I officially attended my first film festival this past weekend. My dad and I made the journey to the city of Topeka, which is roughly 4 1/2 hours from our home, to join fellow classic film fans in a weekend of silent film bliss at the 18th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s famous “Little Tramp” character, so Modern Times (1936) was screened in honor of the milestone (we were unfortunately unable to attend this screening). The two other themes were “Hollywood on Hollywood” and “early animation”. My dad and I actually weren’t able to attend most of the screenings due to the threat of a winter storm–which turned out to be a bit of a dud, in my opinion, but at least we played it safe. Fortunately, we were at least able to enjoy two full-length films: Doubling for Romeo (1921) and The Patsy (1928) and a few short silent films; and for that I am grateful.
We arrived a bit late on Friday evening and missed the first feature film Ella Cinders (1926) , but luckily we arrived shortly before Doubling for Romeo, a hysterical love
story starring Will Rogers–filled with satire aimed at Hollywood and one-liners, many of them intermixed with Shakespearean dialogue. The story follows an awkward but endearing cowboy named Sam Cody (Will Rogers) who just doesn’t know how to “make love” (different connotation back in the 1920s, mind you) to the girl he likes. Lulu, his love interest, (portrayed by Sylvia Breamer) tells him that men in the movies–namely the suave Douglas Fairbanks– all know how to make love to women and that he should look to them for inspiration. Cody decides to head out west to Hollywood and becomes a not-so-successful stunt double in the motion picture industry. I won’t give away any more, but I will mention that there is a brilliant comedic dream sequence in which Cody dreams himself into the world ofRomeo and Juliet, which is a highlight in the film. Unfortunately it is not available on DVD, which is a real shame because I would be interested in owning this film.
Day 2 of the festival began with a few cartoon shorts from that spanned from the turn-of-the-century to the 1920s. It was very enjoyable. Then came the first feature film of the day:
The Patsy— starring Marion Davies, tells the story of a young woman, “Pat” (Marion Davies), a kindhearted Cinderella- esque girl who is desperately in love with her sister’s suitor, Tony, and faces mistreatment by her mother (portrayed by the always-wonderful Marie Dressler) and sister at home. She finds comfort in her loving father (Dell Henderson), who brings out the best in her. We see that Pat’s sister does not really love Tony, which is illustrated at one point in the film when she completely ignores poor Tony at a dinner party to pursue another gentleman. All the while, Pat tries to make Tony take notice of her–she even goes as far as to create a make believe crush in order to seek advice from Tony on how to make the “other man” fall in love with her. This film contains the famous scene in which Marion Davies was able to show off her gift for doing impressions. She showcases this talent in one scene by mimicking three famous actresses of the day: Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri.
Being able to see silent films on the big screen is something of a novelty now, but it’s so much more than that. We, the people of the 21st century, get a glimpse of what it was like to go to the movies when the motion picture was coming of age. I think it’s also worth noting that watching silent films with live musical accompaniment really adds to the experience. I hope to return to the festival next year and hopefully I’ll be able to attend more of the screenings than I did this year. In the meantime, I will try to delve into the world of silent film by means of TCM, my local library (they have a good Buster Keaton DVD collection), and even Netflix streaming.
A very happy Tuesday evening to you,