Silent film fans, guess what *I* just saw!!!

This evening was the conclusion of the 13th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival. I go every year, but **THIS YEAR ** there was something really special!

This festival was the site of the US premiere of a film thought lost for 80 years. See the link above for more details. The movie was a swashbuckler titled Bardelys the Magnificent, directed by King Vidor and starring John Gilbert. It’s a lavish costume drama made by MGM and there’s a romance(naturally), danger to the hero(of course) and a dramatic chase and escape scene. Oh, and lots of swordfighting! One rarely hears an audience applaud during a movie, but that happened twice tonight. Of course, we were all fans, but still. Supposedly a young John Wayne is in there somewhere, but if so I didn’t spot him.

The music, as always, was live at the festival. Both the Monte Alto Orchestra, and skilled organists accompanied different features and shorts.

Anyone who likes silent film, and lives not too far away should consider coming to this festival. Besides simply showing the films there are vendors selling DVD’s of various silent film collections. And each film shown has commentary beforehand, giving some history and trivia behind it, about the actors, filmmakers, or other interesting trivia. For example, after the Laurel and Hardy feature That’s My Wife(just about their last silent film) we were told that after Hardy died Laurel said he’d never perform again without his longtime partner. And he didn’t, despite some supposedly tempting offers.

Anyway, I had a great time as always, and feel really good that I got in on something first!

Dang, King Vidor’s one of my favorite directors, but so much of his silent stuff is unavailable–you can’t even get The Big Parade or The Crowd, two of the acknowledged masterworks of American cinema. Hopefully there’ll be enough residual awareness to help bring these things into availability.

Fascinating. You can actually watch about 5-10 mins of the film online…

The film as it was shown last night is about ninety minutes long, the same as a regular feature these days. One reel is missing, but to recreate the narrative of that part a series of stills and little snippets of was used, along with the dialogue cards. it worked very well, as what was missing wasn’t all that long.

I forgot to mention that the film wasn’t lost due to neglect, but deliberately destroyed. Made very close to the end of the silent era, the rights to the story(it was a novel) provided that they had to be renewed every ten years, or the film be disposed of. By the time the ten years was up nobody cared to renew a silent film when talking pictures were all the rage, so all known prints were destroyed. But apparently someone in France kept one(that’s where the story is set) The film restorers got an OK from Sony(whom rights had devolved to), found the original English titles at USC, cleaned up what they had, had a musical score composed, and voila!

It really was a fun movie. One of the moments the audience clapped was when Bardelys, about to be recaptured after escaping his trial, runs toward the pikemen advancing at him and, using a pike of his own, *pole vaults *over their heads to get behind them! Very dashing.