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Mary Mallory Written by Mary Mallory
Jul. 27, 2009 | 9:33 PM

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?Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival Salutes Independent Companies?


Based in Niles’ California original 1913 movie house, the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, hosted by the Essanany Silent Film Museum June 26-28, 2009, examined the transition period of 1910-1920, when silent films moved from the early primitive, static one-reelers before maturing into fine feature films.  The Festival, full of atmosphere, informative programming, and relaxed schedule, featured an entertaining array of films from such diverse companies as Lasky, American, Thomas Ince, Thanhouser, and Universal and were introduced by film historian Bob Birchard.

Much of the filmmaking highlighted the growing metropolis of Los Angeles, from views of the Lasky-DeMille Barn on the Paramount lot, Selma Ave. and environs in Hollywood, Edendale, Angel’s Flight and surrounding Bunker Hill, and Norwalk, California.

The opening program, “From Lasky to Paramount,” included A Trip Through the Paramount Studio (1927), which revealed the shot of the current Hollywood Heritage Museum in its place of honor on the lot, and celebrities like Clara Bow hamming it up.  Betty Compson demonstrated comedy chops in the funny short When Clubs Were Trumps (1916), and excellent emotional range in the feature The Enemy Sex (1924), a fine presentation of New York’s corrupt social and cultural life.

The first Saturday program highlighted a hodgepodge of indie silent comedies like the funny The Kid Reporter (1923), starring Diana Serra Cary, the former Baby Peggy, the host for this series.  Good Night, Nurse (Nestor, 1916) contained a well executed comedy chase and slapstick sequence through Bunker Hill and Don’t Weaken (Sennett, 1920) featured excellent timing and mugging from the comedy veterans Ford Sterling, Charlie Murray, and Jimmy Finlayson.

The afternoon program highlighting American Film Company topped all the others on quality and emotion. The shorts included 2 good J. Warren Kerrigan westerns
The Circular Fence (1911) and Calamity Anne’s Ward (1912), as well as a tour of the Santa Barbara studio.  Faith (1916), the best film of the weekend, featured Mary Miles Minter and her sister Charlotte Shelby in a moving story of a poor young girl searching for her mother.  More daring in its story elements, the film featured excellent acting, creative camerawork, and beautiful lighting.

That evening’s Thomas Ince program came in a strong second to the Flying A series.  It opened with a tour of the Culver City Studio in 1922, leading to two very good features. The Crab (1917), shot in Norwalk, California, looked at a mean old man whose heart melts at the gentle love of his adopted daughter, and One Every Minute (1921), an entertaining comedy about country folk being “healed” by quack medicine, contained charming performances, funny script, and good timing.

Sunday’s first program examined the Thanhouser Company, opening with an insightful PowerPoint presentation by Ned Thanhouser.  He stated that though the company produced fine films based on classic stories, their deep focus on one-reelers eventually doomed the company.  The short The Evidence of the Film (1913) captured the process of early filmmaking, cutting, and developing. Just a Shabby Doll, also from 1913, told the touching story of true love triumphing over class division.  The feature, The Woman in White (1917),  mixed together dastardly villains, look-a-likes, complicated plot, and heightened suspense to arouse enthusiastic audience reaction.

The afternoon program examined filmmaking in the San Francisco area, and opened with the Miles Brothers’ A Trip Down Market Street (1906), shot four days before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Dream Picture (1925), sponsored by Oakland Tribune, filmed the winning submission of readers’ dreams, a family misplacing their baby as they travel from Oakland to San Francisco.  The Oscar Apfel directed feature, The Call of the Klondike (1926), drew strong audience reaction to the story of faithful dog Lightning rescuing Gaston Glass and Dorothy Dwan from a threatening gang.

The Festival closed with a look at From IMP to Universal, with a 1915 Behind the Scenes tour of the lot, the IMP 1911 short Behind the Times, the wacky and entertaining Lizzie’s Dizzy Corner (1915), and Erich Von Stroheim’s daring classic Foolish Wives (1922).

An excellent little film festival that presents obscure, hard to find films, the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival” salutes the early, emotional, energetic days of the silent film industry in an relaxed though informative series.

Click HERE to see a slideshow of some great photos of the Niles Film Museum.