Silent films are part of our cinematic roots, says Dennis Wolkowicz, the program director for the Silent Film Society of Chicago. Thanks to the society, movie fans will have an opportunity to explore their cinematic roots at the 16th annual Silent Summer Film Festival running Friday, August 19, until Sunday, August 21.
The festival, considered by the society as the highlight of their calendar year, will take place at the Filament Theatre (4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and will kick off with the Harold Lloyd slapstick comedy Hot Water (1924), which will be introduced by Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, via a video recording. Also scheduled for screening is the Mary Pickford romantic comedy My Best Girl (1927) and the comedy-adventure His Majesty, the American (1919) starring Douglas Fairbanks. All three movies will be accompanied by a live musical score played by organist Jay Warren, spotlighting the festival’s theme– the importance of film music.
The chief aim of the festival is to entertain and educate the public on the need for film preservation as well as silent film music preservation. The society, which began in 1998, has about 300 members and holds 15 events during the year, in order to celebrate this distinctive art form.
Through the festival’s long history, Wolkowicz recalls one of his favorite memories, back in 2002, when another Harold Lloyd comedy, Safety Last (1923), was screened before an audience of 1,800 people at the Gateway Theater. During the iconic sequence, as Lloyd climbs up the side of a building and dangles onto the hands of a giant clock, a mouse crawls up his pant leg. The sight gag caused the audience to shriek in laughter all at once.
The festival and the society have also had their share of prominent guests attend their screenings including silent film actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers, who introduced the first Academy Award best picture winner, Wings (1927) in which he co-starred with Clara Bow; author Kenneth Anger; Elizabeth Falck, the daughter of actor Lloyd Hughes; and Suzanne Lloyd herself, who attended the festival in 2002 to introduce Safety Last.
Silent films may never become a popular form of storytelling in Hollywood again but that hasn’t stopped a public interest in them over the last few years. First there was The Artist (2011) which won the Academy Award for best picture and was the first silent film to receive a theatrical release in more than 30 years. Then there was the Spanish silent film Blancanieves (2013), an imaginative retelling of Snow White, set in 1920s Seville, centered around a family of bullfighters. In Chicago, the Music Box Theatre has had a monthly silent film series for years while Facets Multimedia begun its own series in June.
Because of all these options, we think silent films will never “die.” There will always be an audience for them, whether it is serious movie lovers who continue to recognize the importance of films from the silent era and their impact on our culture or younger movie fans who discover a whole new cinematic world and take delight in a comedy starring Charlie Chaplin or feel heartache watching a drama with Greta Garbo. The Silent Summer Film Festival may serve as a bridge for both sides to come together to experience what the society calls the magic of live cinema. They’ll have three opportunities at this year’s festival. And remember, silence is golden!
For more information on the Silent Film Society of Chicago, including ticket prices for the Silent Summer Film Festival and how to become a member, visit their website by clicking here.