movie presentations with live organ accompaniment. The films have been shown at The Orpheum, a beautifully restored 1920s movie palace in downtown Phoenix. Last night they presented the early Technicolor Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler The Black Pirate. We went with a couple of friends and had lots of fun, even if some of the details weren’t quite as perfect as they could be.

The program began with a couple of early animated shorts – Walt Disney’s Puss In Boots and Felix the Cat in Hollywood. Both had the rudimentary feel of comic books in motion, with thought balloons growing out of characters’ heads and simple, repetitive actions. But they were also quite funny in their own clumsy way. I appreciated the lampoonings of then-current stars like Rudolf Valentino, Gloria Swanson and Ben Turpin, as well as the dated lingo coming from the characters’ mouths. It was an experience very similar to when Bart and Milhouse watched that 1920s Itchy and Scratchy cartoon on The Simpsons

When it came time for The Black Pirate, I was disappointed to find that the only print the theatre had was blurry and dark — and in black and white, not color. Plus, the title cards were set in a goofy looking font called Ad-Lib. Couldn’t they have found a typeface that even sort of looks old? The film unfolded at a somewhat pokey pace, but things pick up once Dashing Doug bombards a ship and tries to avenge his father’s death (all the while courting the lovely Billie Dove as a princess). I was surprised to find several scenes that I already knew – Fairbanks slashing his way down a giant ship sail, Fairbanks’ body being effortlessly lifted by his pirate minions, and a bizarre scene involving dozens of male extras hung by wires (they’re supposed to be swimming). Seeing an older film like this in its proper setting was a blast. I’m going to have to go back again soon.

5 Thoughts on “Silent Sunday

  1. The Girl in the Cloche on November 19, 2005 at 1:58 pm said:

    A few things about “Silent Sundays”… it’s been going on for about six years (skipping last year, due to the Symphony needing to borrow the Orpheum while their digs were being redone).

    During the question and answer period afterward, organist Ron Rhode mentioned the Clara Bow flick Wings would have cost $1000 to rent, and was therefore out of their league. So, they end up borrowing films from benefactors who run revival theatres elsewhere, and sometimes, they’re redone prints from the ’60s. I don’t know why, but some of these prints have had their titles changed and made wholly unattractive, and some have been removed altogether.

    This was the largest “Silent Sundays” turnout they’ve ever had, and maybe if more people come (Tom Mix in January!) they’ll be able to afford better quality features in the future.

    I enjoy your site immensely, by the way.

  2. We were very impressed with the turnout, and the variety of people in the audience. Thanks for the great info!

  3. The Girl in the Cloche on November 20, 2005 at 1:17 pm said:

    I hope you guys come out again… you didn’t happen to sit in the balcony, did you?

  4. We did sit in the balcony during the first half, then moved down to the floor for the rest.

  5. Mark W. Jones on May 9, 2006 at 11:01 am said:

    Why you seem to remember Dueling Doug Fairbanks ripping his way down a sail of a ship is because Errol Flynn performed the same stunt in one of his films, though it wasn’t “Captain Blood,” which I recently saw. Was it “The Sea Hawk” or “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex?” ( By the way, Bette Davis, that GREAT actress, hated Flynn ).

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