Thursday, August 2, 2012

Silents and the Big Screen

I used to be bored to tears by silent films.  Sad, I know, but it's true.  Smooth into my early 20's even, I would try, because I at least realized a lot of them had historical significance, but would always seem to hit play, and then wake up when the end credits were rolling.

I'm not sure if it was hitting the wise, ripe age of 25 or what, but somewhere I developed different tastes in films than I had growing up.  When I had TCM (oh how I miss you, please stream) they had a feature - probably still do- called Silent Sundays that would still be on Monday mornings while i was getting ready for work. And this weird  movie, with any shot of money tinted gold, was on, and 3 hours later I was hooked, and super late for work.


Fast forward 5 years to now- I recently moved to Los Angeles, and holy crap the plethora of films you can see on the big screen here. After Greed I ran the gamut on silents, Demille, Griffith, Chaplin, Stroheim, if I could find it, i would watch it.  But, as much as I enjoyed them at home alone on the couch, something was missing.

The Cameraman is now my favorite Keaton film.  It's absolutely hilarious. Whenever Im bummed out, I find that scene of him in the dressing room at the Venice Plunge on youtube, and giggle away.  This was the first film Keaton did with MGM, and the last film he made there where he had creative control.  Hollywood thought it was completely lost, but in Paris in the late 60's,  someone found the whole thing.  Another copy was found in 91, and through the combination of the two, we get the whole film in near-perfect quality.

Filming the dressing room scene

A few weeks ago I spotted a Facebook posting from The New Beverly Cinema about a Buster Keaton night. I came so close to not going, short notice, laziness, etc etc. but I even managed to drag my boyfriend along, and Im so glad I made it - I realized what was missing siting alone on the couch.

New Beverly Theater

The movie revolves around a poor tintype photographer who falls for a girl, Sally, who is a secretary in a news department. In an attempt to impress her, he trades in his junk camera for an even junkier motion film camera that he doesnt even know how to operate, and shows up at her job looking for work to be near her.  Even after making a fool of himself in front of her entire office, Sally takes Buster's phone number and promises to call. (When she does call, Keaton runs down about 5 flights of stairs, and then a mile or two, and is in her lobby before she even realizes he's dropped the phone. Awesome scene).  He is so happy to be on a date with her, but naturally everything that can go wrong does - he's broke, he gets squeezed off the trolley, his bathing suit doesnt fit, he loses his bathing suit all together, all the other guys along the way try to steal her away, aw man! - and the date ends with poor Buster being dropped off by a guy from her office who had picked them up on their way home.  The next day, trying to help Buster, Sally gives him a tip of something possibly film worthy going on in Chinatown, but he messes that opportunity up as well, almost costs Sally her job, and vows to stay away.  I won't spoil the hijinx that result in the end of the film, but it involves a monkey, a speedboat, chivalry, and sweet redemption. It's really some of Keaton's finest.

As soon as we arrived at the theater I got incredibly excited.  We had to wait . . IN A LINE... for the box office to open to get tickets.  I wonder if Keaton ever imagined that in 2012 there would be a line to get in to see his films, I hope he did. Young, old, black, white, everybody waiting anxiously to see a great film. It's really a happy occasion to see so many different backgrounds able to come together for a common interest. No matter what we think or do when we go home, for that one moment, we're all together, getting along, and really happy in each other's company.  Keaton did that for us that day. Awesome.

The theater was almost full.  The Beverly isn't a huge theater but it probably seats 150 or so.  I was thinking "eh, this will be cool for a Sunday afternoon, pass some time with a good movie" not really understanding the enjoyment about to happen. The movie starts, and about 2 minutes in, as soon as we see Keaton fighting a crowd to be able to smell Sally's hair, the whole theater erupts in laughter. The 8 year olds behind us were laughing every bit as much as the 80 year olds in front of us, making us laugh even harder. By the time Keaton gets to go on his date, my boyfriend was laughing so hard i thought we might have to step out for a second.

For some reason, when you see movies with an audience, the emotions in the movie hit you harder.  Sitting in the dark with popcorn in a room full of strangers, all laughing and booing at the same thing, really makes seeing a movie an experience. Especially at a venue not trying to squeeze every last cent out of you.  I think modern films and theaters are kind of lacking in that department.  The theaters are so big and expensive, the movies so overdone, you kind of lose that sense of community you get in a smaller theater with a film that doesn't rely on booze and fart jokes for a laugh.  I can understand how back in the day going to a movie was a real event.  Not just because it was all new to them, but because you felt a little more in touch with your fellow man at a good movie that had something to say, or could really make you laugh. That's what was missing from my couch.

I cannot wait to find more silents to see on the big screen.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. The only silent film I've seen on the big screen is "The Artist" and you're right - it's a great experience to watch a silent film as part of a larger audience.

  2. I agree. I loved 'The Artist' but had only seen one other silent, one of Lillian Gish's early films, one without a score. It was completely boring and slow paced. However, after watching 'Wings' (the movie i reviewed for my website) I am like so many of us rethinking viewing silents.