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June 26, 2007 > Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival

Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival

By Mona Shah

This year, Niles will host its 10th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (NESFM). Opening night, Friday, June 29, will feature Ben Turpin in "An Awful Skate" also known as "The Hobo on Rollers" (1907) and another Chicago studio produced film with Turpin, "A Case of Seltzer" (1909). It may be the first time these films have ever been shown in Niles. Another rare Essanay film from the Chicago studio, The Raven (1915) starring Henry B. Walthall, will also be seen that night. This Edgar Allan Poe tale features surreal scenes of Poe's descent into madness; the special effects alone are worth watching.

Those enjoying opening night films will also watch an Essanay newsreel scoop of the first aviation meet in the United States at Dominguez Hills in January, 1910. Essanay cameraman Jess Robbins filmed Glenn Curtiss, Lincoln Beachey, Louis Paulhan and the huge crowds attending this historic event; G. M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson is shown helping out in the film. The footage is stunning.

The George Eastman House archive in Rochester, New York is providing most of the films for the Friday evening performance. One other film, "Max in a Taxi" with Max Linder, will be screened courtesy of the Narodni Filmovy Archiv in the Czech Republic.

Molly Axtmann will play the piano and include a specially-composed score for The Raven. It's a rare chance to see these 35mm prints in an authentic movie setting.

Saturday, June 30, is devoted to a look at the Chicago Essanay studio and the films they produced. Shows begin at 12:30 p.m. with a sampling of Essanay short comedies and dramas borrowed from the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute and the George Eastman House. Among the stars on screen will be John Steppling, Gloria Swanson, Bryant Washburn, Edward Arnold, Beverly Bayne, Ruth Stonehouse, Henry B. Walthall, Edna Mayo, Mary McAlister and Richard Travers. David Drazin, who regularly plays piano for silent films in Chicago, his home base, will bring these films to life.

The festival's 3:30 p.m. program will feature Francis X. Bushman in a range of films that catapult him toward status as a matinee idol. His earliest surviving film, "The Madman" (1911), will show another side of Bushman - as a madman determined to kill his father. As we trace Bushman's film journey, he teams with Beverly Bayne in "The New Church Organ" (1912), plays opposite Dolores Cassinelli in the Egyptian-themed "When Soul Meets Soul" (1913) and presents an unsympathetic side to Ruth Stonehouse in "Dawn and Twilight" (1914). "Under Royal Patronage" (1914) shows Bushman as the handsome leading man opposite Beverly Bayne, both caught up in matters of a foreign state. Jon Mirsalis, who attended the first Broncho Billy festival, will provide piano accompaniment for these and other films on the program.

Saturday night will include the world premiere of the Museum's "Billy McGrath on Broadway" restoration, a Chicago Essanay film starring John Steppling. Other shorts on the bill include "Max Wants a Divorce" (1917) with Max Linder in a print from Narodni Filmovy Archiv, and "Dreamy Dud Resolves Not to Smoke" (1915), a delightful Essanay cartoon by Wallace Carlson, courtesy of the Library of Congress. The feature attraction, "On Trial" (1917), is based on the Broadway hit by Elmer Rice, and the first film chosen by First National to be released in their theaters. It's a suspenseful movie directed by James Young and W. S. Van Dyke starring Sydney Ainsworth, little Mary McAlister and Harry Dunkinson. This beautiful print is from the George Eastman House. Judy Rosenberg plays for this show.

On Sunday the Museum salutes Niles, beginning with a program of Snakeville Comedies made in Niles and Niles Canyon. They come from archives at UCLA, George Eastman House, British Film Institute, Netherlands Film museum and Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. These clever comedies include many locations which the audience may recognize, including the railroad buildings as well as some downtown scenes that have passed into history, like the Sullivan Park baseball field and the Rose Garage, to name just two. The finale is the Museum's restored print of "Versus Sledge Hammers;" don't miss the last shot of a train going over the bridge and out of town. Frederick Hodges will play for these films.

Sunday at 4 p.m. will feature The Best of Broncho Billy. It starts with Broncho Billy's "Christmas Dinner" (1911), the earliest existing Broncho Billy film. Two more films on the program, "Broncho Billy's Adventure" (1911) and "Broncho Billy and the Schoolmistress" (1912), were made in Marin County. "Alkali Bests Broncho Billy" (1912), a fun comedy of the Snakeville variety, was made in Lakeside, California. Niles with again be the locale for "Broncho Billy's Heart" (1912), featuring True Eames Boardman, and three more Broncho Billy films. Once again you'll recognize the locations, and marvel at Niles Canyon. You'll also see the world premiere of UCLA's restoration - "Broncho Billy's Wild Ride." Some Niles school kids are seen in this one, along with Essanay regulars. Bruce Loeb, who has probably played at every one of the previous festivals, will play for this one as well. Prints are from George Eastman House, British Film Institute, Library of Congress and UCLA.

The final program of the festival will include two great Essanay westerns made in Niles, "The Tomboy on Bar Z" from a Netherlands Filmmuseum print, and "The Episode at Cloudy Canyon" from the British Film Institute. "Three Boiled Down Fables, a George Ade Fable" from the National Film Archive of Canada, Ottawa, will lead up to a delightful feature film with Bryant Washburn directed by Harry Beaumont called "Filling His Own Shoes" (1917) from the Library of Congress; both of these films were made in Chicago. Dr. Phil Carli, who plays regularly at George Eastman House, will play the piano.

Broncho Billy Film Festival
Friday, June 29 to Sunday, July 1
Niles Edison Theater
37417 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 494-1411
Schedule and prices, visit or

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