As a classic film obsessive, attending a film fest is much more than the joy of screening a wealth of old movies. The joy of seeing a classic flick on that big screen, along with an audience that you just KNOW is enjoying this with equal vigor, is frankly pretty damn good.
Many times, films featured at fests are grouped via a specific theme, or are restored, or rare, or perhaps presented in a whole new light- such as with a newly composed score with live orchestral accompaniment, or introduced by a really cool speaker that has some connection to that film. But for many of us, it’s also chance to connect with those fellow film nerds face to face, in between screenings.
I was lucky to attend my ever CapitolFest in Rome, NY last month where I discovered all of these benefits and more. For me, the journey itself was an entertaining adventure from the first yellow brick step to the Big Apple and beyond.
I’ve been fortunate to have visited small fests in the Midwest, such as the Kansas Silent Film Festival and the Buster Keaton Celebration in Kansas and the John Wayne Birthday Celebration in Iowa; and of course BIG fests such as Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood. The challenge with having film friends that live all across the country, you really only see them in person at these fests. Knowing I wouldn’t likely see my East coast pals until the next TCMFF, a trip to CapitolFest seemed in order.
CapitolFest is touted as “a vacation, not a marathon.” In all fairness, I’d say it’s actually both. Seeing nearly thirty films in three days is a thrilling vacation to a passionate Old Movie Weirdo like me. To someone else, it’s more like insane marathon. And that’s fine by me. For us obsessives, we take it all in. For those who prefer to take longer breaks (formal breaks including lunches and dinners are scheduled in) and parcel it out, you can enjoy it at your leisure.
Either way, this fest is a win-win and let me explain why. It’s hosted at the majestic Capitol Theater originally built in 1928, in a quant little town in central New York. So much of the interior is original that you can smell it like a welcoming antique shop upon entering. I knew I was right at home. One of the impressive features to be found at the Capitol Theater is the original installation, 3-manual, 10-rank Style 70 Moller theatre organ. And what a terrific accompaniment to the silent screenings to hear those full sounds, easily filling the entire theater.
CapitolFest focuses on showing silents and early talkies that are not your typical, run-of-the-mill films. They do their best to show those films that are not necessarily rare (although some are), but rather, ‘rarely shown’. In other words, it may be due to distribution or restoration, but for whatever reason, they look for the non-standard fare. As a gal whose seen more than her fair share of oldies, the most impressive takeaway for me was that I can honestly say that out of the 28 films I watched, all 28 were my first-time screenings.
Each year, they also offer a theme of a particular star. This year’s star was Nancy Carroll. And while many of my purist, die-hard, film nerd pals (you know who you are) may be very familiar with Nancy’s work, I was not. So this was an additional bonus – to discover a glimpse into her filmography for the first time, and I was happily enlightened. Next year’s star? Mr. Gary Cooper. While Cooper is more known for his iconic classics from the Golden era of film, I prefer his early stuff from his silent/early talkie, pretty boy phase. So this fest suits nicely!
An additional perk to this event, is a ‘Dealer’s Room.’ Adjacent to the theater, they reserve space for vendors to come in and sell their classic film wares. DVDs, films on reel, books, lobby cards, sheet music, posters… tons of fun stuff. Needless to say, we were in Old Movie Weirdo heaven. None of us walked away empty-handed and I scored a cool 1958 campy SciFi lithograph for my hubby’s birthday. BOOM. You’re welcome…
For me, the most anticipated aspect of this adventure was being able to enjoy it with friends. I couldn’t wait to see my East coast friends again plus the opportunity to meet some face to face for the first time. Much of the joy of the journey occured on the five hour car ride from NYC to Rome via gabbing and singing beloved standards at the top of our lungs with Aurora (aka @CitizenScreen) and Annmarie (aka @ClassicMovieHub), and dinners with our pals Colleen (aka @MiddParent) and Nora (aka @NitrateDiva). Plus I finally got to meet twitter pals like Shirley (aka @tosilentfilm), Marc (aka @TheIntertitler), Beth Ann (aka @missbethg), Caren (aka @CarenKayF) and more. Worth the 2400 round trip miles just to see these fun friends!
