Thursday, December 3, 2009

Silent Movies in the Basement

As part of the Silent Classics series that the Richmond Moving Image Co-Op is currently putting on, today I saw perhaps the first successful sequel ever, Son of the Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino. I'd never even seen a Valentino movie before, much less the original The Sheik, not that it mattered given the plot: hero falls in love, is duped and tortured, finds lover is loyal, wipes out bad guys and rides into sunset. All in 68 minutes.

It was Valentino's last film before an early death at age 31 and, as it came out in 1926, made only shortly before the advent of talkies. By that time in silent film production, fewer and fewer title cards were used and the actors conveyed quite a bit themselves, without the crutch of cards. Valentino seemed to rely on a lot of sultry looks and cigarette smoking, which was apparently what the female portion of the audience liked. I tend to agree with his critics of the era; he seemed a tad foppish, which may well have translated as continental at the time. He was, I learned, Italian.

The final film in the series will be Sunrise, made in 1927 and supposedly much copied for its use of lighting and camera. I think I'm spoiled, though, because I miss the musical accompaniment with a silent film. The last credit in the movie was the composer of the organ score, which obviously was not being played in the downtown library's auditorium. Too bad, really, because music, like bacon, makes practically everything better. Even Valentino.

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