And if some of these movie mavens make
reservations for Cinefest, the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s annual
celebration, next March, they’ll also be seeing the Capitol again. The
1,788-seat bijou, with its variable-speed projectors that present
crystal-clear images from a vantage point 160 feet away onto a
20-by-40-foot screen, is slated to present a 35mm program as part of
Cinefest’s 30th birthday celebration.
Before the Capitol prepares for its
Cine-fest close-up, however, Pierce has to make it through his own film
fest first. Pierce has again mostly adhered to programming prints of
forgotten flicks that actually played at the then-Kallet Capitol during
their initial runs; the exceptions this year are Viennese Nights,
which the Capitol skipped in 1930 when opera-into-film adaptations were
not in vogue, and a rare pair of German entries that surely never would
have made it to Depression-era Mohawk Valley movie houses.
The 2009 edition also salutes screen
titan Boris Karloff, with several features and shorts that he made
prior to his success as a movie monster. And the silent selections will
feature performances on the 1928 original installation theater organ by
Avery Tunningley, Dr. Philip C. Carli and Bernie Anderson, as well as a
delightful sonic assault from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
Pierce does acknowledge that “we can’t
do it without the film archives. To have the Library of Congress bend
over backward for us, it really makes us feel important.” He’s also
appreciative of the growing list of Capitolfest admirers. “Let’s face
it,” Pierce admits, “for people contemplating a summer trip to Rome,
it’s not a major metropolis and it’s not easy to get to, either.”
Industry professionals and
preservationists have turned up in Rome during previous Capitolfests,
and this year’s showcase will attract a large contingent from
Rochester’s George Eastman House. “We’ll have lots of people from New
York City and we’re getting a lot of local people, too,” Pierce says.
“The locals are more casual than the out-of-towners, who are real
experts, but there’s none of the snobbishness; they can’t get over how
friendly people are here. So it feels more like a small-town, community
kind of thing. Capitolfest is not like other film festivals, which can
be overwhelming and exhausting. Here, people can leisurely talk about
and absorb the films.”
You can bet that few other cinema
confabs actually boast an al fresco cookout. On Saturday starting at
1:30 p.m. a barbecue grill will be set up in front of the Capitol, with
hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and salads available to eat either inside
the theater or atop sidewalk tables. The feast is priced at $8.50, but
you’ll have to bring your own suntan lotion.
Capitolfest offers five different 35mm
programs spread across two days, starting with a morning slate on
Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Kicking off the day will be The Miracle Man,
a 1932 Paramount drama based on a play by vaudeville veteran George M.
Cohan. A gaggle of swindlers (led by Chester Morris and Sylvia Sidney)
are on the lam in a teensy burg named Fairhope where miracles can
happen; supporting player Karloff lurks on the fringes in one of the
seven movies he made that year. It’s followed by Paramount’s 1935 short
Movie Milestones No. 1 (11 a.m.), with scenes from the now-lost 1919 Lon Chaney version of Miracle Man.
Then Avery Tunningley steps up to the organ to provide accompaniment for the 1912 13-minute silent version of The Charge of the Light Brigade (11:35 a.m.). Frank Capra makes his directorial debut for the 1922 silent one-reeler The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House
(11:48 a.m.), based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1886 poem and shot on a
three-week schedule in San Francisco at a budget of $1,700. And the
1928 First National feature The Barker (12:02 p.m.), a partial
silent with several talkie scenes, headlines Milton Sills, Douglas
Fairbanks Jr., Dorothy Mackaill and Betty Compson in a tale of
forbidden carny romances.
Saturday’s afternoon session, 2:40 to
6:15 p.m., begins with a 1931 Warner Bros./Vitaphone short showcasing
singer Helen Morgan in The Gigolo Racket. At 3:05 p.m. is Warner Brothers’ 1930 version of the Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein II opera Viennese Nights,
with actors like Walter Pidgeon, Jean Hersholt and Bela Lugosi crowding
the fringes. Filmed in two-strip Technicolor and preserved by the UCLA
archives, it’s the first movie to use prerecorded music so the
performers could lip-sync their singing technique. (Cinefest guru Gerry
Orlando, who wowed the 2006 Capitolfest audience with his enthusiastic
introduction to the singing short Um-Pa, is apparently such a huge fan of Viennese Nights star Vivienne Segel that he will chat about the movie beforehand.) The afternoon wraps with the punchy crime story Afraid to Talk
(5 p.m.), a 1932 Universal programmer with Eric Linden as a boyish
bellhop who witnesses corrupt doings tied to gangster Edward Arnold.
