On any given day, the Fairfax District in Hollywood is bustling with people. The Grove, a trendy outdoor mall, has your typical retail clothing shops, Barnes and Noble, a multiplex theater, a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and of course a fancy trolley that takes tourists around in a loop. The Original Farmers Market, which used to occupy the space where The Grove is today, now sits adjacent and sells fresh produce, souvenirs, ice cream, and hot food items. The CBS studios lot “Television City” is located on the corner of Fairfax Ave. and Beverly Blvd. The Fairfax District is also nestled in a Jewish community with amazing markets and delis, most notably Cantors where heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses used to frequent back in the 1980s.
There is one amazingly cool landmark in the area that seems to get easily overlooked by the average tourist. Across the street from Fairfax High School, sits a modest little place called The Silent Movie Theatre, where its been owned by the non-profit organization, The Cinefamily since 2007. The Cinefamily shows an eclectic array of movies and programs every month and have cultivated a very loyal membership base. Inside the theater, there are comfortable leather couches in the front and cushioned seating everywhere else. As you look around, there are beautiful portraits of the most popular silent movie stars along the walls of the theater.
They also try to stay true to the heritage of the theater which used to only screen silent movies dating back to the 1940s. I remember attending a Charlie Chaplin screening a few years back and hearing an anecdote from film historian Jeffrey Vance about Charlie Chaplin visiting the theater decades ago, sitting in the back and laughing hysterically as he watched one of his silent movies.
Today The Cinefamily works with film archivists, Brandee Cox from the Academy Film Archive, and Steven Hill from the UCLA Film & Television Archive on a monthly silent movie series called The Silent Treatment. On the second Saturday of every month, a rare silent movie usually not available on DVD, screens in the afternoon. At every screening, Brandee and Steven walk together on stage smiling and introduce themselves to the audience. They discuss why they selected that movie and how wonderful it is to experience silent movies on the big screen with the public with live piano accompaniment by Cliff Retallick.
They have a lot of fun coming up with how to engage the audience. For example, a few years back, they used to ask silent movie trivia questions and give away fun prizes to the audience. I remember specifically for the silent movie The Green Goddess(1923), I answered one of the questions correctly and I got a bottle of green goddess salad dressing. They used to also make specific 1920s cocktails out in the beautiful patio area in the back for the audience during intermission.
Since it had been almost a year since I last attended The Silent Treatment, I decided to go to their Halloween themed program on October 8, 2016. The manager of the Universal Film Archive, Mike Feinberg, introduced the recently restored silent movie, The Last Warning(1929), a horror movie from Universal that stars Laura La Plante. Feinberg said that The Last Warning was digitally restored in 2012 along with 50 other Universal titles such as Spartacus(1960) and The Birds(1963). The UCLA Film and Television Archive worked with Universal on the digital restoration of The Last Warning and also Old San Francisco(1927) which is screening at the next Silent Treatment on November 12, 2016. They digitally restored The Last Warning using a combination of a 35mm nitrate print and a 16mm print.
The Last Warning was shown in a DCP format and was a gorgeous transfer. There were thin black vertical lines on the left and right side of the frame that were noticeable but not enough to take you out of the viewing experience. You could tell where the 16mm shots took the place of the 35mm print but again it wasn’t distracting enough to take someone out of the movie. The plot of the movie was Universal horror at it’s most entertaining beginning with a murder in darkness during a play rehearsal and all the cast and crew characters being suspected of murder. I could sense the audience engaged, speculating who the murderer is.
The Silent Treatment is proof that this is how a silent movie should be seen and the series has been going strong for nine years. It has become a memorable tradition for myself and others. For those who haven’t seen a silent movie on the big screen, I highly recommend going to The Cinefamily on Fairfax Ave. and attending The Silent Treatment because Brandee and Steven do a wonderful job curating this program and obtaining very rare silent movies for the public to experience for the first time. Many of these movies haven’t been screened since their original release over 80 years ago so it’s a rare treat for any fan and its an opportunity to learn about what a film archivist does, the different film archives, the restoration or lack of restoration, a first hand experience of seeing an imperfect film that may contain missing reels or deterioration within the frame. This educational aspect of The Silent Treatment is what inspired me over the years to pursue a career in media archival studies and I hope it continues to inspires others to think about our film heritage. The next screening for The Silent Treatment is on November 12th, 2016 at 2pm, where they will show a digitally restored print of Old San Francisco with its restored Vitaphone soundtrack included. The Cinefamily is located at 611 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036. You can find The Cinefamily at http://www.cinefamily.org and The Silent Treatment at http://www.cinefamily.org/films/the-silent-treatment/. You can also like The Cinefamily on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cinefamily/.
Melissa Skillens is a student at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Science and is currently working on her Masters in Library and Information Studies.