Finally, folks in the Northeast Bay Area won’t have to drive across a bridge to watch silent films.
The Empress Theatre Silent Film Festival runs this Friday through Sunday at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo. It’s a modest festival, with only four programs spread across three days. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum sponsors this event.
The festival starts Friday night with a screening of Paul Wegener’s expressionist fable, The Golem. Members of the Club Foot Orchestra – a group known specifically for their interpretations of German silents – will provide live musical accompaniment. I saw the film too long ago to give an opinion about it now.
The Saturday afternoon event will contain live music, lectures, and two short movies. Most of the music comes from the VCS Radio Symphony. The lectures will be from VCS’s Ralph Martin and Niles Essanay’s David Kiehn. The shorts are George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon (read my Blu-ray review) and Broncho Billy and the Bandit’s Secret.
A Trip to the Moon
The Saturday night show stars Buster Keaton in the wonderful Steamboat Bill, Jr. He plays the urbane and somewhat effete son of the very macho Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence), who must prove his manhood, win the girl, and save his father’s business from an evil capitalist. The result is a shipload of laughs and amazing stunts, seamlessly integrated into a very good story. Warning: There’s a single racist joke – an unfortunate problem with many silent films. Read my Blu-ray review.
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Steamboat Bill will be preceded by two shorts: the Koko the Clown cartoon Modelling, and the Charlie Chase vehicle, His Wooden Wedding. I haven’t seen either. Frederick Hodges will accompany the movies on piano.
Saturday’s event ends with an adult-only selection of “Sexy Silents & Flaming Flappers.” I don’t know how explicit these are, but pre-talkie, hardcore silent films do exist.
The event closes Sunday afternoon with a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Master of the House. I haven’t seen it, but I like Dreyer’s work, and the brief description at IMDB suggests a feminist satire. A group with the promising name Nitrate Blaze Chamber Ensemble will provide the live music.
Master of the House
I’ll be out of town, so I won’t be attending. But it looks like fun.