The Saturday night program, 7:30 to 11
p.m., features music from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra that
will underscore two 1929 silents from Germany’s UFA Studios: the
little-known short The Eagle’s Nest and The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (7:45 p.m.), a stylish melodrama with Metropolis’ Brigitte Helm in the title role. Later in the evening will be the East Coast premiere of the restored 1939 Columbia short The Awful Goof (10:05 p.m.), another must for Charley Chase fans, and Universal’s speedy 1933 antique The Secret of the Blue Room (10:25 p.m.), a creepy-castle yarn shot on the cheap (reportedly on a $69,000 budget with leftover sets from Frankenstein and The Old Dark House) with Titanic star Gloria Stuart flanked by stalwarts like Edward Arnold, Paul Lukas and Lionel Atwill.
Charley Chase as The Awful Goof.
Sunday’s morning segment, 9:30 a.m. to 1:10 p.m., starts with the 1929 Vitaphone short You Don’t Know the Half of It,
featuring a recreation of a Ziegfeld Follies routine with Jay Brennan
and Ann Butler, the latter replacing Brennan’s vaudeville partner (and
drag queen lover) Bert Savoy, who died from lightning during a 1923
Long Island storm. The fan base of screen comic El Brendel (including
Louis Despres, curator of the El Brendel Web site, who will be in
attendance) should be in seventh heaven for the showing of the Fox
musical comedy Movietone Follies of 1930 (9:50 a.m.). Gloria Swanson, then just 18, appears in the 1917 silent short The Sultan’s Wife (11:35 a.m.), a two-reeler from Keystone, which is followed by the 1926 silent feature Footloose Widows (11:55 a.m.), a farce featuring Louise Fazenda and Jason Robards. The silents will be scored by organ master Bernie Anderson.
Selected shorts dominate the final
program, running 2:15 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, with Philip C. Carli
handling the silents. Pat O’Brien in his salad days appears in the 1930
Vitaphone one-reeler Crimes Square, then political corruption rears its ugly head again in Universal’s 1931 Graft (2:30 p.m.), with Karloff as a bad guy. Legend has it that director James Whale noticed Karloff underneath his ghoulish Graft makeup at the Universal commissary and offered him the monster role in Frankenstein.
More arcane stuff screens at 3:30 p.m. when film collector Jack
Theakston presents his annual grab bag of clips, trailers and shorts,
such as a Bing Crosby oddity shot in Spanish. Comic-strip bumblers Mutt
and Jeff turn up for the 1924 silent cartoon A Kick for Cinderella (4:35 p.m.), and the fest winds down with the 4:50 p.m. showing of the 1923 silent drama Red Lights, with Marie Prevost and Raymond Griffith.
As a prelude to the weekend’s 35mm
schedule, Capitolfest offers another evening of 16mm silent selections
on Friday, Aug. 7, 7 to 10:30 p.m., at the Rome Elks Club, behind the
Capitol on 126 W. Liberty St. The program, which will have Tunningley
performing on the club’s 1933 organ, includes 1924’s The Speed Spook (7 p.m.) with then-popular comedian Johnny Hines; an early performance by Boris Karloff in the 1926 Mabel Normand short The Nickel Hopper (8:10 p.m.); Karloff again in a surviving two-minute fragment from the lost 1925 drama Parisian Nights (8:55 p.m.); the first chapter of the 1929 Mascot serial The King of the Kongo
(9 p.m.), presented in its silent version with Boris as an ivory thief
named Scarface; and Richard Dix and Edna May Oliver in the 1926
Paramount silent comedy Let’s Get Married (9:25 p.m.). Reservations are strongly recommended, however, since the club only has room for about 100.
The festival’s three-day weekend pass
fetches $45 for adults, $25 for children 12 and under, while a
Saturday-Sunday pass is $40 for elders, $22 for young’uns. Single-day
passes run $23 adults, $13 kids, while separate sessions are $13
adults, $7 children. The mint-condition prints hail from the Library of
Congress, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, George Eastman House
and the vaults of Warner Brothers, Universal (which is kicking in
prints of Miracle Man, Blue Room and Afraid to Talk that
are so brand-new that they are making their debuts while being threaded
through the Capitol’s projectors) and Sony Pictures. For information,
call 337-6453 or visit www.romecapitol.com. The Capitol also has a
Facebook page whereupon visitors can see snapshots of the theater’s cat
Kallet-co (get it?), nicknamed Kallie.