Revolution: Silent film at the library

At the Movies
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  April 25, 2012

Last I checked in with Dave Dvorchak — Providence Community Library office manager, film geek, Renaissance Man — he had found a long-forgotten cache of 16-millimeter movies owned by a defunct consortium of Rhode Island libraries.

On a visit to the Knight Memorial Library in the Elmwood section of Providence last fall, he took me down a short hallway, unlocked a storage closet with a skeleton key, and pulled the reels for the first movie he planned to show in a new, as yet unnamed film series: Night of the Living Dead.

Well, he showed the film — right around Halloween last year — and about 100 people turned out. Then, in November, came a screening of The Third Man. And around Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life.

The man likes a seasonally appropriate movie.

Along the way, the publicity his find generated brought in old reels from institutions as near as the North Kingstown Free Library and as far as Minnesota State University.

And after a four-month hiatus — Dvorchak's job, sadly, requires more prosaic work from time to time — the series is back with a film tailor-made for May Day: Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's Strike (1925), which came to the library courtesy of Boston College.

The tale of a strike in pre-revolution Russia and management's vicious response, to be screened for free at 7:30 pm on May 1 at the Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope Street, Providence, marks an interesting turn in Dvorchak's still-unnamed film series.

Strike is a silent film — the first of several Dvorchak hopes to show — and he has enlisted Bevin Kelley, half of the wry electronic duo Blectum from Blechdom, to provide the musical accompaniment.

"As much as I like silent films," Dvorchak says, "I don't expect people to sit for an hour-and-a-half with nothing else going on."

Kelley, a third-year student at Brown University's Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments PhD program, recently got a taste for live scoring through "Curious Magic," an event put on by two entities: the Museum of Natural History & Planetarium and Magic Lantern Cinema.

Working alongside musician Alexandre Dupuis, she provided sound for a 16-millimeter silent film, the Planetarium's old Zeiss star projector, and the Museum of Natural History's stunning collection of antique glass magic lantern slides — images once used to transport Victorians to the far reaches of the world.

I spoke with Kelley this week on her way back from an engagement in California. She hadn't plotted the music yet, but promised an alluring mix of the rhythmic and melodic.

Whatever the score, it will accompany a remarkable film from Eisenstein's early — and most productive — phase, which included silent film classics The Battleship Potemkin (1925), depicting a mutiny on the Potemkin in 1905, and October or Ten Days That Shook the World (1928), recalling the Russian Revolution of October 1917.

Dvorchak says he was organizing films when he grabbed Strike, put it on the projector, and watched the opening title sequence dissolve into images of moving machinery. "The print is a really beautiful one," he says.

There are images of fat cat bosses and a proletariat oppressed. But the most striking sequence comes at the end — Eisenstein, father of the montage, splicing scenes of the slaughter of workers with the slaughter of a cow. Pretty brutal stuff, even for the 21st-century viewer.

Dvorchak says he's already gotten a strong response to the idea of screening silent films. Next up, perhaps: Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages), a bizarre 1922 Swedish documentary-cum-horror film that was banned in the United States, at the time, for what were considered graphic accounts of torture and sexual perversion.

Not sure what holiday that will match up with.

Related: Providence Community Library’s 16mm surprise, Girls rockin'!, Generation gap, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Night of the Living Dead, Providence Community Library, Elmwood,  More more >
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