In July, 2024, the Maine Silent Film Festival returns to the historic Alamo Theatre in Bucksport with another two-day program, blending comedy and drama, short subjects and feature films, focusing on rare and unusual titles seldom screened theatrically today. Along with a host of thematically-related short films, the first day’s theme, “Made in Maine” includes the feature-length drama Timothy’s Quest and the second day’s theme, “At War”, concludes with Yankee Doodle in Berlin All the films screened are accompanied live by Doug Protsik.
What is now the Harpodeon film library came from the private film collection of W. Dustin Allgood who for many decades collected silent film, with a focus on titles that are unusual and out of the way, rare and even unique.
Much of the early days of cinema is no longer known to exist. Films were seen as ephemeral and no great effort was made to retain them after they had finished playing. Printed on highly volatile nitrocellulose film, many were lost in vault fires, and with little to no aftermarket expected, in some cases studios even purposefully junked their old material to make way for new. Numbers vary, but it is said that as much as half of all films released before 1950 are lost, and for those released before 1930, even the most optimistic estimates believe that no more than twenty percent of them still exist to this day.
After more than a quarter century of Mr. Allgood’s film collecting, the collection then stood at approximately seven-hundred and fifty silent film titles in every format imaginable, ranging from 8mm and 9.5mm on the one end to 28mm and 35mm, both safety and nitrate, on the other. Nearly all are rare titles and some exceedingly so. Indeed, several films in the collection represent the one and only known copy.
Among film collectors, there are the hoarder-types and the sharing-types. Being of the latter, Harpodeon was born as a means of sharing these rarities with the world that had but a very small likelihood of ever being picked up by a major film distributor.
A proudly Maine-based company, from its beginnings, Harpodeon—its name a blending of Harpocrates, the Grecco-Egyptian god of silence, and the Greek for theater—has been a silent film distributor with an especial interest in films that are rare or of an unusual nature. Whether for theatrical screenings, television broadcast, documentary footage, or indeed for any other reason, Harpodeon has provided material to any number of projects since its founding in 2008.
Unfortunately, it is fair to say that, in the public conscience, the silent era is all but wholly forgotten. However acclaimed or important the films may have been in their day, no one remembers them. Outside of what might be termed the “heavy-hitters”—films like The Phantom of the Opera or The General—films that even those unacquainted with silent cinema would recognize—the first forty years of cinema may as well have never existed. It is little wonder, then that in striking for the widest audience, most silent them exhibitions these days limit themselves to those half-dozen recognizable heavy-hitters.
As a distributor, Harpodeon has supplied content for countless silent festivals over the years, but we are forever dismayed how scanty—how almost nonexistent—is the demand for obscure film, or indeed, for any films outside of the “canon comedians” of Chaplin, Keaton, and Llyod.
It was then Harpodeon began to expand its distribution business into exhibition as well—running our own silent film festival and filling it, not with the old canards, but with the “forgotten gems” too often overlooked even by otherwise fans of silent film.
Plans for the festival began as early as 2017, but 2020 was chosen for the premier scene. The pandemic, of course, scuttled all that. After that aborted attempt, it would be another three years before the launch of the first Maine Silent Film Festival. It played in the summer of 2023 at the Alamo Theatre in Bucksport. Having opened in 1916, it is one of the oldest operating cinemas in Maine, and a more perfect backdrop for silent films could hardly be found.
The Maine Silent Film Festival tries to be something different. Drawing largely from the Harpodeon library of now more than nine hundred titles, it eschews the commonplace and strives to shine a light on the forgotten, no matter that it targets a far smaller audience than it may have done if it stuck to the “heavy-hitter” fare. The deserve attention, those little-scene rarities, and to be screened theatrically and with live accompaniment is the single best way to introduce an audience to them.
Of course, the silent screen was never truly silent, and it is our belief that live musical accompaniment is always best. For our 2023 festival as well as in our upcoming 2024 festival, Doug Protsik has been at the piano.
In his own words:—
Doug has been playing and performing the “Old Time Piano” style since the early 1970s. Developed in the latter half of the 19th century the style includes ragtime, accompanying fiddle tunes for dances, foxtrots, waltzes, and other popular dance music and songs from that era. It was the predominant style when silent movies appeared around 1910 and it became a standard job of piano players to accompany the films since there was no sound.
Doug learned the art of putting together a score appropriate for silent movies from Danny Patt, who first played for the silent movies when he was growing up in Union, Maine in the 1920s. Danny’s talent for this music was reestablished in the 1980s as a growing interest in viewing old silent movies became of interest to the public once again. Since Danny passed away in 1999, Doug has been continuing this tradition of accompaniment, and has scored and performed for countless showings throughout Maine and internationally. This work led to his composing original authentic scores for silent movie restorations for Turner Classic Movies. (see list below)
Using old sheet music from Danny’s collection, as well as researching at the Bagaduce Music Lending Library in Blue Hill, Maine, his scores attempt to capture the unique flavor with the music as it embellishes the action on screen, in an original and authentic way. Doug also has established a fun aspect to the performances by including “musical jokes” in his scores, challenging the audience to recognize them.
Traditional mood themes from composers such as M.L. Lake, J.S Zamecnik, and Erno Rapèe and popular themes of the era are used to create a unique score for each movie to be performed. All the music is memorized, arranged, and improvised by Doug to allow for a seamless flow from scene to scene. Attending a performance allows for a wonderful musical, as well as an historic and entertaining film experience.
Original Film Score Recordings for Turner Classic Movies:
The Man from Texas
Love Never Dies
The Eyes of the Mummy
The Haunted Castle
Two themed-days comprise the 2024 festival, with its films beginning at 7:00pm on Wednesday and Thursday, July 24th and 25th. “Made in Maine” on the first day showcases films that were not only set here but were actually shot in Maine. The second day, “At War,” looks at the war film—ever a favorite genre—chronologically, from ancient battles to those depicting recent and even on-going wars.
The features of festival are Yankee Doodle in Berlin, a First World War espionage farce, and Timothy’s Quest by Maine author Kate Douglas Wiggin.
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