There are a number of notable programs this month at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. February will see Mary Pickford's early career celebrated with special event and guest. The following day, a rarely seen biopic will be shown of one of the greatest actors of all time. And later in the month, a classic film that spawned parodies, songs, slang and even a brand of condoms will be screened.
Along with these notable programs, there is also the regular "Comedy Short Subject Night" and "Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee." Each silent film, it's worth noting, is presented with musical accompaniment featuring some of the Bay Area's leading accompanists. All together, it's another fine month of early cinema in the East Bay. Here's what's playing.
"Mary Pickford Short Film Program" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Saturday February 2 at 7:30 pm
Niles Essanay celebrates the beginning of Mary Pickford's career with a selection of the actresses' early films made for the Biograph and IMP studios. The short films scheduled to be shown, each in 35mm prints from the Library of Congress, include Sweet and Twenty, They Would Elope, and Trick That Failed (all 1909), Simply Charity (1910), The Dream, and Sweet Memories (both 1911), and The Informer, and The School Teacher and the Waif (both 1912). Christel Schmidt, author of the recently released Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies (University Press of Kentucky), will be on hand to talk about the films and sign copies of her book.
"Kean" with Bruce Loeb at the piano
Sunday February 3 at 3:30 pm
Seldom screened today, Kean (1924) was a major production from Albatros, the company of Russian émigrés responsible for many of the finest French films of the 1920s. Based on the1836 play by Alexandre Dumas, the film dramatizes the life of the British actor Edmund Kean, widely considered the greatest actor of the 19th century. Kean was also considered a libertine, and his career suffered a marked decline after he was hounded by both the press and public. The film, directed by Alexandre Volkoff, stars Ivan Mosjoukine (1889-1939), a dashing Russian-born stage and film star who following the revolution of 1917 worked for many years in France.
This special digital presentation will be hosted by the world renown film preservationist David Shepard. Kean features a new symphonic score by Robert Israel, and its presentation serves as a sneak preview of sorts for a forthcoming Flicker Alley DVD box set of cinematic masterpieces from the Albatros film company.
"Valentino for Valentine’s Day" with Frederick Hodges at the piano
Saturday February 9 at 7:30 pm
Based on the bestselling novel by E.M. Hull, The Sheik (1921, Paramount) tells the story of a hot-blooded Arab (famously played by Rudolph Valentino) infatuated with an adventurous, modern-thinking English woman (played Agnes Ayres). The Sheik abducts the English woman and takes her to his home, where in the isolation of the desert, this sheik "has his way." Despite its provocative subject matter (rape and miscegenation), the film was a box-office sensation, and is today a kind-of cultural touchstone.
Though Ayres was top-billed, it was Valentino who the largely female audiences flocked to see. The Sheik propelled the dark-skinned Italian-born actor to superstardom, and much to his eventual annoyance, the film came to define Valentino's career and persona. Also in the cast are Adolphe Menjou and Lucien Littlefield. The Sheik will be preceded by the animated shorts Felix Woos Whoopee (1928, Sullivan) with Felix the Cat, and What Price Goofy (1925, Roach, 35mm) with Charley Chase.
"Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee"
Sunday February 10 at 4:00 pm
This month's "Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee" is comprised of four sound era comedies, Come Clean (1931) with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and the Australian film actress Mae Busch, Me & My Pal (1933) with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Jimmy Finlayson, The First Seven Years (1930) with Our Gang and Edgar Kennedy, and Male & Female (1937) with Our Gang.
"Comedy Short Subject Night" with Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Saturday February 16 at 7:30 pm
If you love to laugh, then don't miss this monthly program of shorts featuring some of the most famous comedians of the silent film era. On the bill are The Count (1916, Lone Star) with Charlie Chaplin Edna Purviance (as Miss Moneybags), The Balloonatic (1923, Comique) with Buster Keaton and an uncredited Phyllis Haver, No Father to Guide Him (1925, Hal Roach) with Charley Chase, and Do Detectives Think? (1927, Hal Roach) with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Jimmy Finlayson.
"Saturday Night at the Movies" with Jon Mirsalis at the Kurtzweil
Saturday February 23 at 7:30 pm
City Girl (1930, Fox), a late silent by F.W. Murnau, is a gem of visual storytelling and something of a follow-up to the director's earlier Academy Award winning masterpiece, Sunrise (1927). City Girl is one of four films Murnau made in Hollywood after a successful career in Germany, where his credits include such expressionist classics as Nosferatu and Faust. (The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen Faust at the Castro Theater on February 16th.) City Girl is the secnd from last film completed by Murnau prior to his death in an automobile accident in 1931.
City Girl tells the poetic story of Kate, a waitress who falls in love with Lem, a farmer. Lem takes Kate to his family farm where she has trouble being accepted by her rural in-laws. The film, a study in contrasts which Murnau intended to title Our Daily Bread, stars Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, and David Torrence. City Girl will be preceded by two shorts, the animated Big Chief Koko (1925, Out of the Inkwell) with Koko the Clown, and Isn’t Life Terrible (1925, Hal Roach) with Charley Chase.
For more info: The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Blvd. in Fremont, California. For further information, call (510) 494-1411 or visit the Museum's website at www.nilesfilmmuseum.org/.
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer and early film buff, as well as the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks' films around the world.