Capitolfest: A ‘Rare’ Treat for Classic Movie Fans

Capitolfest, Central NY’s Premier Summer Cinephile Film Festival shows Rarely-Shown and Newly-Discovered Films 

Like many classic movie fans, I watch classic movies every chance I get, and I’m constantly ‘on the lookout’ for classics that I’ve never seen before, typically finding out about them by channel surfing, online searching, and social word-of-mouth. That said, imagine my delight attending Capitolfest, a three-day classic film festival in Rome NY — where EVERY movie shown is a completely new discovery for me! Did I say ‘delight’? Well that is an understatement!

Capitol Theater, Rome NYThe historic Capitol Theater in Rome NY

“The festival’s line-up focuses on obscure films that received critical praise in their time, but are now near-impossible to see.”

Capitolfest, held at the historic 1,788-seat Capitol Theater movie palace (1928), showcases rarely-shown and newly-discovered films of the silent and early talkie era, many of which are obscure and/or now near-impossible to see.  All of the films are presented in 35 mm prints provided by historical film archives such as the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the George Eastman House, the Studios and, for rarer prints, from private collections.

If that’s not enough, the Capitol Theater houses an original installation, 3-manual, 10-rank Style 70 Möller Theatre Organ – the perfect live accompaniment for silent film showings.

the capitol theater in rome ny, library of congress prints35 mm Prints and a Möller Theatre Organ — Creating an Authentic Experience

The pacing of the Festival is good and well-planned. Films run from late Friday morning through Sunday evening, and the movies are presented in sessions, each session essentially comprised of a double feature plus short subject(s). Each session has short intermissions and there are nicely-timed breaks for lunch and dinner, thus the Capitolfest slogan “A vacation, not a marathon”.

This year, the Festival added a Dealer Room, which was a nice touch, although quite addictive, as it was difficult to tear myself away from the books, movie posters and lobby cards on display… Neither I, nor my traveling cohorts, walked away empty handed — all ecstatic about our ‘lucky’ finds.  In particular, I want to mention Doug Swarthout of Berry Hill Book Shop here, because his collection of books and posters are particularly difficult to pass up (yes, I returned home with a nice collection of ‘treasures’ from Berry Hill)…

Before I start talking about the fabulous films that were shown, I just want to extend a Big Thank You to Executive Director Arthur Pierce and Assistant Manager Jack Theakston, who both so graciously made time in their very busy schedules for me (and my doppleganger blogging friends @CitizenScreen @IrishJayHawk66).

Now… on with the show!

Arthur Pierce, Executive Director, CapitolfestArthur Pierce, Executive Director
andy senior, organist capitol theaterAndy Senior who, along with Dr. Philip C. Carli, Bernie Anderson, Avery Tunningly and House Organist John Paul, performed during intermissions and/or accompanied silent films during the 3-day festival

This year’s featured star was Nancy Carroll, a real treat for me because I’d never seen any of her films before (and I have to say, she was quite mesmerizing). But there were also other treats in store for me as well, not the least of which was seeing iconic stars in very early roles (as fellow film fans cheered) and seeing women play surprisingly strong roles, even to the point of ‘role-reversal’ (again, as the fans cheered!).

nancy carroll

Nancy Carroll, Featured Star at Capitolfest 13

There were almost 30 films and shorts presented during this Festival, clearly too many to cover in just one blog post, but here were my personal favorites…

The Air Mail, 1925The Air Mail, 1925

The Air Mail (1925) directed by Irvin Willat, starring Warner Baxter and Billie Dove: This surviving print, courtesy of the Library of Congress, was a cut-down version of the feature, consisting of almost half the footage of the original release version. It’s a mystery as to why the abridged version was made, or where it was shown (if at all). My favorite part? Seeing a dashing 15-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr. fly across the screen. I was absolutely stunned by his noticeable ‘star power’ even then —  I just couldn’t take my eyes off him!

The Shopworn Angel starring Gary Cooper and Nancy CarrollGary Cooper and Nancy Carroll in The Shopworn Angel

The Shopworn Angel (1928) directed by Richard Wallace, starring Nancy Carroll and Gary Cooper: This surviving print from the Library of Congress was missing the final reel, but James Cozart, the Quality Control Officer at LoC Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division, created a short video summing up the final scenes. What did I love about this film?  The two leads — a young Gary Cooper as a naive soldier, and Nancy Carroll as the hardened show girl that he falls in love with. This was the very first time I saw Nancy Carroll in a film, and it was ‘love at first site’… And, again, I was struck by the undeniable ‘star power’ of a soon-to-be-icon, this time being Gary Cooper, who was positively gorgeous even then.

Nancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes in The Devil's HolidayNancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes in The Devil’s Holiday

The Devil’s Holiday (1930) directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Nancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes: Nancy Carroll received her only Academy Award nomination (Best Actress) for her work on this film. Why did this film resonate with me? Nancy Carroll’s performance — as she transforms from a streetwise, selfish gold digger, to a woman who ultimately regrets her actions and realizes that she does, in fact, love the man she married. By the way, the film originally played at the Capitol Theater in Rome on June 22 and 23 in 1930.

Dolores Del Rio and Warner Baxter in RamonaDolores del Rio and Warner Baxter in Ramona

Ramona (1928) directed by Edwin Carewe, starring Dolores del Rio and Warner Baxter: Acclaimed as an instant screen classic, this 1928 adaptation of the Native American-themed love melodrama reflects the perspectives of a Native American director, Edwin Carewe, and writer, Finis Fox. Why was I struck hard by this film? First of all, Dolores del Rio delivers a heart-wrenching performance, and secondly because of the portrayal of Native Americans and the atrocities they suffered at the hands of the white man.

Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Nancy Carroll in Illusion

Illusion (1929) directed by Lothar Mendes, starring Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Nancy Carroll: A story of deceptions and misunderstandings onstage and off, as a carnival-seasoned magician falls in love with a socialite and abandons his faithful assistant. Why did I like this film?  Well, quite frankly, because of Nancy Carroll’s performance.

Blue Jeans 1917 Viola Dana, Robert Walker, the Great Saw Mill Scene Viola Dana and Robert Walker in Blue Jeans, the Great Saw Mill Scene

Blue Jeans (1917) directed by John H. Collins, starring Viola Dana and Robert Walker:  This film was based on a popular play that opened at the 14th St. Theatre in New York City in 1890. The play’s highlight was the harrowing “Saw Mill Scene” in which the unconscious hero is placed on the log-carriage of a saw mill — approaching a huge buzz-saw and certain death. Why will I never forget this film? Because it turns the ‘tied-to-the-railroad-tracks-heroine-in-distress’ cliche on its head! Guess who saves the day, untying our hero and saving his life, just in the nick of time I might add — our heroine Viola Dana!

George Raft and Nancy Carroll, Under-Cover ManNancy Carroll and George Raft in Under-Cover Man

Under-Cover Man (1932) directed by James Flood, starring George Raft and Nancy Carroll: Based on the novel of the same name by John Wilstach, this film was adapted for the screen by reporter and adventure novelist Thomson Burtis, who was Paramount’s ‘golden-boy’ writer at the time. The film opened at the Paramount in New York City where it grossed $48K opening weekend. Why did I thoroughly enjoy this film?  George Raft — who plays a conman that goes undercover to find his father’s killer. What fun it was to see Raft play his cool-as-a-cucumber tough guy in such an early role! Nothing rattled him at all, while I was breaking out in a cold sweat 🙂

the_dixie_flyerThe Dixie Flyer, 1926

The Dixie Flyer (1926) directed by Charles J. Hunt, starring Cullen Landis and Eva Novak: Eva Novak was never destined for major stardom, but she did have a 45-year-plus screen career (1917-1965) that included 10 films with Tom Mix. She also had a particular interest in stunt work, often performing her own stunts on screen. Why did this film make me stand up and cheer (along with countless others)? Because, once again, the hero is a heroine — who sets out to save her father, her boyfriend and the railroad. And that she does, culminating with some amazing stunts atop an out-of-control crash-bound train! And a wonderful tongue-in-cheek ending that is just marvelous 🙂

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And, of course, in addition to the wonderful films, the dealer’s room and the hospitality of our hosts, there are many interesting and knowledgable film fans in attendance — and lots of classic film friends and bloggers!

classic movie bloggers at CapitolfestClockwise from Top: Aurora @CitizenScreen, yours truly @ClassicMovieHub, Caren @CarenKayF, Beth @msbethg, Kellee @Irishjayhawk66, Coleen @MiddParent, Nora @NitrateDiva, Shirley @tosilentfilm, Marc @TheIntertitler
classic movie bloggers at CapitolfestFront to Back: Coleen @MiddParent, Nora @NitrateDiva, Kellee @Irishjayhawk66, me @ClassicMovieHub, Aurora @CitizenScreen

Another Big Thank You here, this time for my fabulous travel companions @CitizenScreen and @IrishJayHawk66 — and to @MiddParent and @NitrateDiva for some wonderful over-dinner discussions!

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As for next year’s Capitolfest?
Gary Cooper will be the featured star for Capitolfest 14, so mark your calendars
for August 12, 13 and 14, 2016!

Gary Cooper, Capitolfest 2016Gary Cooper, next year’s Featured Star

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And, to sum up:

“The goal of the Capitol Theatre’s film series is to not only showcase vintage films, but to re-create the experience of seeing movies as when they were new.”

 Mission accomplished! Well done, Capitolfest! 🙂

For more information about the Festival, visit Capitolfest by clicking here.

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

 

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