Category Archives: Silent Films

Silent Summer Film Fest at the Pickwick

The Pickwick, Park Ridge, IL, old movie theatersI’ve been heading to the theater on Thursday nights this month for the Silent Film Society of Chicago‘s Silent Summer Film Fest. The movies have been shown the past six weeks at the charmingly art deco Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge. Silent Summer Film Festival, The Pickwick, Park Ridge, IL, old movie theatersThe Pickwick is gorgeous. Much of it is still original, like the ticket window, the tiny concessions, and the lobby, but the seats have been updated so they are nice and big and cozy, and they even rock. (I hate sitting in uncomfortable movie theater seats!) We saw The Winning of Barbara Worth, Amarilly of Clothesline Lane, and Torrent. Of the three, I thought Amarilly of Clothesline Lane was the…oddest? It had a inexplicable fire and shooting incident. And the story line was disjointed. Barbara Worth was fun and had great (for the day) effects. And Torrent had a perfect ending and an incredible wardrobe. Oddly, all three had a love triangle of some sort. Oh, and the movies all have live accompaniment by an organist, so if there’s a slow moment in the movie, at least the music is entertaining.

Sadly, the Film Fest is over, but the Pickwick is going to start showing an older movie every month. The first one is North by Northwest and I’m so excited to see that one on the big screen!

Silent Summer Film Festival, The Pickwick, Park Ridge, IL, old movie theatersIf you ask me what the latest “mainstream” or “blockbuster” movie I saw was, the answer would be really lame. (Lincoln. And before Lincoln, it was Sex & the City…the first one.) But I’m really enjoying seeing some of these old films on the big screen. What can I say? I crave simpler times.

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Why Be Good?

Why Bo Good, Chicago International Film Festival, Colleen MooreOn Sunday night Peggy and I went to see Why Be Good? a recently rediscovered silent film from the 1920s starring Colleen Moore*. Why Be Good? was considered lost for many years, but it was rediscovered in an old Italian movie archive in 2012. This was its 21st century North American debut and it was shown as part of Chicago International Film Festival, which Colleen Moore helped start fifty years ago.

In the movie, Colleen Moore plays Pert, a poor flapper girl who is a wildly good dancer, stays out late, wears risqué dresses and makeup and has the appearance of a “bad girl.” But she’s really a good girl underneath it all. She meets a rich man who falls in love with her, but is hesitant to marry Pert because he fears she is too wild (a.k.a. not chaste.) The movie follows the two of them to different night clubs, giving us a glimpse into the “flapper” lifestyle and 1920s night life. (I couldn’t stop looking at the glassware during all of the drinking scenes!)

Because the movie was made Pre-Code, there were racy (for the time) shots of Pert in her bra and slip and suggestive (for the time) dialogue. (Of course, it’s nothing like movies today.) The wardrobe was just fabulous. Every shoe, every slip, every dress, every coat, every handbag was breathtaking. At one point Pert pulls out a slip that had her name embroidered on it. They don’t make slips like that anymore. (Do they even make slips?) And the music, especially the jazz in the nightclubs, was fantastic. I think there needs to be a soundtrack release. And I know a lot of people don’t like silent films (or haven’t given them a chance) but with Colleen Moore’s expressive facial expressions and the music, I didn’t even realize I was reading the title cards.

The movie was introduced by CIFF founder Michael Kutza (pictured, underneath Colleen Moore on the big screen). He was in his twenties when he had the idea to start an International Film Festival in Chicago. Since he was so young and not socially connected, he was introduced to Colleen Moore. She was living in Chicago at the time and still had many Hollywood connections. In the early years, she helped get a lot of movie stars involved with the festival and gave it a strong start in the community. He told a hilarious story about wanting to invite Joan Crawford to lunch. She was in Chicago for business during her time on the Board of Directors for Pepsi-Co. Colleen Moore told him no, that Joan’s “wings” (facelift tape around the eyes, something like this.) would never make it through lunch!

I’ve never gone to any of the film festivals in Chicago, but this experience made me want to pay more attention to these local opportunities. I’m not a huge movie person but I do love old gems and I enjoy learning about the history of Hollywood. Peggy is a movie encyclopedia so it’s always fun to go with her and learn a little bit more than I would as a movie novice. For instance, Peggy knew Neil Hamilton, the actor who played Pert’s love interest, also played Commissioner Gordon on Batman (the TV show.)

Now that Why Be Good? has been found and re-released, it will hopefully show up at more movie festivals and indie theaters. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for it, even if you only go to see the stunning Colleen Moore and her stylish flapper wardrobe!

*Chicagoans might know Colleen Moore for her fairy castle at the Museum of Science & Industry.

P.S. A little bit more about the discovery and restoration of Why Be Good?   There are some great still shots of the movie so you can get a little taste of the clothes!

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Pleasant Home Movies on the Porch: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Movies on the Porch at Pleasant HomeOn Friday night, I dragged Naoto to see a silent movie.

Pleasant Home, a historic home/museum in our neighborhood, is hosting Silent Movies on the Porch this month. The porch is huge, the summer nights are mild and there is live piano accompaniment! It felt like a real old-time theater experience! I have never seen a silent movie (sad, I know!) so I thought watching one on a porch with live music was a great place to start. At least if the movie lost my interest, I could appreciate the piano, right? Well, the movie never lost my interest…even Naoto had a great time!

Friday’s movie was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German horror film. The movie was kind of weird, kind of scary (though not scary by today’s standards). The set was charming–characters walked among jaggedly painted buildings and hills, they opened oddly-shaped doors and windows, they congregated in tiny, spare rooms… The actors were fun to watch…great facial expressions, great hand motions…without the captions, you could still get a feel for what was going on. There was a plot twist at the end. (I love a good plot twist.)IMG_3244The best part about this particular movie on the porch, though, was that the pianist, Thomas Holmes, wrote his own score for this movie! (You can read more about that here.) Apparently, the movie’s original score was too string-heavy to duplicate with just a piano, so he decided to write a new one…no big deal, right? His music really made the movie come alive–the suspenseful scenes were so much more effective with the piano behind them! There were several extreme close-ups of creepy Dr. Caligari during the movie, and Holmes’s music for these scenes was perfect to set the creepy mood!

The movie on the porch was so much fun that I think we’re going to do it again. This week Pleasant Home is showing Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality. I’ll be spending all week talking it up to Naoto…but we all know he’s going to enjoy it, right?

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