Held at the iconic Egyptian Theatre, Cinecon 51 occurred over the Labor Day weekend for a period of five days. That’s five full days of classic cinema screenings, though I was only able to experience just one fifth of that weekend. It was my very first time attending, and I had been waiting several months for it to come. Once the schedule had been posted, I was delighted to see that the top screenings I wanted to check out were conveniently listed on the same day.
Sunday, September 6th.
I spent the day in Hollywood with a friend I met at the TCM Classic Film Festival earlier this year. While there were many tourists around, there was hardly a crowd at Cinecon. Once we purchased our day passes at the Egyptian Theatre, we were completely surprised as to how different the atmosphere was compared to TCMFF. It certainly relieved a lot of stress, and felt like we could enjoy the day with a much more laid-back approach.
Since we had given ourselves ample time, we made the short walk to Loews Hotel to browse the marketplace. There were a number of rooms holding an abundance of movie memorabilia, and I felt overwhelmed already. In the first room, I searched through a box of vintage postcards that depicted homes of famous movie stars. The very moment I found one of Buster Keaton’s Italian Villa, my eyes literally widened. It took every fiber of my being not to shoot up from my spot and declare a resounding “YES!” My excitement kept building up as I found a postcard that depicted a collection of stills from The Bell Boy (1918)—which we would be seeing later in the afternoon—as well as a full-length photo postcard of Buster Keaton. However, once I looked at the backside for prices, it was instant dejection. I had to put those two away before I could make any impulsive and drastic decisions, but I did end up purchasing the other postcard, which I was real happy to find. It’s hard enough finding anything related to him as it is.
Walking across to another room, I immediately saw posters lined up behind tables which held assorted albums of miscellaneous 8×10 photographs. I couldn’t believe my luck of finding all these Buster items so quickly, including cigarette cards and a slightly thick folder of stills and photographs—some of which I had never seen before! I was really tempted to clean out my wallet, because where else am I going to find any of these in person? Strangely, I left without purchasing a thing (besides that postcard), and I still don’t know how to feel about it.
After lunch, we strolled down the crowded streets of Hollywood Boulevard. The late summer heat was beating down, but the slight and occasional breeze made it bearable. Flickering our eyes towards the sidewalk, we searched for Buster’s stars for both his film and television work. They are just a few blocks away from each other, so we didn’t have to walk very far. Next, we decided to head down Cahuenga Boulevard to see the alley that Buster ran down in Cops (1922)—and just a few buildings south, the parking lot where he took his pet cow to in Go West (1925), which is, oddly enough, still a parking lot. Once my friend pointed out all that information, I stood in awe just thinking about the number of times I had walked up and down that block before, directly passing by these locations, never to have fully realized I was touching sacred ground…
After a while, we decided to head inside the Egyptian Theatre to escape the heat. We walked in during the middle of a screening, which I later found out to be Imitation of Wife. As I settled myself and tuned in, I remember solely debating whether or not it was an older film. I noticed that the speech and subtle expressions used seemed more modern to me, but I was still slightly surprised to find that it was released just last year! I’ve seen imitations of older films and eras that definitely seem too obvious, but the aesthetics and how the characters acted for this particular film were so well done, that it nearly made me think I was watching a comedy from the early talkie days.
Next up was a documentary called The Champion, which was released this year. It focuses on the eponymous film studio that was situated in Fort Lee, New Jersey—long before Hollywood became known as the primary film town. It was really interesting to get a brief glimpse of this historic landmark, although it is heartbreaking to know that (as of a couple years ago) the studio no longer stands. It was declared the oldest film studio in the country, if not, the world.
Limehouse Blues (1934) with George Raft, Anna May Wong, and Jean Parker screened afterward. I’ve always known of the song, but I had never seen the movie before. I found it somewhat enchanting to watch.
At this point of the day, my stomach felt famished, but I could not miss what I came here to see! Two Arbuckle & Keaton shorts and an Arbuckle feature were scheduled next. On the program, they are listed as new premiere restorations, which was exciting to say in the least! The speaker who introduced these films mentioned that there were about six new frames added to one of the shorts (or was it both?), but I personally could not detect it. The Bell Boy (1918) was screened first, followed by The Garage (1920), and finally The Round-Up (1920).
I adored seeing the first two. The Arbuckle & Keaton shorts are so endearing in their own way. And I can’t express how much I love hearing different tones of laughter coming from all around the audience, paired with the brilliant visual gags onscreen. It felt right—like how these films are supposed to be watched. The Bell Boy is such a cute short. We get to see a smiling Buster (the most precious thing ever) take part in a game of pattycake, him and Al St. John as bank robbers (complete with stylish eye masks), a horse-powered elevator that causes some trouble, a man getting a beard makeover (with each trim strangely looking like the ones belonging to a few historic figures), and many other shenanigans that occur within the span of twenty minutes.
The Garage is very Keatonesque (as it was the last short he made with Arbuckle before transitioning to his independent work), and you can really see this on the big screen. I normally have trouble laughing out loud while watching films (no matter how funny the material is), but I’m always on the verge of breaking into a smile whenever I watch these shorts. Out of the few times I’ve seen this film, I never realized that Buster wore his fireman’s hat backwards. At that point, my smile grew wider and I couldn’t believe I had missed that. It goes to show how much of a difference it makes to watch something on a bigger screen: sure, it may crane your neck a bit, but somehow, it feels as if you were watching a film for the first time again.
The Round-Up was screened in such stunning detail, what with the restoration it underwent. It was not the typical Roscoe Arbuckle flick, but he performed wonderfully nevertheless. The storyline was much more dramatic, and included some twists and turns to keep the viewers on their toes. The audience also applauded at Buster’s cameo appearance as a native towards the end of the film, which I kept a note to look out for while watching.
For each silent film, there was live accompaniment, played on a beautiful wooden grand piano off to the side of the screen. The acoustics were amazing, and sometimes I’d forget it wasn’t coming from the film itself. One pianist played through the shorts, while another played through the feature. As a musician myself, experiencing live and almost non-stop accompaniment made me even more aware and appreciative of it.
It was now time for a dinner break, and I thought my stomach would never shut up during the screenings. We did some more walking around before settling down to eat pizza. I half-jokingly said, “I never knew watching all those screenings in a row could really wipe a person out!” But it was true.
We returned to the theater to catch one reel of The Adventures of Tarzan: The Hidden Arrows (1921) later in the evening. It was supposed to be a two-reeler, but I guess the second reel never arrived. Thank goodness, though, because the film had such a prominent flicker that showed no mercy on my tired eyes.
Another film I was eager to see was Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927), which I had never gotten around to seeing prior to this evening. Before the feature started, a speaker shared a powerpoint of deleted scenes from some of Harold’s many films. Even Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, was in the audience—just seated several feet to our left!
I had been wanting to see a Harold Lloyd flick projected on screen for a while, and I’m delighted to call this one my first. The film also stars Jobyna Ralston as the leading lady, who is a favorite of mine. The gags are so memorable and left many of us in a fit of hysterics. There’s a present and charming aura that emits from the characters of Harold and Jobyna, who are both very sweet to watch. The movie is absolutely adorable, and I don’t think it would be a Harold Lloyd film if it didn’t end on such a triumphant note.
Too tired to go back to the marketplace (I could hear my wallet weeping tears of joy), we left the day behind to return home. My second taste of film festivals has left me wanting to experience more, and I simply can’t wait for next time!