Thursday, June 30, 2011

Constance Talmadge - LIVE in "Her Night of Romance" and Shouting Out About Silents

Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge
flirt and skirt boundaries of propriety
I went to see a silent film last night.. in a theater! The accompanist and composer fired up the "organ" (actually Mr. Ben Model on his Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ), the lights were dimmed and the audience was served a glass of sparkling cinematic champagne of a very rare vintage. It was all very heady stuff.

"Her Night of Romance" stars Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman. We are all familiar with Mr. Colman as the sound star ("'tis a far, far better thing...") with the beautiful British accent. As a silent star he was equally appealing, maybe even more so, as he was so young, so handsome and, at least in this film, so seemingly good-natured. Funny that he payed an English Lord (impoverished) and it seemed so right, knowing how his voice sounded. When audience first saw this in 1924, they could only guess.

Constance Talmadge was, at the time and throughout the silent era, a huge star who is now largely forgotten. She and her sister, Norma, were the queens of comedy and tragedy, respectively. While Norma's name still rings a faraway bell to some, Constance is rarely mentioned, her films rarely screened. So, imagine my delight when this bubbly, effervescent, intoxicating (did I say she was like a glass of champagne?) woman appeared on the screen and took over the film. She is fresh, funny, natural and feminine. Lovely and frisky, but slightly screwball, she is a precursor to Carole Lombard. The racy bedroom scenes between the two stars do raise an eyebrow, but they are put across in such a charming manner that the censors must have looked the other way. Ronnie and Connie were adorable (and pretty sexy).

All in all, the film is a delicious trifle given weight by two powerful star personalities and talents. Aiding the light-as-a-feather story is a first class production where no expense appeared to have been spared (after all, Connie's brother-in-law was  Joseph Schenck, powerful mogul and husband of Norma).

After seeing "A Night of Romance" I want more Connie Talmadge! Some of her films that are available on DVD include "Her Sister From Paris" and "The Duchess of Buffalo."

Chatting With Ben and Dylan 
at the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre

Not only does the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre provide great movies and programs (click here for a peek), but they also provide great ambiance. Before the show, I got a chance to speak with Ben Model, accompanist, composer, and silent film champion, and Dylan Skolnick, the Co-Director of the theater. Both were kind enough to take a few minutes in the theater's wonderful cafe (that has both red velvet cake and coconut cake, but I digress....) to talk about the evening's program and getting the word out about silent films to a larger audience.

Ben Model and Dylan Skolnick
Ben, who has been playing piano and organ and composing for silents at the Museum of Modern Art for over 20 years, said that he has played at several screenings of Constance Talmadge's films over the last few years that she is always a hit. However, the treat of our being able to see and enjoy Connie   is largely due to the efforts of the Library of Congress and various collectors who have recognized the value of these films and have saved them - just for us!  And thanks to these efforts, Connie's reputation is starting to come back. Ben acknowledges, however, that getting more than just the core group of fans out to see a silent film is a challenge.

Huntington Cinema Arts Centre Co-Director Dylan Skolnick agreed. The theater, which has been championing silent films for decades, faces the challenge of reaching out to a wider audience with each showing. "Silent films," he said, "are very far away from most people's experience of film. But once they have the experience, they fall in love with it. It's really about the experience. There is a  different feel to these films which have a visual, poetic quality."

Dylan summed it up, I think, perfectly:" If you love movies, this is the heart." 

It was fun just to listen to two people who really love what they do and want to share their passion with a larger audience.

Ben and Dylan also opened up about the rest of the 2011 Silent Film Series at the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre. Check out this lineup:
Library of Congress Rare Comedy Shorts (hand picked by Ben) that he promises are "hilarious."
"The Freshman" with Harold Lloyd
William S. Hart in "Sand"
"He Who Gets Slapped" starring Lon Chaney
"Upstream" - directed by John Ford (a film that was considered to be lost until a copy was discovered in 2009 in New Zealand)
Buster Keaton's "Seven Chances"

All on the big screen, all with live organ accompaniment...I am so there.

After our chat and before the show, I had a cool drink (and some coconut cake, I confess) in their luscious garden patio while listening to some live music. An evening's entertainment, indeed!

Make Some Noise About Silent Film!

The joy of classic films, and silents in particular, can only be spread by those who love them. 

This means you!

Next time you go to see a classic film, silent or sound, pop in a DVD or even watch one on TCM, invite a friend or family member. Wouldn't it be nice to spread the wonder of these treasures (and have someone to share them with, too)? As Ben says, "if you come once, you'll get what it's all about." 

It's "Mission Possible" - are you in?


VP81955 said...

Interesting to see you note the possible ties between Constance Talmadge and Carole Lombard. I wrote an entry on that slightly more than two years ago:

FlickChick said...

It struck me immediately when I saw here - not quite the same, but lovely, sophisticated and funny. Too bad she called it quits when sound came in (but maybe she was very wise). Anyway, she is well worth discovering!

Caftan Woman said...

So far, I have seen a dozen silent films on the big screen and each time is an event filled with great anticipation that I find missing when I step out to see a contemporary film.

Sadly, I have yet to see Constance Talmadge, but I certainly hope to remedy that soon. Your review has piqued my interest.

FlickChick said...

Oh, CW, I do so hope you get to see her on the big screen - and don't forget to take a buddy! And you are so right - seeing a silent film in a theater is "an event."

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, your Constance Talmadge night sounds just marvelous! My dear mom was a huge fan of Ronald Colman, and I've enjoyed "live" vintage movie performances in our local revival theater, so I can well imagine what a fine time you had -- including champagne, yet! I just might keep an eye out for Constance Talmadge's silent films on TCM!

FlickChick said...

Dorian - please do - you will be surprised at how natural and modern she was!

ClassicBecky said...

I have come to a real love for silent films over the past few years, FlickChick. I have not seen any with Constance Talmadge, and I hope to after reading your review. I'm a HUGE Ronald Colman fan!

What a great evening you had! Wish I lived close enough to experience the Huntington. Once of the best movie experiences I ever had was seeing Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera at a huge old theatre here in Indy before it was made into a parking lot (groan). A very old lady was there who had actually played the organ and piano during the silent era. She played a great old organ, and was fantastic!

Loved your article -- I'm going to watch for Constance...

FlickChick said...

Oh, thank you Becky! It sure was a great evening and I do hope that anyone who loves silents gets the chance to see one in a theater with live music. It is a great experience!

Meredith said...

I love your call to arms! I can't say that I have been able to do so with silent film but I do have friends willing to watch classic films of my choosing from time to time and it's always fun. I've only been able to see one silent film in a theatre with live accompaniment (the inimitable alloy orchestra) and need to do so more often.

FlickChick said...

Go, Meredith, go! I'm sure there are all so many who say "I wish I had someone to share this with." So nice that you have invited others to share!

Jan Miner said...

Silent movies are a lot of fun, even for non-fans, when there's live music. This entry made me recall Peter Pan with a smile.

FlickChick said...

Not always easy to find, but worth seeking out (glad I dragged you along - I fulfilled my "mission").