Silence will be golden this summer as movie lovers around the city will have various opportunities to appreciate the history of silent films.
Facets Cinémathèque will launch a new monthly series starting June 19 called “Silent Sundays” with the screening of Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 drama L’Inhumaine (The Inhuman Woman) and if that isn’t enough for fans of Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino, there is also the “Second Saturday Silent Cinema” series at the Music Box Theatre.
Milos Stehlik, the founder and director of Facets, says the new series is “something that should have been started 20 years ago” and finally came to fruition after Stehlik saw a restored print of L’Herbier’s film at the Telluride Film Festival and wanted to bring it to Chicago. “Our silent heritage” Stehlik added “was quickly disappearing from the cinema radar screen.” This further increased the importance of exposing modern audiences to the joy of silent films.
The Music Box Theatre, however, has been showcasing silent films as part of their schedule for years. Stephanie Berlin, the theater’s spokesperson, says the Music Box “has always been committed to showing classic films, including silent films.” The Music Box has an in-house organist who performs before screenings over the weekends and accompanies the silent films shown. Berlin says it was a “natural thing to do in terms of programming.”
Back in 2011 when The Artist was released, it generated a lot of excitement as the first theatrically released silent film in America in 35 years. It would be the first silent film many of today’s movie fans would see, especially in a movie theater. The Artist won the Academy Award for best picture, which created a renewed interest in this lost art of storytelling.
Stehlik believes today’s audiences should see silent films due to the “astonishing degree of inventiveness” found in them as they had to deal with certain technical limitations. “The focus on the visual image,” he continued, “means that our brains as an audience are more engaged—it’s an experience like no other.”
Although Facets has not yet determined its official schedule of films, it was easy to select L’Inhumaine as the first film of the series. It is a drama with science-fiction elements. The story revolves around a famous singer who has many male suitors. She displays no affection for any of them and takes pleasure in all the attention she receives. One of the men will however execute a plan for revenge. When asked why L’Inhumaine was chosen as the first film of the series, Stehlik called the film “an astonishing piece of work” and said it “stands alone in the history of cinema.”
Facets says the “Silent Sundays” series will focus on lesser-known titles as well as new restorations. One title that has been confirmed and will be screened in the fall is a full-length, five-hour version of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1924). This newly restored print comes from the Munich Film Archive.
The Music Box will screen Tol’able David (1921) at 12noon tomorrow, June 11.This screening will be accompanied by a live musical score on the Music Box organ by Dennis Scott, house organist.It is a drama s tarring Richard Barthelmess as a timid young boy whom after the death of his father must prove his masculinity when a fugitive gang enters town. Upcoming screenings will include the Harold Lloyd slapstick comedy The Kid Brother (1927), a movie that Lloyd cited as one of his favorites of his own comedies as well as Josef Von Sternberg’s drama The Docks of New York (1928).
Berlin says “there’s more than enough audience to go around” to appreciate silent films and the Music Box is “super excited” Facets will now begin their own silent film series. The history of silent cinema is rich. These movies established so many of the plot formulas and character cliches still used today. With the obvious exception of musicals, audiences today should remember everything we see today was done before in silent films. Movie stars like Clara Bow or Douglas Fairbanks may no longer rule at the box-office but today’s audiences still have an opportunity to witness what has made silent films and their stars timeless.
Tickets for Facet’s Silent Sundays films are $10 and can be bought here or at the box office. Facets is at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. Music Box tickets for the Second Saturday Silent Films are available here for $11 or at the box office. Note: online fees may apply. The Music Box is at 3733 N. Southport Ave.