A (quiet) blast from the past: Silent Film Festival tribute comes to BIMA auditorium

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, in collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, will present the debut Frank Buxton Silent Film Festival, a two-day, multi-movie cinematic excursion exploring the pleasures, history and lost art of American silent film.

The festival will be presented in the Buxton auditorium Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17.

Spanning classic comedies, dramatic features and rare cinematic treats, the films of this inaugural program will be brought to life with live piano or ensemble accompaniment and original scores. Selected to draw attention to the powerful chemistry that exists between the cinematic image and music, these offerings are, event officials said, outstanding examples of how musical scoring can be more powerful than dialogue, imbuing the cinematic material with rich significance and expression.

The flickers festival, curated by Buxton’s friend and longtime collaborator, Island Treasure Awardee John Ellis, is a tribute to Frank Buxton, a lifelong champion, advocate and appreciator of the arts.

During his life Buxton made significant contributions in film, television, comedy and theater and, beyond that, was a consummate champion, advocate, historian and fan of the work of other artists. He reportedly particularly delighted in sharing special works with others and increasing their understanding and appreciation of adventurous and innovative cinema.

In celebration of the festival, BIMA’s Orientation Gallery will feature a three-week exhibition of rare and historical posters, photos and ephemera from the silent film era from Buxton’s own extensive private collection.

Ticket prices vary by feature, and will be available for purchase at the door prior to each screening.

Inaugural Frank Buxton Silent Film Festival schedule

Friday, Nov. 16

7:30 p.m. “Blackmail” (1929)

Alfred Hitchcock’s early silent film noir, starring Anny Ondra, with original score from Erin O’Hara.

During a date, Alice White (Ondra) has a fight with her boyfriend, Scotland Yard Officer Frank Webber (John Longden), and decides to leave with an artist named Mr. Crewe (Cyril Ritchard). Whey they get to the artist’s flat, Mr. Crewe attempts to force himself on Alice, and she kills him to defend herself. Frank investigates the case and, after realizing Alice is the culprit, seeks to help her.

However, a thief (Donald Calthrop) with blackmail on his mind complicates matters.

Admission: $30

Saturday, Nov. 17

10 a.m. Classic Comedy Shorts: “One Week” (1920), “The Immigrant” (1917), “Battle of the Century” (1927)

This lively selection features three of the most memorable, classic comedic works of the silent repertoire. In “One Week,” Buster Keaton and Sybil Seeley star as newlyweds who receive a portable house as a wedding gift. This vintage physical comedy gets more and more improbable as he tries to construct the house, and then move it.

Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, “The Immigrant” sees Chaplin’s Tramp character coming to the United States and being accused of theft on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman along the way.

The film has was deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The selections culminate in a special screening of the restored version of Laurel & Hardy’s “The Battle of the Century.”

This hilarious film claims a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for famously using over 3,000 cream pies in the film’s climactic pie fight. For many years its second reel, containing the fight, only survived in fragments that were included in the documentaries of Robert Youngson, but the complete reel was rediscovered in 2015 and restored.

Delightful musical accompaniment to be provided by “Miles and Karina” — David Miles Keenan and Nova Karina Devonie.

Admission: $15 ($5 for children 12 and under)

2 p.m. Louise Brooks Tribute: “It’s the Old Army Game” (1926) and “Now We’re In the Air” (1927)

“It’s the Old Army Game” is an American silent comedy film starring W. C. Fields and Louise Brooks. The “army game” is another word for the shell game, a con-trick Fields observes being played. This uproarious silent film is a nonstop comedy of errors. Fields plays Elmer Prettywillie, a druggist kept awake by clamorous garbage collectors, a nosy woman seeking a 2-cent stamp, bogus land deals, and phony fortunes.

BIMA officials are especially proud to present a special feature that’s been, as they say, “Saved From the Flames.”

Long believed to be a lost film, fragments of “Now We’re in the Air” featuring Raymond Hatton and Wallace Beery were discovered through the work of SFSFF’s Robert Byrne. A search through a Czech archive revealed an incomplete and badly deteriorated 22 minutes of the film, suffering nitrate decomposition, out-of-order scenes and Czech-language titles in place of the original American titles.

Byrne spent more than eight months reconstructing the surviving material, including restoring the film’s original English-language inter-titles and original tinting. The preserved print was shown for the first time at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on June 2, 2017.

The delightful World War I comedy follows a pair of fliers who wander onto a battlefield near the front lines and get tangled up with a traveling circus and a spy.

Music again performed by David Miles Keenan and Nova Karina Devonie.

Admission: $15 ($5 for children 12 and under)

7:30 p.m. “The Unknown”

Directed by the father of the American horror film Tod Browning, “The Unknown” is a story of yearning, frustration, resentment and betrayal.

Lon Chaney stars as carnival knife thrower “Alonzo the Armless” and Joan Crawford is the scantily clad carnival girl he hopes to marry. The film’s melancholy is conveyed both by the actors’ facial expressions and score to create a 50-minute suite that blends sounds, textures and improv from vibraphone, bandoneon, bass, drums, percussion, piano, flute, melodica and electronics.

BIMA extended a special thanks to Seattle Theater Group for a live score composed and performed by Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto, a five-piece local jazz ensemble led by Brazilian jazz pianist Jovino Santos Neto.

Admission: $30

Visit www.biartmuseum.org to learn more.