Another weekend, another stellar event at the Redford Theatre!
Fresh off of the great success of their Friday night screening of The Shining (which attracted over 600 film fanatics to the Lahser Road movie palace), the Redford’s Saturday program offered a single 8 pm screening of the somewhat obscure 1924 Lon Chaney film He Who Gets Slapped for only six bucks per ticket.
Though not quite as packed as Friday night, the screening of He Who Gets Slapped proved to be another highly enjoyable night at the movies for a small-ish but enthusiastic group of silent film fans. I counted around 60 people in the balcony, where I was seated, and there were at least as many downstairs. I’d estimate the total attendance to be somewhere between 120 and 150, though I have no way of knowing the actual numbers. Not a bad turn-out for a Sweetest Day silent screening!
Live accompaniment was provided by organist John Lauter, who fell in love with the Redford’s organ at the young age of 14. He gave his debut performance at the Redford two years later and has been playing on the theater’s original 1928 Barton organ ever since. Lauter himself was credited during the intermission as being responsible for bringing He Who Gets Slapped to the Redford, as he was the one to recommend it to the film selection committee.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of visiting the Redford, I should mention that their screenings traditionally go a little something like this: Doors open an hour before the show; Live organ music begins half an hour or so before the show; The film is introduced, the lights dim, and a cartoon short or two plays; and finally, the feature (always with an intermission).
This was my first time attending a silent screening at the Redford, and the schedule of the night was slightly altered. Instead of showing out-of-period shorts or cartoons before the film, the live music in the hour preceding the feature was scrapped, and the usual cartoon time was filled by four or five songs on the Barton of Lauter’s choosing. These songs ranged from a bit of Rodgers & Hammerstein to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to a home-parlour piano tune from the ’20s (which I unfortunately don’t remember the name of). Excepting the parlour song none of these selections suited the film’s period, but they were fun to listen to and warmed the crowd up for the main attraction.
Finally, the time came for the film to begin, and it was every ounce as wonderful as I remembered it to be. The photography is even more striking on the big screen than it was when I caught the film on TCM for the first time earlier this year. As I always do with theater screenings, I noticed many things I hadn’t focused on the first time around — like the brilliance of Norma Shearer’s performance, and just how implicitly gruesome that scene with the lion is!
Lauter’s score to He Who Gets Slapped was not only an original score, but also partially improvised, which was very cool to hear. He shared with the audience before the feature began that his scores change a little bit each time he performs along with a film, because he lets himself get absorbed into the film’s story/mood and plays accordingly. This technique went over incredibly well. His music truly felt like an integral part of the film. Seeing the film with a different score than I’d ever seen it with before made me watch it differently, which was an unexpected but delightful aspect of the screening.
Just as much fun was to be had in the lobby as it was in front of the screen. You may remember from my last visit to this theater that I was able to pick up a t-shirt featuring the poster design for Notorious. T-shirts were once again on sale. There was one He Who Gets Slapped design (which I was incredibly tempted to buy, but didn’t have enough cash for), as well as a design from the previous night’s screening of The Shining and a couple of designs promoting the theater itself. This time around, rather than getting a tee with the night’s film on it, I picked up one featuring a photo of the theater from 1931, which had caught my eye on my last visit. The marquee lists George O’Brien in Riders of the Purple Sage, and below the photo, text reads “Detroit’s Classic Movie House, est. 1928.”
Also in the lobby was a table set up by a volunteer featuring promotional materials, mostly newspaper and magazine tidbits, from the film’s original release. Copies of a number of these posters, ads and reviews were available for attendees to take home at no charge! Of course, I grabbed one of everything, including a packet of local reviews from the film’s original release and two ads that ran in The Detroit News to promote the film on January 18th and January 23rd of 1925.
None of this was the most exciting part of the screening for me, though. My greatest joy came from my companion to the screening: my dad, who had never seen a single silent film until I dragged him along to the Redford last night! I’ve successfully converted my mom into a classic film fan, but I’m still working on my dad and my sister. Dad’s become a fan of Hitchcock since attending screenings of Rope and Notorious with me (Rope is now his favorite classic film), but he was skeptical about watching a silent. He thought the film would entail constant reading, which was his biggest reservation. Luckily for him, he didn’t pull any of the “It’s going to be boring!” hijinks — he just wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep up with the story, since he’s so used to listening for the story.
But I promised him a free ticket and free popcorn, so off we went for another shared Redford experience. And, whaddya know, he ended up having a great time (just as I predicted)! His worries about reading the film were quickly debunked; he liked the pace and frequency of the intertitles. He also understood the need for slightly exaggerated performances, rather than poking fun at the style of acting used in silents as modern viewers sometimes do. He said, when asked what he thought of the film and how he’d rate it out of 5, “At first I was in it for the popcorn… but it was good. You still can’t beat an action movie, but I’d give it a 3 or 4.” (This, coming from a man who considers Mark Wahlberg’s Shooter a favorite film!) On the TMP rating scale, this means he found the film to be either good and worthy of a re-watch or great and worthy of many re-watches/an eventual purchase. I’d say the night was a great success.
For more information on the Redford Theatre or to view their events calendar, visit redfordtheatre.com!