May 5th, 2011
Last Sunday, we enjoyed the second half of our visit to the stately Landmark Loew’s Theatre of Jersey City (click here to read about the first part of our visit). It was a special performance sponsored by the Garden State Theatre Organ Society (who knew).
The first portion of the program showcased the restored Wonder-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ. This incredible instrument is a replacement for the theatre’s original organ, and has been lovingly rebuilt. I don’t know enough about theatre organs to say anything intelligent about it, and words are sadly inadequate to describe its wondrous sound. This video clip, taken during the concert, comes closest (apologies for the movement, I couldn’t stop breathing):
That’s Don Kinnier, premier theatre organist of the east coast, tickling the key stops with his nimble fingers (and toes). If you ever get a chance to see and hear Mr. Kinnier, don’t stop to think, buy the tickets! Particularly if he is accompanying a film. Though I hear he has also been known to play the conservatory organ at Longwood Gardens.
After the opening concert and a brief intermission, we got down to the feature presentation: The Eagle, considered by some critics to be Rudolph Valentino’s finest film role. It was surely one of his most varied performances, ranging from smoldering sensuality to laugh-out-loud humor. As my film-buff companion commented, it was the first time he’d seen Valentino’s teeth.
This 1925 silent film has a great storyline, based on a story by Pushkin. It also boasts lush costumes and scenery, and a tracking scene of a laden banquet table that made film history. Louise Dresser shines as the lusty czarina who falls for one of her cossacks (Valentino), forcing him to flee to the arms of the lovely and mischievous Mascha (Vilma Banky).
But let me not forget the real star of this particular screening — it was the impeccable sound track, provided by Mr. Kinnier and the Wonder-Morton. For 87 minutes, he played a solid wall of music, capturing every shadow and nuance of the film, including a dance scene where you’d swear the actors were moving to the music and not the other way around. I’ve never seen anything like it, and though my companion has seen far more silent films than I, he also assured me that this was a true tour de force.
Jealous? Well I don’t think you’ll have the chance to see Mr. Kinnier at the Loew’s anytime in the near future, but you can still catch the magic of a silent film screening with live organ music (sure to be provided by another excellent musician) on Saturday, May 21, when the Loew’s will present Murnau’s Sunrise. I’ll be there.