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Silent Film Society Shaking Things Up This Summer

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 1, 2014 4:40PM

Louise Brooks and W.C. Fields star in "It's the Old Army Game," which kicks off the 2014 Silent Summer Film Festival July 17.

The Silent Film Society of Chicago’s annual “Silent Summer” film festival is on the horizon and, in what is sure to be a welcome change of pace for die-hard fans of the Silent Era, the schedule of screenings feature some films not seen on a big screen in years around here. Even preservationists like the SFSC need to dust things once in a while and this is a good sign they’re getting their hands on some films early in the planning process.

The festival returns to Park Ridge’s Pickwick Theater for a second straight year. This move may disappoint people hoping for a return to the Portage Theater, home to the festival for years. Having visited the Six Corners landmark last weekend for a free screening of “The Blues Brothers” I can assure you that would not be a good idea at this time. (The Portage’s new management under new operator Charlie Burns is still a work in progress; that is an understatement.) The Pickwick makes a nice fill in with its Aztec Art Deco design and Wurlitzer pipe organ, built in 1928 and still in operation.

The festival kicks off July 17 with a screening of “It’s the Old Army Game,” a 1926 film starring W.C. Fields as a put-upon pharmacist and Louise Brooks as Louise Brooks as his employee in the pharmacy. After being talked by a con man into selling bogus New York City lots from the drugstore, Fields feels compelled to return the money stolen from townsfolk by the con man after he’s caught. Fields would later remake this film as the talkie “It’s a Gift” but it’s Brooks who steals the film every time she’s on screen. The Great Lakes Trio, a regular fixture at the festival, provides pre-show music. SFSC executive director Dennis Wolkowicz accompanies the film on the Wurlitzer in his guise as “Jay Warren.”

That’s followed the following week by Fritz Lang’s “Woman in the Moon,” an underappreciated science fiction classic in the German director’s oeuvre, especially when compared to the iconic “Metropolis.” What’s fascinating about this film is how much of early space exploration Lang predicted decades before it happened, such as the three-stage rocket, vertical assembly building and an Apollo-style rolling gantry crawler. Guest organist Tim Baker will accompany the film on the organ.

The Silent Film Society of Chicago’s “Silent Summer” Film Festival runs Thursdays from July 17 through Aug. 21 at the Pickwick Theatre (5 s. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge). Screenings begin at 7:30 p.m. each week. General admission is $10 ($9 for students and seniors); festival passes are $49 ($43 students and seniors). To purchase tickets and passes visit the SFSC website or make checks payable to: The Silent Film Society of Chicago, 4055 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641.