On Friday evenings, 26 February and 5 March, 2010 at 7:00 PM the Stanford Theatre Foundation presents two silent film operettas. The idea of a silent film based on operetta might seem contrary, but the marriage of film and music during the silent era was a natural extension for both arts, creating extraordinary experience of live entertainment. Only in silent film does the music play such an important role, bringing life and emotion to the film and characters, creating a unique, magical world. The audience is brought into this world as an active participant.

Friday, February 26th at the California Theatre
The Merry Widow (1925)- all seats $12

Erich von Stroheim’s lavish, hothouse adaptation of Franz Lehar’s 1906 operetta. An American showgirl marries a lecherous count to spite the handsome officer who has rejected her; but on her wedding night she finds herself widowed and very wealthy. This was the only unqualified box office success for director Stroheim in Hollywood. Not only does it have wonderful performances by John Gilbert and Mae Murray (and a marvelously creepy villain in Roy D’Arcy), but it also contains Stroheim’s usual penchant for the bizarre. When producer Thalberg complained about excessive film being shot of shoes, director Stroheim defended himself by explaining one of the characters had a foot fetish, to which Thalberg retorted “And you have a footage fetish!”

“Like all the great silent directors he knew how necessary it was to abandon taste for obsession… His films amassed detail relentlessly, but never lost sight of character or structure.” – David Thomson

Friday, March 5th at the California Theatre
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)- all seats $12

In this eloquent, bittersweet film, a young prince leaves his sheltered life to attend the university and falls in love with a young barmaid. Duty calls, however, and he must accept his crown. Director Lubitsch’s unique, elegant expressions of romance, wit and sophistication became known as the famous “Lubitsch touch.”

“The Merry Widow” and “The Student Price in Old Heidelberg” will both be accompanied live at the theatre’s restored 4 manual Wurlitzer pipe organ by internationally renowned theatre organist Dennis James. A long-time Bay Area theatre organ favorite, James has for over forty years played a pivotal role in the international revival of silent films presented with live music. James tours under auspices of the Silent Film Concerts production company performing to silent films with solo organ, piano, and chamber ensemble accompaniments in addition to presentations with major symphony orchestras throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Silent Film Concerts provides authentic musical accompaniments to classic silent films using either the complete original scores issued with the films’ original releases or historic “photoplay music” assemblages to recreate the exciting and compelling compilation scores of the kind heard in movie theaters in the 1920s.

From THEATRE ORGAN JOURNAL: “In commenting on the art of silent film accompaniment, it should be pointed out that a proper performance involves much more than ‘chase’ music, pratfall sound effects, or ‘hamming it up’ by introducing familiar song title interludes designed to attract titters from the audience. Considerable hard work is involved in terms of research, scoring, practice and timing in order to create a musical accompaniment which is both appropriate and unobtrusive while enhancing both the action and the mood of what is taking place on the screen . . . at the conclusion of this film a sophisticated audience loudly proclaimed that Dennis James had done his homework well, resulting in a truly excellent job of silent film accompaniment.”

The California Theatre opened in 1927 as one of the grand movie palaces of the era. With its magnificent Jazz Age decor, it was part of a wave of ornate theaters built to define downtowns all over the country. Following a long reign as The Fox, the theater was then shuttered for decades. Then downtown theater regained its glamour in 2004 funded by the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and the Packard Humanities Institute ! After a $75 million renovation, The California reopened as a major landmark with a 1,100-seat hall filled with modern amenities in a setting of meticulously restored 1920’s opulence. The architectural and acoustic splendor of the auditorium and lobby were preserved, while new accessibility, public facilities, and a completely new stage and backstage facilities were added to make the facility fully suitable as an opera house or concert hall in addition to a fully equipped silent picture palace. The Stanford Theatre Foundation installed a new Mighty Wurlitzer organ to replace the long-departed original; the with the installation combining a so-called “wedding-cake” console originally installed at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago, plus a 21-rank set of Wurlitzer pipe ranks from the Palace Theatre in Dallas.

California Theatre
345 South First Street
San Jose, California

Complete Dennis James current tour schedule at the University of South Carolina:

Listing sent from:
Silent Film Concerts
PO Box 2072
Tacoma, Washington 98401-2072 USA

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