2013 Kansas Silent Film Festival

I live in the ‘sunflower state’ of Kansas, which has its benefits. No- not the weather or politics or an ocean view. But a rich history in silent film? Surprisingly, a resounding yes. It’s the birthplace to such silent star legends as Buster Keaton, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Louise Brooks, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Claire Windsor and Zasu Pitts. My northeastern corner of the state is also home to the Kansas Silent Film Festival for the past seventeen years.

A couple of weekends ago and for the second time for me personally, I was fortunate enough to attend this fun event again. Each year, the festival spans 2 days of silent film screenings with a theme or two. This year, it was held February 22nd & 23rd at the Washburn University campus in Topeka, Kansas. To my delight, the festival kicked off by celebrating the works of Mack Sennett.  

On that Friday evening, my 12-year old son and I joined twitter pal (@tpjost) and silent film aficionado Trevor just as the Kansas Silent Film Festival launched into full swing.We were fortunate to start off with a newly restored GALLOPING BUNGALOWS (1924) with live musical accompaniment by Greg Foreman and an intro by film historian Denise Morrison. Starring Billy Evans and Sid Smith, this 20 minute hilarious short was an absolute thrill-ride of fun. With loads of gags, bathing beauties and a ridiculously silly plot where a wealthy woman advertises she’ll marry the best-mustached bachelor to respond, the pace and laughs were non-stop. 

Next up for our viewing pleasure, popular silent film duo Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand starred in the newly restored and color-tinted short FATTY AND MABEL ADRIFT (1916). The happy couple and their loyal pal Luke the dog find constant challenges from the awkward outsider Al St. John, as they seek happiness at their new beachfront cottage. Lastly for the main feature of the evening, Mary Pickford starred in SPARROWS (1926), with live musical accompaniment of Marvin Faulwell and Bob Keckeisen. This was a heart-wrenching story of ringlet-tressed Pickford portraying the eldest orphan in a horrific prison of impoverished and enslaved children with very dire futures. The plot was at times hilarious and adorable yet horrifically tragic all along. It was a gripping contrast of raw emotions and Pickford’s performance was both charming and impressively believable. (What’s unbelievable is how well she was able to play the part of a curly-haired girl when she was actually in her 30’s at the time. This was the last film role for her to play as the ringlet-wearing youth.) No wonder she was the premier star and producer of her time.

At the end of the evening, I purchased a commemorative poster and was thrilled to obtain signatures from all the musicians that participated in this wondrous event. The next day was a packed schedule from 10am to 10pm. Due to family commitments I was unable to enjoy the full day’s lineup. But I list the entire Saturday’s scheduled screenings here:

  • HIS PREHISTORIC PAST (1914)- starring Charlie Chaplin
  • FLYING ELEPHANTS (1928)- starring Laurel and Hardy
  • THREE AGES (1923)- starring Buster Keaton
  • BRONCHO BILLY’S ADVENTURE (1911)- starring Broncho Billy Anderson
  • D.W. Griffith’s BROKEN WAYS (1913)- starring Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthall & Harry Carey
  • NARROW TRAIL (1917)- starring William S. Hart
  • THE MAN WITH THE PUNCH (1920)- starring Hoot Gibson
  • HANDS UP! (1926)- starring Raymond Griffith
  • Wilfred Lucas’s THE SPEED KINGS (1913)- starring Ford Sterling & Mabel Normand (a Keystone Film Co. production)
  • MADCAP AMBROSE (1916)- starring Mack Swain & Polly Moran
  • THE GAUCHO (1927)- starring Douglas Fairbanks & Lupe Velez *live music by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

However, I was able to squeeze in a sliver of Saturday’s offerings and thoroughly enjoyed the rare treat of Raymond Griffith in HANDS UP! (1926), with live music by Greg Foreman. Considered by many as Griffith’s best work, this comedy was equally hilarious and charming. As a Confederate spy who trails a Union spy deep into enemy territory in pursuit of gold, he “plays” the other side to his own gain; always trying his best to stay a step-ahead and attempting to foil all those around him.

After this witty short, we were treated again by attending the Cinema Dinner (this time I was joined by my husband, Trevor, twitter pal Nikki aka @nikkilynn4 and her hubby Brian) with special guest speaker Paul Gierucki. He and his partner Brittany Valente generously shared amazing insights and screened clips from their recent massive project of restoring 100 Mack Sennett films. This overwhelming endeavor was completed and many aired on Turner Classic Movie in September 2012: 100 YEARS/ 100 FILMS BY MACK SENNETT. What a rare opportunity to gain an intimate insight to the background stories of this mega restoration process- with ‘before-and-after’ showings, too!

I’m saddened to say I missed out on many great films from Saturday’s screenings. And on another down note, KSFF President Bill Shaffer had a terrible fall on the ice that morning- the result of our region’s recent “Blizzard of Oz” major winter storm, which resulted in a nasty black and badly swollen eye. But on an up note, I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen those films that I could. I’m also very grateful to my buddy Trevor who generously provided us with dinner tickets. As part of the Cinema Dinner tradition, a drawing takes place with very appealing give-aways of silent film-era goodies. Somehow my name was drawn as the winner of a beautiful coffee table book of gorgeous lobby cards. It was a beautiful book with incredible colors throughout, from all eras of classic film; and even included a foreword by Bob Hope. But of course, this honest Kansas girl couldn’t keep my prize knowing my ticket truly belonged to my friend who generously gave them to my husband and me. So I handed the prize to it’s rightful owner… but only after I had a nice long peek! 

5 thoughts on “2013 Kansas Silent Film Festival

  1. It truly is. As a Kansan, I'm also able to attend the Buster Keaton Festival (or Celebration, as it's called), also within driving distance. We may not have Hollywood, but we have oodles of silents at least!


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