The silent film series in Boulder is a glorious viewing experience – and a feast for your ears

First thing: silent films have never really been shown silent. They don’t use speech, but almost from the very beginning of cinema in the 1890s, silent films performed with live music. This made dynamic projections. The story is complicated, but most of the time silent film audiences heard music created by the musicians themselves, not a pre-made score. So each time a movie aired, it was a different movie for the audience, just like live concerts. Even with the same score, the performance is never the same twice, and so silent film shows with live musicians are always unique.

Another thing: human speech is overrated. In a noisy world like ours, some silences sound pretty good. And beyond that, good silent films are extremely articulate. There is no lack of feeling or thought in the silent film, and the absence of speech leaves more room for the audience to react and understand – and think and feel.

For decades, Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium hosted a weekly series of summer silent movies. Often there were eight weeks of film; now, unfortunately, it has been reduced to four, but the three remaining films are beautiful and touching, surprising and intelligent.

Actor Lon Chaney – from Colorado Springs, by the way – was dubbed “the man of a thousand faces” for his range of quirky personas and makeup. It’s a cliché, but Chaney had an amazing ability to play characters who lived on the fringes of life, who expanded the idea of ​​what human life could be. Like Quasimodo in 1923 The Hunchback of Notre DameChaney looks and moves like a being outside our definition of person, and through his impossible love for a gypsy, also despised, Chaney takes us beyond our disgust to understand the humanity that hides behind appearances.

Douglas Fairbanks – born in 15th and Franklin in Denver in 1883 – was the first major action star in cinema. He may not have been a good actor, but he was a glorious screen presence. He made big sweeping gestures with his arms, and after many stunts — and he did them himself — it can feel like he’s stopping for a bow. Fairbanks, however, was handsome, incredibly agile and acrobatic. And he obviously had fun – there’s joy in his performances.

The black pirate is the third film made in a first Technicolor process, so although the film’s color is limited, it’s still surprising.

The last frame in this short series is one of the most brilliant films ever made – 1924 by Buster Keaton Sherlock Jr. It’s funny, sure, but it’s also a genuinely profound film about what this then-new cinematic phenomenon is. Buster Keaton was not an intellectual; he never talked about the nature or philosophy of cinema. He would make up a story, then go out with his friends and make up gags. But these gags are mind-bogglingly clever and they show a brilliant understanding of the physical world and how a film camera sees that world.

Keaton makes jokes about lenses – what the camera lens can see and what it can’t. He makes jokes about whether two trains in the distance will collide or miss each other. In Sherlock Jr., Buster plays a movie projectionist sad that the girl he loves rejected him. In a stunning sequence, Buster falls asleep in the projection booth. Her dream self leaves her body and ascends into the film on screen. And this film does what the film does. It’s up, so the scene keeps changing, from a house by the ocean to a jungle and so on. Buster must then adapt to each cut because he is now subject to the laws of cinema, as opposed to the laws of the real world. Keaton’s work is pure genius.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will accompany The Hunchback of Notre Dame; pianist Hank Troy The black pirate and Sherlock Jr.. It’s world-class music.

Briana R. Cross