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The Embassy Theater revives its silent film heritage with the Black and White series
By Jim Mount
Fort Wayne Reader
Nearly a century after their release, films from the dawn of the motion picture era can still captivate and fascinate audiences. Once regarded as a novelty, silent films are now studied as a serious art form, and over the next few months, Fort Wayne audiences can learn more about the medium, when the Embassy launches a series of screenings followed by lectures by Jane Martin from the University of St Francis and Steve Carr from IPFW.
Erica McMahon, Events Manager for the Embassy Theater, describes the inaugural event as “a Silent Movie Series” with a specific intent to introduce Fort Wayne to the Embassy’s' heritage in the silent film era. “The inspiration behind the series is to take the Embassy back to its roots,” McMahon says. “The Embassy Theater was originally built as a movie palace and vaudeville house and provided a majestic backdrop for the entertainment of the day, complete with the Paige Theater Pipe Organ. The series shines a light on that and how cool it is to see a silent movie in a theater that was built for silent movies.”
Having already started a tradition of screening films during Fort Wayne’s Fright Night festivities, McMahon anticipates a bright future for the program, “I'm excited about the event.” McMahon says. “It's something new and definitely something you don't see too often.”
McMahon enlisted the services of Jane Martin and Steve Carr, Communications professors at the University of Saint Francis and IPFW respectively, to lead discussions on the films to be shown. Jane Martin, a 20-year professor at the University of Saint Francis, will be presenting the February and March series. “They are going to be showing short films as well as full length silent films with the accompaniment of the organ and we're going to be having a lead-in discussion on the film as well as short conversation after the film for people who are interested in staying and finding out more about what they've seen,” Martin explains.
Not only a Communications professor but a film enthusiast in general, Martin eagerly discussed some of the classic line-up slated for the series. “The first film that we're doing is Buster Keatons' The General, which has a great chase sequence in it, one to rival Indiana Jones, with just a wonderful train chase. I'm very fortunate through the classroom teaching of Editing, Processes and Theory to always be able to study that scene in class.”
But Martin is even more excited about the short film that precedes The General — Georges Melies' A Trip To The Moon. “It was one of my favorite films in graduate school and still one of my favorite films to show in film class,” she says. “It's just a wonderful, science fiction experience of imagining going to the moon. What's so interesting is some of Melies' ideas were eerily right on, such as landing in the ocean when you come back from the moon. It's a very interesting film and it's very exciting to think of seeing this film in its restoration.”
As to what to expect from the series, Martin says offers a short description of how the events will unfold; “To begin with we're going to have a short introduction before each film, things to look for, things that are significant, things to think about before you watch the film, just a very short intro and then the opportunity for people to stay and talk about it after the film.”
“I think people will see things that they wouldn't normally have the chance to talk about with their friends at home,” Martin continues. “It will be a great experience that the audience can take home and share.”
On April 14th, Steve Carr, Associate Professor of Communication and Graduate Program Director at IPFW will be leading discussion on the third and final installment of the series which will be another short film classic from Georges Melies, The Impossible Voyage based on a play by Jules Verne, and finishing with the feature silent, Harold Lloyd in Safety Last. Carr feels that there is a resurgence of interest in silent films.
“The surprising popularity of The Artist in 2011 shows that silent films continue to occupy the imagination of international audiences,” he says. He adds that one of the most important aspects of the Embassy series is that audiences today can see these films in the context that audiences nearly 100 years ago saw them: On a big screen, with a live sound and musical accompaniment.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Carr continues. “In the future, I hope to see the series expand to include a variety of different kinds of titles representing the richness and diversity of silent films. The Embassy is an important cultural resource for Fort Wayne and I hope that in the future, the Embassy can explore other collaborative projects, such as working with IPFW and other universities to use its archival collection to help illuminate the history of movie-going and popular entertainments in Fort Wayne at the early part of the 20th century.”
Sunday, February 10 — Lecturer Jane Martin; Clark Wilson on the Grand Paige Organ
Georges Melies' short film A Trip To The Moon
Buster Keaton’s The General.
Sunday March 10 — Lecturer Jane Martin; Clark Wilson on the Grand Paige Organ and Short film Palace of the Arabian Knights (1905)
Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921)
Sunday, April 14th — Lecturer Steve Carr; Steve Ball on the Grand Paige Organ
Georges Melies' short film Impossible Voyage
Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last
Presentations begin at 2 PM with a cost of $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for children 12 and under or with a valid student ID.