Before the world started watching “talkies” in the late 1920s, silent film had just established itself as a higher art form. The public revered the beauty of the cinema, the skill of the filmmakers, and the intimacy of being face to face—or rather face to screen—with the best-known starts of their time.
So how did these filmmakers and the talent of the 1920s evoke that wild time we all know as the Jazz Age? How did they bring the Roaring Twenties to the big screen?
This July and August, as a complement to the Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties, the film department at the museum will screen a selection of silent films from the 1920s. “Rather than show movies about the ‘20s, I thought it would be most enlightening to show movies that were made during the decade,” said John Ewing,CMA Associate Director of Film.
“There will be a lot of youth and a lot of beauty,” Ewing explained as he describes the opening film, Show People (dir. King Vidor, 1928). “The film deals with 1920s movie stars in cameos” Ewing continued, “it’s really a movie about the film industry at that time, so it certainly fits in with the general theme of youth and beauty.”
Show People is a comedy known to be Marion Davies’ greatest role. Ewing lists his three reasons for opening with this film: “One, it is a terrific film I’ve never shown and is rarely revived theatrically. Two, it’s a comedy, and it’s always good to start with a comedy. Lastly, I am opening with it because there will be a musician accompanying the film.” During the screening of Show People, the audience will be treated to an organ performance from New York City-based silent-film musician Joseph Rubin.
This film series brings to life the Jazz Age, showing some films that “definitely have a risqué element,” said Ewing. “I’m thinking of Our Dancing Daughters (dir. Harry Beaumont, 1928) with Joan Crawford, which we show on July 18th. It is a Jazz Age movie about a couple women, one of whom is pretty thoroughly amoral.” To add to that, Gloria Swanson, who is actually pictured in the Youth and Beauty exhibition, stars in a film called Sadie Thompson (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1928), the story of a San Francisco prostitute--playing Wednesday, August 1 at 7:00pm.
Silent films may not be the most well known or highly anticipated movies of our times, but as Ewing explained, after the success of The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicus) this past year, “It might be a good time for people to realize that silent films can be a lot of fun.” The museum is co-sponsoring a presentation of the film The Artist on July 25 in conjunction with University Circle Inc’s Wade Oval Wednesdays.
Show People will be playing at the museum Friday, July 6 at 7:00pm. Come discover the fun.
- - Carrie Reese