Omir the Storyteller

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Talkies? Who needs 'em


If you ever have the chance to go see a silent movie the way it was meant to be seen -- in an opulent theater on a big screen with a live organist playing an instrument designed to accompany the silent movies.

Our friend Margaret celebrated her 87th birthday yesterday. She loves the Mariners so we often go to the ballpark on her birthday, but this year there was no game on the 26th, and besides a Mariners game on her birthday this season wouldn't have been much of a kindness. So, looking around for something interesting to do yesterday, I found that Seattle's Paramount Theater was doing a Buster Keaton series on Monday nights. This week's installment (the last in the series) was a double feature, showing two Keaton classics -- One Week, in which newlywed Keaton gets a build-it-yourself house from his uncle that doesn't work out quite like it was supposed to, and Steamboat Bill Jr., in which Keaton is the Ivy-league educated long-lost son of a crusty steamboat captain. House organist Dennis James played the accompaniment for the movies on a beautifully restored Mighty WurliTzer organ, and Hollywood writer and producer Frank Buxton (I hope I got his name right) gave an interpretive appreciation of Keaton. Buxton, who wrote episodes of Mork & Mindy among many other credits, worked in stock theater with Keaton in the late forties and shared some personal insights into Keaton's personality and acting style.

I found out about the series last month and put off getting tickets until last week, thinking, "A silent movie on a Monday night? No problem. I doubt there will be more than a couple hundred people there."

I'm here to tell you, the place was packed. We're lucky we got there when we did so we could get eight seats together. We probably had close to the oldest (87) and youngest (8) attendees there, and everyone laughed themselves silly and the audience even applauded at some of the more spectacular stunts. SPOILER -- move the mouse across the text to see: < Especially the famous scene in Steamboat Bill Jr. in which the facade of a house falls down, a window frame missing Keaton by inches. Buxton said in his commentary that they had worked everything out to a couple of decimal places, but had Keaton moved two inches in any direction, he would have suffered a broken collarbone or worse. >

I've seen silent movies on TCM and on small screens at church functions and the like, and lemme tell you, there's no comparison to watching a master craftsman like Keaton ply his trade in front of a packed house with a skilled organist who can do the sound effects and incidental music the organ and the movie were made for. Omir sez if you get the chance, check it out.


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