COMMUNITY VOICES | Midsummer treat for silent film fans: New restorations of “The Thief of Bagdad” and “Safety Last!” hit Twin Cities theaters July 12-14

Print

The weekend of July 12-14, Twin Cities moviegoers can grab the rare opportunity to see two of the most iconic films of the silent era on the big screen, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! and Douglas Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad.  The Trylon Microcinema will screen a new 35mm print of Lloyd’s 1923 comedy throughout the weekend.  The Heights Theater crowns the festivities with a new digital restoration of The Thief of Bagdad (originally released in 1924) on Sunday, July 14 at 7:30 PM.  

Safety Last! features Lloyd as a department store clerk trying to convince his sweetheart that he’s really a top executive.  Climbing a skyscraper for a publicity stunt, he contends with a collapsing awning, a barrage of pigeons, and a rope he thinks is attached on the other end, but isn’t.  He ends up, famously, dangling off a clock-face several stories above L.A.  

It’s a sequence that still has the power to thrill, ninety years after it first made movie audiences gasp and hide their eyes.  Lloyd’s climbing is all the more impressive considering he’d lost his right thumb and index finger in an on-set accident in 1919.

According to Barry Kryshka, repertory programmer at the Trylon Microcinema, the Trylon has a tradition of showing a silent comedy in mid-July to celebrate the microcinema’s anniversary.  This year marks the fourth birthday for the volunteer-powered, 50-seat theater.   

The Trylon booked Safety Last! for this summer to take advantage of showing the new 35 mm print.  

“We were interested in it because a new print was struck, which meant we had a chance to run something that was clean and in good shape,” Kryshka explains.

The Trylon usually features live musical accompaniment with silent films.  This time around, Safety Last!will be shown with a recorded score by Carl Davis, the preeminent composer for silent film restorations.

While Lloyd’s Safety Last! captures the go-getting essence of the Roaring Twenties, Douglas Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad preserves a different aspect of the Twenties–the sweeping, awe-inducing grandeur made famous in silent epics like Intolerance and Ben-Hur.

Based on the Arabian Nights, the movie offers up a veritable mezze platter of magical elements, including a flying carpet, a self-supporting rope, an apple that can cure death, and an invisibility cloak.  Above all, there’s a princess and the dashing thief who wins her love after completing an epic quest. 

Thomas Letness, owner of the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights, is excited about the new digital restoration of The Thief of Bagdad.

“It’s really spectacular-looking,” he says, noting that the film’s original black-and-white tinting shows up much better in the digital restoration than in older prints he’s seen.  

“It’s such an epic adventure,” he adds, “and it’s a good example of what in the Twenties was a big adventure action film”–the silent equivalent of a summer blockbuster.  Seeing the film in a restored Beaux Arts theater that first opened in 1926 makes for an even more authentic experience.

The film will be accompanied by live organist Karl Eilers playing his own original score.  

Of the Heights’ silent film screenings with live accompaniment, Letness notes, “People see them and say, ‘This is totally different than I would have thought.’  It is truly a lost art.”

Safety Last! plays Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13 at  7 and 8:30 PM and Sunday, July 14 at 5, 6:30, and 8 PM.  Showings are at the Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406. Tickets are $8.  For more information, visit http://take-up.org

The Thief of Bagdad plays Sunday, July 14, 7:30 PM, at the Heights, 3951 Central Avenue Northeast, Columbia Heights, MN 55421.  Tickets are $10.  For more information, visit http://www.heightstheater.com