Sunday, September 16, 2012

#535 Silent film extravaganza

Inspired by our recent viewing of the Oscar-winning silent film The Artist, we have now traveled further down the silent film wormhole...

The Artist (2012) was set in 1927 at the time Paramount Pictures released Wings and The Wedding March.

Wings (1927) is a silent film about WWI fighter pilots with spectacular dogfights, the introduction of Gary Cooper, and an all-organ score. It was the only silent movie to win the Best Picture Oscar until 2012's The Artist.

The Wedding March (1928) is a silent film set in Vienna about a a roguish Viennese prince who agrees to marry for money and then falls in love with an inn-keeper's daughter (Fay Wray).

So, of course, when the Packard Campus for Audio-Video Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia (about an hour from Charlottesville), announced a showing of The Wedding March, we were there. The bucolic setting with panoramic Blue Ridge Mountain views, modern architecture, green roofs, and endless plantings make the place seem more like a botanic garden than the cold-war currency bunker from which it sprang.

Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Video Conservation
Just off the soaring lobby, the elegant theater seats over 200 people and screens films year round free of charge to the public.  In the same building with one of the world's largest film collections (over 80% of American movies made between 1893 and 1930 have been lost, according to the Library of Congress) this is a theater with extra special features like an organ rising from below the stage for silent film showings. In the silent film era, every showing included a live sound track. 
Packard Campus Theater
In this unique setting, we crossed paths with a premier silent film accompanist, Ben Model who turned his passion for film and music into a unique career that puts him in high demand.  He's already performed over 150 times in 2012 including a gig earlier this day at the National Gallery of Art in DC. 
Ben Model - silent film accompanist
The house lights dropped, the organmeister and instrument slowly descended from their pre-show perch to a performance position at stage height, and The Wedding March appeared before us.

Yours in enjoying some silent film history via the Library of Congress,