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February 13, 2007 > The Niles mid-winter Comedy Festival

The Niles mid-winter Comedy Festival

By Vidya Pradhan

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! Woob,woob,woob! Nyarggghh! If Curly's vocalizations send you on a fast trip down memory lane to the heydays of the Three Stooges, then a real treat is in store for you this weekend at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

This is the second year that the Museum is hosting this festival, comprised of three days of comic shorts from the silent and early sound era. The festival begins on Friday, February 16, with six early talkies, featuring some of the greatest comedians of all time like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges. Silent films from the early decades of the last century will be screened on Saturday and Sunday, with accompaniment from Phil Carli and Frederick Hodges.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Essanay film studios. In 1912, Bronco Billy Anderson, who pioneered the 'Western' genre in the movies, was looking for a place to shoot cowboy movies that would look like the 'Old West'. The hills and canyons around Niles seemed like the ideal location and a movie studio was created. Over three hundred movies were filmed in those studios, though the movies were each only about 15 minutes long. In 1914, Charlie Chaplin was hired by the studio and made five films here, including 'The Tramp' and 'The Champion', before he moved to Los Angeles.

The studios operated until 1916. The buildings lasted a few more years before they were torn down. Essanay Museum that exists today is actually located in an old Nickelodeon movie theatre which was a warehouse for 60 years before it was turned into a brick and mortar museum that screens silent movies every weekend.

One of the most remarkable aspects of silent movies is the background score. Some of the silent films come with their own score but mostly it is up to the talent and ingenuity of the accompanist to come up with suitable music. The Museum has seven pianists. Some of them have seen the movies they play for before, but many times they make up the music on the spot, based on the situation in the movie. Frederick Hodges, one of the most popular pianists at the Museum, has a distinctive ragtime theme to his accompaniments. He will be showcasing some of the movies at the festival.

The movies feature a broad range of humor, from situational comedies to slapstick humor. On the bill is 'Helpmates' with Laurel and Hardy - where Stan helps Ollie clean his house after a wild party and ends up literally burning the house down! A classic Hal Roach comedy is 'Don't Park There' where the entire movie is built on a single premise - a man can't run a simple errand in the city because he can't find a place to park... his horse!

These were the very early days of the movies and it is fascinating to watch the greats figure out the potential of the medium. The early Chaplin movies, in particular, show the master still learning and honing his craft. For any movie lover, these films are an intriguing peek into the art of movie-making.

If your interest has been piqued, rush down to get your tickets to the festival. Seating is very limited and tickets go quickly. At $7 to $10 a ticket per segment, it's a steal.

For more information go to and search for upcoming events.

Tickets are available in person at the Museum store during regular hours
Noon to 4 p.m. or at the 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening shows.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets are also available by US Mail and PayPal by following directions at their website

The Niles Mid-Winter Comedy Festival
Friday to Sunday
February 16-18
Niles Edison Theatre
37417, Niles Boulevard, Fremont
(510) 494-1411

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