Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pre-Code Parade on the Big Screen

I'm just back from the Madison Theater here in Albany, where today the Pine Hills Film Colony hosted a one-day film festival called Lost Paradise: Four Films from the Jazz Age. Chronologically speaking the feature program covered the late Twenties up to 1930, including two silent pictures, one early talkie and one early musical. These were interspersed with Charley Chase short subjects, though they inexplicably were from his end-of-the-line Columbia period instead of his golden days with Hal Roach. The best I can say about them is that they were better than Buster Keaton's work for the home of the Three Stooges. The features deserve coverage in more detail, and this post serves as a preview of coming attractions. In the coming days I'll be posting reviews of the four features, which in chronological order are: James W. Horne's Cruise of the Jasper B. (1926), Harry Beaumont's Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Dorothy Arzner's The Wild Party (1929) and the Lloyd Corrigan-Laurence Schwab collaboration Follow Thru (1930). For now, here are some general comments about the event:

The program extended over 9.5 hours, including a dinner break of not quite two hours between the third and fourth features and about a half-hour apiece separating the earlier segments. Film Colony director Michael V. Butler acted as MC, delivering a general introduction to moviegoing during the 1920s, emphasizing the multimedia experience of film, live music and occasional olfactory effects, as well as individual intros for the features. Source materials varied extremely, Follow Thru being a digital burn of the Museum of Modern Art's copy of the all-Technicolor musical while Jasper B. was an Alpha Video disc with predictable limitations. Technical problems were perhaps too evocative of the early days of sound as the theater staff struggled to call up the soundtrack for Follow Thru, while the aspect ration on Wild Party was juggled a little to make Clara Bow appear less chubby than she initially appeared. These can be written off as learning experiences for the event organizers, who should be forgiven much for putting this program together. Once everything was in sync Follow Thru was a spectacular experience, while the humble-seeming Jasper B. was a hilarious surprise from producer Cecil B. DeMille in Mack Sennett mode. The Wild Party was the nearest thing to a dud on the program, while Our Dancing Daughters is elevated above its soapy subject matter by powerhouse performances from Joan Crawford and Anita Page. But I'll have more to say about all of them in short order. For tonight congratulations are in order for the Pine Hills Film Colony along with encouragement for their next program tentatively scheduled for the fall. As for the Madison, despite switching to a primarily second-run format after being a repertory house for much of last year, the historic neighborhood theater still runs classic oldies or cult films every week, including Metropolis this week. Albany's a lucky town to have this theater as well as a thriving arthouse like the Spectrum. I hadn't been to the Madison for several months, more for personal reasons than anything else, but today was a perfect day to come back.

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