I have never seen a silent film. While I have seen clips of silent movies in documentaries and in commentary on film, I have never had the opportunity to experience a silent film firsthand. Now, I realize this is largely due to the fact that silent films are not run in theatres or readily available for public consumption in the modern era of digitalization and special effects, but the idea of seeing a silent film has always appealed to me. That’s stated, I have had a surprisingly limited number of experiences with classic films during the first 30 years of my life, which included opportunities to watch any silent film from infancy of modern cinema. As a result, I decided I would pursue seeing a silent film for the first time during my “I have never...” year. That stated, I knew I wanted to gain the full experience of aged black and white pictures skipping across a theatre screen accompanied by live orchestration if I was to watch a silent film for the first time. As a result, I didn’t know how or when I would come across such an experience, but I was going to do my best to find a way to make it happen during this “I have never...” journey.
Luckily, a discussion during my experience at Simm’s Place early in my “I have never...” journey made mention of a few fleeting opportunities to experience a silent film at the local Overture Center for the arts during three period shows know as Duck Soup Cinema. A few patrons at Simm’s made me aware, Duck Soup Cinema occurred sporadically in the late autumn, winter, and early spring months, but that it offered the rare chance to see a classic silent film with live musical accompaniment at the theatre. Realizing this was my best chance to truly experience a silent film for the first time, I kept my eyes peeled for announcements about the event as the year progressed. For some time, the persistent absence of information regarding Duck Soup Cinema had me concerned the event was not slated for a 2013 return. Even as autumn came I was left with no leads on Duck Soup Cinema, which made it seem my effort to see a silent film would have to wait for another, as yet unknown, opportunity.
|The pieces come together...|
My hopes dashed, I began to put the idea of Duck Soup Cinema behind me as progressed toward the middle of my “I have never...” year. Then, during a recent trip to the Overture center to see the symphony, a poster hanging on a single wall in the building caught my eye. The familiar form of a famous Dracula figure from an early black and white film loomed over a center of interest, with classic cinema style text spelling out “Duck Soup Cinema” across the top of the page. Stunned, I stopped dead in my tracks. Despite my earlier failed efforts to track it down, the schedule for Duck Soup Cinema was staring me in the face, and the first event of the year was scheduled to show one of the most famous silent films in history, Nosferatu. In response, I immediately purchased tickets as soon as we arrived home that night and moved events to make room for my first experience with silent film.
With the event scheduled for this evening, I busied myself throughout the day in constant anticipation for the night’s event. Fortunately, my effort made the evening approach faster than I expected, which led to Rachael and I entering the familiar lobby of the Overture Center as night settled in. Upon entering the theatre, we promptly found our seats near the stage and settled in for the night’s performance. AS a part of the show, a few local performers took the stage before the film offering us a variety of 1920s era music performances, parody folks songs, and a juggling act respectively. Shifting our focus away from the routine and to uncommon forms of entertainment, the spectacle offered a nice lead into the evening’s main event, which was slated to begin following a brief intermission on the tail end of the opening acts.
As the intermission drew to a close, the Duck Soup Cinema host introduced the organist sitting to the right of the stage, who offered his perspective on Nosferatu before taking his seat before the beautiful wood and copper machine resting atop a small rounded platform. Moments later, the screen at the center of the stage flickered with crackled movie introduction titles as the theatre erupted with the orchestrated sounds of the antique organ. With the movie beginning, I sat up in my seat awaiting the opening scenes of my first ever silent film. Moments later the scenes of a man waking on black and white film turned sepia with age burst onto the screen. Although I knew what to expect, the absence of sound accompanying the actions and words of the man was a bit odd at first, but the mirrored sounds of the organ following the film’s every move made it easy to adapt to the unfamiliar setup for a motion picture.
|The title screen|
Over the next 90 minutes we watched on as the story of Nosferatu developed into recognizable tale of Dracula amid the constantly evolving sounds of the organ. The black and white scenes of the Transylvanian countryside, the waters of the Mediterranean, and an unsuspecting English community guided the tale from hopeful beginnings to an ill-fated conclusion of sacrifice for the sake of destroying the evil that dwelled inside Nosferatu. Despite his efforts to cross a continent in hopes to save his love, the protagonist ultimately found himself love lost and alone after his love offered her life to ensure the destruction of Nosferatu. Despite the lack of the familiar cinematic sounds and colors I have always known, I actually found myself feeling as though the silent film experience with the accompaniment of the organ was fuller in some regard. There was simply something unique and gripping about seeing a story unfold to nothing but the sound of music. For everything it was lacking, the visuals of the film left me feeling a full cinematic experience, despite the fact only the sounds of the organ and the period shuffling of people in the audience accompanied the film. It was certainly different than any other movie experience I have ever had before, but I can’t say it was any worse than an experience at a modern theater. Needless to say, that made me happy I took the time to gain tonight’s experience.
At the conclusion of Nosferatu Rachael and I made our way out of the theatre. As we found our way back to our car, we talked about the unique aspects of the experience and recapped some scenes from the film. We both acknowledged the experience was different than any we had in a theatre previously, but we agreed the theatre setting and the story of Nosferatu couldn’t have been any better for a first experience with silent film. After tonight’s experience, I’m not sure when I will get an opportunity to experience silent film again, but I can say I would happily sit through another silent film if the experience was as authentic and full as the one we had tonight. It was hard not to feel like we had moved back through time in our experience with Nosferatu tonight, and those experiences are always good for perspective and discovery. Considering my “I have never...” objective is focused intently on both of those things, it is safe to say tonight was a successful experience.