Surrealist films revived with a live soundtrack

January 18, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

FREDERICK, Md. - "Silent Surrealism," a montage of early silent films set to show Saturday in Frederick, will delve into a strange world where cats grow from trees.

"Silent Surrealism" is a collection of surrealist films from lesser-known filmmakers of the early 20th century, such as Charley Bowers, whose film "Now You Tell One" involves those sprouting cats, among other oddities.

"Silent Surrealism" will show at the Weinberg Center for the Arts on Saturday.

West Coast jazz band The Hot Club of San Francisco will perform while the films are shown. The band chose the program's films with help from organizers of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The Hot Club of San Francisco specializes in gypsy jazz, a style derived from Parisian gypsy culture in the 1920s. The band was inspired by the late gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, a member of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.


Featured filmmakers include Bowers, James Sibley Watson and Harold Shaw.

While the films contain elements of surrealism, the filmmakers were considered neither big players in the surrealist film movement nor stars of early film, film expert Stephen Salmons said.

"Back then there was a large amount of production, a number of silent films out there; the equivalent to the number of TV programs we'd see on television today," said Salmons, a founder of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. "So it's easy to see how we remember names like Charlie Chaplin, but others like Charley Bowers are forgotten."

Still, the filmmakers' legacies can be seen in today's films.

Bowers, for example, combined start-stop animation with live film in order to create surreal movie images, something now common in many films.

"Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' wouldn't have happened without Charley Bowers," Salmons said.

About the films ...

"Silent Surrealism" features four films from the silent era:

· "Now You Tell One" (1926). Charley Bowers produced and starred in the film. He plays a man with a magic potion that enables him to grow anything.

· "It's a Bird" (1930). According to Internet Movie Database, Bowers stars in this film about a man on a hunting expedition to catch a metal-eating bird.

· "Fall of the House of Usher" (1928). James Sibley Watson shares his abstract take on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

· "The Land Beyond Sunset" (1912). According to the National Film Registry, Harold Shaw directed this film. The film is about a group of troubled youths on a field trip to the shore.

If you go...

WHAT: "Silent Surrealism" and The Hot Club of San Francisco

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20

WHERE:Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick, Md.

COST: $18 to $22

MORE: For tickets and other information, visit or call the theater's box office, 301-228-2828.

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