Schedule of delightful silents and early talkies:
Friday, Aug. 7: *(all daytime silent films accompaniment by Dr. Philip C. Carli/ post-dinner accompaniment by Bernie Anderson)
BOBBY’S DAY OUT (d. Rayart, 1926) Silent– Bobby Ray
THE FLYING ACE (d. Richard E. Norman, 1926) Silent – Lawrence Criner, Kathryn Boyd, Boise De Legge
THE BORDER LEGION (Paramount, d. O. Brower & Edwin H Knopf, 1930) Richard Arlen, Fay Wray, Jack Holt, Eugene Pallette
THE AIR MAIL (Paramount, d. Irvin Willat, 1925) Silent – Warner Baxter, Billie Dove, Mary Brian, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
~HEARST METROTONE NEWS, vol. 1, no. 220
THE TALK OF HOLLYWOOD (Prudence/Sono-Art, d. Mark Sandrich, 1929) Nat Carr, Fay Marbe, Hope Sutherland, S. Oliver
KO-KO NUTS (Red Seal, d. Dave Fleischer, 1925) animated Silent
THE SHOPWORN ANGEL (Paramount, d. Richard Wallace, 1928) Silent– Nancy Carroll, Gary Cooper, Paul Lukas, R. Karns
MILLION DOLLAR RANSOM (Universal, d. Murray Roth, 1934) Phillips Holmes, Edward Arnold, Wini Shaw, Andy Devine
LOVE ME TONIGHT (Paramount, d. R. Mamoulian, 1932) Maurice Chevalier, Jeannette MacDonald, Myrna Loy, Charles Ruggles, C. Butterworth
-> My top picks for Friday’s list: the ‘race film’ THE FLYING ACE was fun romp with a little bit of everything- an all African American cast, mystery, a WWI ace pilot turned detective, a pretty lady in an aviator outfit, bad guys, a dirty cop, suspense, thrills, chase scenes (where you can see the canvas backdrop), and a spectacular amputee actor “Peg” Steve Reynolds that stole every action-packed scene with his creative and impressive ways of chasing down the bad guys with his multi-tasking crutch. Special shout out to prematurely hunky teen Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the riveting, THE AIR MAIL.
Saturday, Aug. 8th: *(daytime silent film accompaniment by Bernie Anderson/ post-dinner accompaniment by Avery Tunningley)
THE WAY OF ALL PESTS (Columbia, d. Arthur Davis, 1941) animated
THE DEVIL’S HOLIDAY (Paramount, d. Edmund Goulding, 1930) Nancy Carroll, Phillips Holmes, J. Kirkwood, H. Bosworth
CARTOONS ON THE BEACH (Edison, d. Raoul Barre, 1915) live action & animated Silent
CROOKED STREETS (Paramount, d. Paul Powell, 1920) Silent– Ethel Clayton, Jack Holt, Clyde Fillmore, Clarence Geldart
SKINNER STEPS OUT (Universal, d. William James Craft, 1929) Glenn Tyron, Myrna Kennedy, EJ Ratcliffe, Burr McIntosh
~Dawn Of Technicolor Presentation – James Layton, David Pierce
FOLLOW THRU (Paramount, d. L Corrigan, 1930) L. Schwab, Buddy Rogers, Nancy Carroll, Z O’Neal, Jack Haley, Thelma Todd
DUMB-BELLES (Nathan, d. Al Nathan, 1927) Silent – Victor Potel, Marta Golden, Fred Cummings, Madelynne Fields
RAMONA (Inspiration/UA, d. Edwin Carewe, 1928) Silent – Dolores del Rio, Warner Baxter, Rolan Drew, Vera Lewis
CINDERELLA GOES TO A PARTY (Columbia, d. Alec Geiss, 1942) animated
SILENCE (Paramount, d. LJ Gasnier, 1931) Clive Brook, Marjorie Rambeau, Peggy Shannon, Chas Starrett
-> My top picks for Saturday’s line-up: this day’s offerings were jam-packed with goodies with RAMONA being, hands-down, at the top of the heap. What an incredibly heart-wrenching story of tragedy and a surprisingly sensitive take on Native-American racism. At the heart of this story, Dolores del Rio was simply breath-taking, both in beauty and skilled at her craft. Other highlights from this day include both Nancy Carroll features- THE DEVIL’S HOLIDAY (Carroll well deserved her nomination for Best Actress Oscar for this performance) and the light-hearted, pastel-colored, golf rom-com FOLLOW THRU (which includes a hilarious ladies’ locker room with both Jack Haley and Eugene Pallette in drag.) On the note of funny, DUMB-BELLES had us in stitches, too.
