- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. — Idela Warton's eyes light up when she talks about the silent film era her era. At 87, she remembers the pre-talkie days.
"I can remember going to see them with my parents," says Miss Warton, standing in line at the Bijou Theater to see Ramon Novarro's 1928 "Forbidden Hours," the silent film's first public showing in 73 years.
"Charlie Chaplin was my favorite. And Rudolph Valentino."
Miss Warton is not alone. In recent years, movie buffs have flocked to silent film festivals in Italy, London and San Francisco, and to organ- or orchestra-accompanied showings of classics in renovated film "palaces" in Los Angeles; Atlanta; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Jersey City, N.J.
It is a virtual renaissance of silent film, spurred on, observers say, by Turner Movie Classics' decision five years ago to show a weekly feature on "Silent Sunday Night."
"They have shown the audience silent films are not beat-up Keystone Kops stuff," says Richard P. May, vice president for film preservation at Warner Bros., which, like Turner, is now a part of AOL-Time Warner.
Turner, which owns MGM's old film library, has about 100 silent films that have never been musically scored. Along with cable-casting "Silent Sunday Night," TMC has commissioned young musicians and professionals to write music for the silent films, and has created documentaries about some of the silent stars, including Lon Chaney, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks.
"I'm really jazzed about our ability to bring some of these films back into circulation," says Tom Karsch, executive vice president and general manager of Turner Movie Classics. "It's important to make sure [the public] understands how much of the rich product is out there."
A multitude of Web sites devoted to silent films has sprung up in the past several years.
Diane MacIntyre, president of an online "journal" called "The Silents Majority," said that when that site went up on the Internet in 1996, there were just five or six such sites. Today, there are more than 100, she said.
"We couldn't put the pages up fast enough. We have consistently gotten over 300,000 page views a month for nearly three years," she says.
From the time Thomas Alva Edison built his first moving picture studio, called the "Black Mariah," in New Jersey in 1893, until "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson was released in 1927 as the world's first "talkie," silent films quickly grew in popularity and sophistication.
Early silents were short and jerky. But by the time classics such as Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush," Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" or F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" came along, silents had grown to full-length, majestic, cinematic masterpieces.
"All the technical developments of the cinema were developed by the end of the silent days," says Kevin Brownlow of London, who has dedicated his life to silent film and wrote the definitive history, "The Parade's Gone By."
Zoom, quick cutting, camera movement "they'd done it all by 1929," he says.
But when talking films emerged, many studios intentionally played down silent films because they figured the two mediums could not co-exist, Mr. Brownlow says. Many silents were reissued at the wrong speed to deliberately undermine their popularity, he says.
"People got the impression they were idiotically antique, something ludicrous. That's still in the minds of people in their 50s and 60s," he says.
To be fully appreciated, silent films should be shown at the right speed, with live music and in a "palace" ambience. Today's audiences seem to love the comedies most.
"They laugh. They can boo and hiss at the villain, and they can clap and cheer the hero. People get so involved," says Rick Parks, 39, an organist who accompanies many films at the Elsinore theater in Salem, Ore., and elsewhere.
The National Gallery of Art is showing several classic silent films by German director Fritz Lang through Jan. 27 in the East Building auditorium. Call 20
2/842-6799.

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