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Silent Summer Film Fest, in new home, ready to roll

“The Flapper” (with Olive Thomas) is one six titles programmed for 15th annual Silent Summer Film Festival.

“The Flapper” (with Olive Thomas) is one of six titles programmed for the 15th annual Silent Summer Film Festival.

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When: Friday
through Aug. 23

Where: Des Plaines
Theatre, 1476 Miner,
Des Plaines

Tickets: $12
($43 for festival pass)

Info: (773) 205-7372;

Updated: August 20, 2013 6:10AM

Last year, the Silent Film Society of Chicago’s Silent Summer Film Festival was happily ensconced in its longtime home at the Portage Theatre. But after a change in ownership at the Northwest Side venue, the venerable annual event has returned to itinerant status.

Dennis Wolkowicz, who founded the Silent Film Society and also was program director at the Portage, was looking forward to working with new owner Eddie Carranza, who also owns the Congress Theatre. But on May 24, he and his staff were evicted from the building without warning.

So the Silent Summer Film Festival has found a new home at the Des Plaines Theatre, a classic vaudeville/movie house built in 1925 by architects Betts & Holcomb in downtown Des Plaines.

“We’re really excited to house this great festival,” said theater spokesman Brian Wolf. “There’s no better place to see these classic films than in a great big old theater where they were meant to be screened.”

The organizers of the annual event, now in its 15th edition, have dug deep into the vaults for another grade-A roster of rarely seen films.

Of this year’s six films, all but one (“Metropolis”) new to the festival. Wolkowicz likes to include at least one well-known film that “crosses over the lines of silent film enthusiasts” and will act as an introduction to silent film for novices.

“Our mission is to preserve the films by making them available to the public for viewing on the big screen,” Wolkowicz said. “Once people experience a silent film this way, they never forget it.”

Here are the festival films with some commentary by Wolkowicz. On most nights there will be pre-show performances by jazz musicians. The screenings, all at 8 p.m., are accompanied by live organ music.

“The Sheik” (July 19): A desert prince (Rudolph Valentino) abducts an English beauty (Agnes Ayres) and takes her back to his desert camp, where she refuses to surrender to his will. This 1921 film introduced Valentino, the movies’ first sex symbol. Wolkowicz: “Valentino had women swooning in the aisles. He must have had a great publicist.”

“Kid Boots” (July 26): Comedian and singer Eddie Cantor transitions from the Ziegfeld Follies’ stage to the silent screen in this 1926 comedy as a tailor’s assistant who tries to save a pal (Lawrence Gray) from the clutches of a golddigger (Billie Dove). Wolkowicz: “Clara Bow also is in the film. And there’s a wild Harold Lloyd-style chase scene near the end.”

“The Flapper” (Aug. 2): In this 1920 film, Olive Thomas plays a small-town gal at an East Coast boarding school who lands in hot water after flirting with an older man and getting involved with jewel thieves. Wolkowicz: “Olive Thomas’ films are hard to come by. She’s a great beauty and someone we wanted to introduce to our audience.”

“Metropolis” (Aug. 9): Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece is a landmark in the development of film as an art form and is regarded as the one of the great achievements of German Expressionist filmmaking. Wolkowicz: “This is a film you never grow tired of seeing.”

“Faust” (Aug. 16): This 1926 film led German director F.W. Murnau a contract with Hollywood’s Fox Studio. Emil Jannings is a glowering Mephistopheles who offers the aging Faust (Gosta Ekman) a chance to relive his youth. The price, of course, is his soul. Wolkowicz: “Highly stylized, moody, unsettling and kind of creepy.”

“The Patsy” (Aug. 23): In this 1928 film directed by King Vidor, a young woman (Marion Davies) attempts to catch the eye of her sister’s beau and arouses the fury of her entire family. Wolkowicz: “Davies is one of the true female comedians of the silent era. She’s very funny and very expressive.”

Mary Houlihan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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