Sunday, Aug. 9: *(silent film accompaniment by Dr. Philip C. Carli)
THE FAMILY FORD (Warner Brothers, d. Murray Roth, Vitaphone #790, 1929) Jim & Marian Harkins, Hope Eden, Mary Dolan
ILLUSION (Paramount, d. Lothar Mendes, 1929) Nancy Carroll, Buddy Rogers, June Collyer, Kay Francis, Regis Toomey
BLUE JEANS (Metro, d. John H. Collins, 1917) Silent– Viola Dana, Robert Walker, Sally Crute, Clifford Bruce
MR. BRIDE (Roach, d. James Parrott, 1932) Charley Chase, Muriel Evans, Dell Henderson
UNDER-COVER MAN (Paramount, d. James Flood, 1932) George Raft, Nancy Carroll, Lew Cody, Roscoe Karns
~Jack Theakston’s Short Subject Follies
OH MARY, BE CAREFUL (Goldwyn, 1921) Silent – Madge Kennedy, George J Forth, George Stevens, Bernard Thornton
THE DIXIE FLYER (Trem Carr, d. Chas J Hunt, 1926) Silent – Cullen Landes, Eva Novak, Fernand Munier, John Elliott
-> My top picks for Sunday’s line-up: The last film on the last day was an excellent choice to go out with a BANG. THE DIXIE FLYER was a bit slow-paced for the first half, but then picked up plenty of speed. By the climatic ending, it was an exhilarating thrill ride where the leading lady saves the day~ everyone was standing on their feet and cheering! As a Charley Chase fan, MR. BRIDE was a fun treat. Viola Dana kicks ass in an intense ‘saw mill close-call’ in BLUE JEANS. Since being introduced to Nancy Carroll, I became a big fan. Her performance in ILLUSION (where she’s paired up again with a Kansas local and cutie Buddy Rogers) doesn’t disapoint.
We were fortunate to sit down and chat with the folks that make the magic happen at CapitolFest- Art Pierce and Jack Theakston. They both generously gave their time to discuss the history, the creative process in selecting these 35 mm treasures for this event and fulfilling their visions for an even more beautiful and grander CapitolFests in the years to come. Restorations are already in the works! Jack was also kind enough to let us take a peek in the projection booth and I was tickled pink! (Later he divulged a spooky story about the balcony area where we camped out for the weekend. A cinematic spirit was once captured photobombing in that same area!)
I whole-heartedly recommend this fest for purists and newbies alike. Dates for next year’s fest are August 12-14th, 2016. Hope to see you (and Gary Cooper) there!
13 thoughts on “A Reel Journey To My 1st CAPITOLFEST!”
This looks like great fun! I’m going to try my best to make it next year — I usually take a vacation in August, so it looks like I’ve found my 2016 destination! 🙂
You just GOTTA come, Lindsey- you’d love it!
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They’re very proud of THE FLYING ACE here in Jacksonville, FL. — it was one of the crown jewels of Norman Studios, a local silent-film factory that boasted the only all-African-American casts of the silent era! They’re currently trying to get the funding for a museum/tribute to the studio — check out their Facebook page!
That’s so cool, Steve. I’m very curious to hear about a museum tributing that studio. Thanks for the FB page heads-up!
This sounds great! I hope I can go one day since I am in NJ!
Most definitely! Would LOVE to visit with you in person!
I second that! It would be great to meet you in person!
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This was so much fun to read and re-live this wonderful event! Great job, Kellee!
It was such a blast to spend time with you!! Countdown to TCMFF!
It was great to meet you, and I hope to see you at Capitolfest next year! They say it keeps growing, so you spreading the word about it will likely contribute to next year’s attendance. Maybe some more of the #TCMParty crew will be inspired to go?
You and I enjoyed a lot of the same pictures!
YES!! From the moment TCMFF is done in May, I’ll start pinching those pennies so I can make it to CapitolFest too~ SO much fun!
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Sounds like a great time. I’ll try to see if I can go this year since I live in NYC.