Over the Presidents Day weekend, Santa Clarita, the county Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum hosted the inaugural Newhallywood Silent Film Festival at the William S. Hart Museum, allowing people of all ages to enjoy a free event saluting the power of silent films.
The festival featured screenings, exhibits, hands-on activities, tours and lectures detailing the history, production and preservation of silent films, ironically without showing one William S. Hart film. Guests could enjoy touring the Hart ranch house for free during the weekend. Children’s activities included a petting zoo, a shot slapstick workshop from a Natural History Museum performance artist, and Slapstick Junction, comedies screened in a nickelodeon-type atmosphere at the nearby Saugus train station.
Popup exhibits in Hart Hall and the ranch house displayed Fairbanks and Pickford items from the Natural History Museum’s collection, virtually all donated by Pickford. Costumes from Pickford’s films “Little Annie Rooney” (1925) and “Rosita” (1923), her curls, the mask and dagger from Fairbank’s “The Iron Mask” (1929), a sword from “The Black Pirate” (1926), Fairbanks’ costume from “Mr. Robinson Crusoe” (1932), articles from “The Gaucho” (1927), the actual Articles of Incorporation Ledger from the founding of United Artists, highlighted the careers of the king and queen of Hollywood.
“Bustour Keaton” kicked off events on Friday, February 14, visiting silent film sites, before a Valentine’s dinner and screening of “The Black Pirate” (1926), with pianist Michael Mortilla providing accompaniment. Late that night, a program titled “Silent Screams” presented horror classics “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and “The Golem” (1920) accompanied by Cliff Retallick.
Saturday, February 15, included a talk with Tracey Goessel, author of “The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks,” followed by a screening of “Little Annie Rooney” (1925) accompanied by Andy Gladbach. Down at the Newhall Family Theatre later that afternoon, beloved musical “Singin’ In the Rain” (1952) screened, an opportunity to witness the transition to sound. That evening, William Wellman Jr. introduced the rousing 1927 “Wings,” directed by his father, followed by a late-night screening of abstract silents.
Events on Sunday, February 16, included a discussion with David Pierce from the Library of Congress, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, and Cinecon Film Festival President Stan Taffel on the field of film restoration, silent film presentation and collection. Michael Mortilla then accompanied the excerpts of “He Comes Up Smiling” (1918) that survive and “The Mark of Zorro” (1920).
Participants then drove about 20 miles to Rancho Camulos to tour the tiny ranch home employed by D.W. Griffith during the filming of his 1910 “Ramona” starring Pickford and Henry Walthall, followed by a screening of the film.
A winning combination of screenings, lectures, and other informative events, the Newhallywood Silent Film Festival presented a little something for everyone honoring the emotions and power of silent film.