Silents! From Here to Pordenone

Harold Lloyd in Ted Wilde’s Speedy (1928)

Happy National Silent Movie Day! All across the country today, repertory theaters will present in-person and online screenings of some of the great masterworks and overlooked gems from cinema’s formative era. TCM will show fifteen films, including Georges Méliès’s sci-fi fantasy A Trip to the Moon (1902), pioneering Black independent director Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920), historical dramas such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and enduring features from three comedic giants: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925), and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931). The celebration starts all over again when the fortieth Pordenone Silent Film Festival opens on Saturday to run through October 9.

Back in January, three film archivists—Chad Hunter, executive director of Video Trust and director of the Pittsburgh Silent Film Society; Brandee B. Cox, a senior film archivist at the Academy Film Archive; and Steven K. Hill, Motion Picture Archivist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive—began discussing ways to “celebrate silent film history and raise awareness about the race to preserve surviving silent films.” Around eighty percent of the films made during the silent era have been lost forever, and many that we still have are in desperate need of attentive care. On April 20—Harold Lloyd’s 128th birthday, as it happens—Hunter, Cox, and Hill announced a new and officially registered annual tradition, National Silent Movie Day.

In New York, Film Forum will screen Allan Dwan’s Manhandled (1924), starring Gloria Swanson as a shopgirl in a New York department store. Like Danielle Burgos in the Notebook, Farran Smith Nehme focuses in her appreciation on the famous sequence in which Swanson, one inch shy of just five feet tall, is nearly crushed by the crowds thronging the city’s subways: “It’s perfect—as a record of New York subways at rush hour in the 1920s, as a monument to Swanson’s flair for slapstick, as a remarkably explicit commentary on the roughness, indifference and humiliations a woman may encounter from men any day of her life.”

In Los Angeles, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will present three restored shorts starring Harold Lloyd, the “bespectacled on-screen dynamo whose blend of daredevil slapstick, youthful romance, and relentless optimism captured the go-getting spirit of a striving America at the outset of the twentieth century.” In Hal Roach’s Bumping into Broadway (1919), Lloyd costars with Bebe Daniels, and in Roach’s Get Out and Get Under (1920) and Fred Newmeyer’s Among Those Present (1921), Lloyd’s on-screen partner is Mildred Davis, whom Lloyd married in 1923.

Lloyd and Davis raised their granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, who became the trustee of his film library at nineteen. She will be on hand for a post-screening conversation, and then on Sunday, she will join Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s director of repertory programming, for a conversation about Ted Wilde’s Speedy (1928), starring Lloyd as an ambitious, hyperactive New Yorker who can’t seem to keep a job.

“At a very basic level,” wrote Phillip Lopate in 2015, Speedy is “about modes of transport, and its rhythm is largely dictated by many shots of people rushing via taxi, subway, streetcar, and motorcycle. It is also about an older way of being, a more traditionally communal, unhurried morality, in conflict with the new, headlong corporate capitalism that sprang up in the Gilded Age with the railroad barons and now seemed well-nigh unstoppable.” Film Forum will also present Goldstein’s In the Footsteps of Speedy (2015), a tour of the New York locations where Lloyd and his Hollywood crew shot their string of gags.

Again, that’s Sunday. For more on all that’s happening around the country today—screenings, conversations, blogathons—follow National Silent Movie Day on Twitter. If you’d rather celebrate at home, the Criterion Channel offers dozens of options, including Speedy and In the Footsteps of Speedy. And if you haven’t yet seen King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), today’s the day. The Crowd was “intended as a vast, ambitious work, yet for all the overreaching themes at play here, it is supremely intimate,” wrote Fernando F. Croce for Slant in 2007. “With German Expressionism behind it and Italian Neorealism ahead of it, Vidor’s film remains a veritable compendium of European influences, even as its interests and approach mark it as unmistakably American.”

The focus at Pordenone this year is going to be on “the crucial role of women in the history of cinema.” A retrospective will be dedicated to actor and producer Ellen Richter, a major player in the heyday of Weimar cinema. The festival will launch a two-year series spotlighting American women screenwriters, and the Nasty Women, “those rule-busting, anarchic female comedians who refuse to be confined by notions of propriety and gender roles,” will be back. Pordenone will also host three special musical events with screenings of Ernst Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova (1927), and Gustav Machatý Erotikon (1929), all accompanied by live performers. After all, silent movies were never really silent.

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