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April 26 Vallejo A&E Source: Empress goes silent — with music — in first-time film festival
George Melies’ “Trip to the Moon” is one of the featured silent films at the upcoming festival at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
By Richard Freedman, Vallejo Times-Herald
Posted: 04/24/18, 10:23 AM PDT | Updated: 13 hrs ago
Buster Keaton stars in ‘Steamboat Bill, Jr.,’ a silent movie screened in Vallejo at the Empress Theatre. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The Empress Theatre unveils its first Silent Film Festival May 4-6, though words cannot explain the importance of complementing music.
“Sound is a huge part of what we’re doing,” said Steve Dunsky, curator for the Empress Theatre Film Club.
Indeed. From the Club Foot Orchestra founded by Vallejo’s Richard Marriott at the May 4 kick-off film, “Golem,” to the Vacaville Christian Schools Radio Symphony’s own music and films May 5, to the festival’s finale May 6 of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Master of the House with live musical score by Nitrate Blaze Chamber Ensemble, the weekend’s success may ride just as much on the musicians as the motion pictures chosen from the extensive Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum collection.
“This festival is as much about the music as it is about the films,” Dunsky said. “There are four different and I think extraordinary ensembles and, in one case, an individual.”
Not that the films are less than classics, with George Melies’ “Trip to the Moon,” David Kiehn’s “Broncho Billy and the Bandit’s Secret,” plus Buster Keaton in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” and “His Wooden Wooding,” a 1925 film featuring Charley Chase. Also included is “Modelling,” a work of animation from 1921.
Dunsky hopes the Vallejo Silent Film Festival could some day muster a twinkle of the popularity of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The Vallejo event will gain traction, insists Susan MacDonald, one of the event founders and member of the Vacaville Community Arts Foundation behind the Empress Theatre management.
“There is always a mysticism about the silent film and today it has such a huge cult following,” MacDonald said, thrilled that “many symphonies have been adding film to their playbook with a great response.”
Noting that area film buffs travel to San Francisco’s sold-out film festival, “I’m hoping this (in Vallejo) will be a draw,” MacDonald said.
Besides, having been built in 1911, there’s a parallel universe with the venue and silent films.
“There’s lots of history from that era connected with the Empress,” said MacDonald.
Since there’s also “always been intrigue and speakeasies, flappers and mobsters,” there’s also some of that in the Vallejo Silent Film Festival with Vallejo’s Obtainium Works lending its Steampunk talents to the festival, providing sets for “Trip to the Moon” and helping transform the Empress Theatre lounge into a speakeasy. Obtainium Works will also build a photo booth for patrons.
The films, said MacDonald, are perfect for the first-time fest.
“I’m excited bout the choices,” she said.
It’s a lot of work putting a first-time festival together, “but we are fortunate to have Niles Silent Film assistance,” said MacDonald, praising Dunsky and Obtainium’s Kathy and Shannon O’Hare.
Normally a curator of one chosen film on a Thursday once or twice monthly, Dunsky said the Silent Film Festival offers more of a party atmosphere for three days.
“It’s really about celebrating these silent films and the music, but also putting on a weekend party that every can attend, kick back and enjoy,” said Dunsky, hoping downtown Vallejo can embrace the film festival just as Niles (near Fremont) does its silent film theme.
“These things build up slowly. I’ll anticipate we’ll do more in the future. We’ll see how it goes,” Dunsky said.
The Vallejo Silent Film Festival is at the Empress Theatre May 4-6. For complete schedule and admission fees, visit empresstheater.org or call (707) 552-2400.
Announcements of upcoming theatrical silent film exhibitions.