News Column

Silent film strikes back

July 25, 2013

YellowBrix

July 25--AINSWORTH -- There was a time, about 100 years ago, when many people believed "talkies" (movies with sound) never would catch on.

Of course, that was just after the golden age of silent film, right around the time "The Jazz Singer" introduced sound in 1927 and changed movies forever. But true film buffs still point to the silent era as a time when filmmakers learned the difference between a sight gag and a genuine narrative.

A couple of dozen of those classic silent films will be shown during the 15th annual Brinton Film Festival, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Ainsworth Opera House.

The films belong to Ainsworth historian and collector Michael Zahs, who picks movies from his collection for the festival every year. He has about 500 of them, and 90 or so were copied by the American Film Institute in 1981.

"These are some of the oldest films in the world, going back to 1894," Zahs said.

The film collection once belonged to the Brinton family in Ainsworth, and Zahs was able to acquire the films more than 25 years ago. As a former history teacher, the films held great interest for him. Many of the movies that weren't copied by AFI in 1981 are being restored.

It's a piece of history most people never will get to experience.

"There isn't anything like this anywhere in the world," Zahs said. "The movies that will be shown, these are the only copies."

Among Zahs' collection are a few films by Georges Melies -- a French illusionist and filmmaker who led many of the technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. He is best known for the 1902 film "A Trip To the Moon," which uses some of the first special effects ever seen in a movie.

Since directors and writers often weren't credited during the early days of film, Zahs isn't sure how many of the films were created by Melies. And he may never know.

"There are some that we are pretty sure are his," Zahs said.

The opera house can hold about 100 people, and Zahs is hoping to fill it to capacity. There also will be magic lantern slides during the show, which predate film by several hundred years. Some of the movies will last only a couple of minutes or less, which was a standard running time for early short films.

"It's a good family time," Zahs said.

There is no cost for the show, but freewill donations will be accepted. For more information, call (319) 653-6250.

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(c)2013 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

Visit The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa) at www.thehawkeye.com

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