Silent films win over a new generation

Silent films win over a new generation

CHAMPAIGN - Try this at home: Turn off the sound to your TV.
You will likely be quickly lost because when it comes to watching modern programs and movies, a TV without sound is like having a map without roads. But watching a real silent film, short or cartoon is another matter entirely. In this case, content makes all the difference.
Charlie Lustman might have helped to create a whole new generation of silent film fans on Saturday when he exhorted the Virginia Theatre audience to ?turn off your television and go see a silent movie.? Sound advice. And the delightful lineup of shorts he brought to the ?Golden Age of Silent Comedy? at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival made an even bigger impression.
Lustman owns the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, which he purchased in 1999. It is the only theater in the nation dedicated to silent films. He also displayed his showman side by emceeing the ?Golden Age of Silent Comedy,? the Saturday family presentation, at Ebertfest. He brought with him a winning lineup:
?Felix Finds 'Em Fickle,? a black and white cartoon from 1924 that had Felix the Cat going to extraordinary lengths in order get a flower for his femme fatale with a tail.
?Kid's Auto Races at Venice,? from 1914, has Charlie Chaplin getting in the way of a film crew trying to take footage of an early auto race in Venice, Calif., and almost getting run over in the process.
?Mighty Like a Moose,? featuring the not-so-well known actor Charley Chase, who became better known as the director of several Laurel and Hardy films. One of my favorites, it featured Chase as the bucktoothed Mr. Moose, whose wife, played by Vivien Oakland, has her own problems with a honker of a nose.
They both get their facial problems fixed, unbeknownst to the other. They meet, don't recognize each other and start their romance anew to hilarious results.
?The Scarecrow,? a clever and funny film from 1920, stars Buster Keaton and Joe Roberts as a pair of farmhands vying for the farmer's cute daughter. The farmhands live in a house so small it has caused them to create a number of clever devices, such as a Victrola that converts to a stove, utensils tied to strings and hanging from the ceiling, a sink in a rolltop desk and a bench that becomes a bath (with the bathwater dumped into a watering hole for the ducks and pigs). Their competition for the farmer's daughter is also a riot.
Harold Lloyd in ?Never Weaken? from 1921 has the comic actor doing his famous ?skyscraper walks? in a failed attempt to kill himself after he mistakenly thinks his betrothed has another fiance (it's only her brother). A comic romp from start to finish.
?Saturday's Lesson,? the last short of the day, featured the Little Rascals in this 1929 effort that has a man dress up as the devil. But he teaches good instead of evil as the rascals learn not only to enjoy spinach and castor oil, but also to obey their mothers when it comes to work on Saturdays.
Afterward, children - from the audience went onstage to compete for prizes (no spinach or castor oil) as they portrayed comedians from the screen.

You can reach Kirby Pringle at (217) 351-5222 or via e-mail at

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