Cinefest 32: Stooges crash the lost film party

Hey, knuckleheads: the Stooges are in for a big year

LIVERPOOL, N.Y.–Cinefest is probably the only place you’ll hear an audience break into spontaneous applause at the mere mention of the names Wheeler & Woolsey.
That happened earlier this week when the generally forgotten comedy team from the ’20s and ’30s were glimpsed among  a series of “Song in the Dark” moments, one of the highlights of this year’s Cinefest 32.
Saturday brought many more theatrical  gems to upstate New York, starting with nearly eight hours of mainly silent (with live musical accompaniment) 35mm films at the local Palace movie house. An early Stan Laurel short (1922’s The Pest) was among the gems, as were a couple of very entertaining silent features starring Clara Bow (1927’s Get Your Man) and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., (Mr. Fix-It, from 1918).
Eighty, ninety years after these films were made, the charisma these stars had still practically leaps off the screen. Another silent film, One a Minute (1921), demonstrated that less has changed over the last century than we sometimes think. The story was all about how franchise businesses can wipe out mom and pop operations. The jokes, including one extended courtroom gag where a Chinese witness gives a two minute answer which was translated into “yes,” is still a sitcom staple.
Popular acts like the Marx Bros or Laurel & Hardy are seldom seen at Cinefest but there was a glimpse of the Three Stooges Saturday (the upcoming Farley brothers Stooge feature had to have been a factor). Surprise Surprise (1937) was a short theatrical ad featuring Curly, Larry and Moe promoting a toy movie projector kids could send away for after buying two boxes of Farina breakfast cereal. The bit of film was once thought lost.
The emphasis at Cinefest is more and more on film preservation and restoration, spotlighting  work being done in this area at the nearby George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. (not impacted, by the way, by Kodak’s financial troubles), The Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress and New York University. The recent Best Picture Oscar win for The Artist is seen by many here as a catalyst toward renewed interest in preserving early film heritage.

Cinefest’s George Read, a.k.a. Lafe McKee Jr.

For the first time ever, on Saturday evening, rare films were digitally projected. This sacrilege at a strictly 16mm and 35mm film festival was tolerated by buffs who otherwise could not have seen several delightful films Saturday night. A fully restored and tinted version of George Melies A Trip to the Moon (1902) was shown. A segment of this short film, which cost half a million dollars and took efforts in several countries to restore, was featured recently in Hugo. 
That  was followed by a delightful feature called His Captive Woman (1929) featuring the captivating Dorothy Mackaill as well as strong silent type Milton Sills. Ingeniously bridging the silent to talkie era, the courtroom scenes featured synchronized dialogue and the flashback scenes on a desert island were shot silent style. Considering the transitional year this was made there was nothing clunky about the camera work, especially during an underwater shark attack. The judge’s decision at the end as shockingly just.
It had been over 80 years since an American audience had seen a sound print of Mamba. The 1930 adventure is the first all-talking, all-colour drama. Long considered lost, a technicolor print was discovered in 2009 Australia by film preservationist and historian Paul Brennan. The original sound discs were rounded up around the world and sent to sound specialist Jonas Nordin in Stockholm, who married the audio to the video. Both Brennan and Nordin were in the house and took a bow for their efforts.
By the way, a reel of Clara Bow’s Get Your Man is still lost, so check your attics.

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