Saturday, November 15, 2014

Broncho Billy's Wild Ride (1914)

Publicity photograph provided by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
WHO: Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson directed and starred in this.

WHAT: A short film featuring Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, True Boardman and a number of local schoolchildren from Niles, California where Anderson's studio was located. David Kiehn's page-turner of a history book, Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company, indicates that part of the story took as inspiration a real-life injury that would haunt Anderson well into his retirement. That book's short synopsis of the plot is as follows: "Billy, an outlaw on trial, escapes from court, but is caught after he saves the judge's daughter on a runaway horse."

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, at 7:30PM.

WHY: I wrote about Niles in a PressPlay/Indiewire article a few years ago, that has for some reason unknown to me be taken down:
Niles nestles against the hills of Fremont, California, 30 miles east of San Francisco and 350 miles north of Los Angeles. Filled with antique shops and humble residences, it’s a town steeped in motion picture history. The first cowboy movie star, G.A. “Bronco Billy” Anderson, and Charlie Chaplin were among those who encamped there to shoot pictures in the mid-1910s, before Hollywood became THE go-to site in California for filmmaking, 
Now, nearly a hundred years later, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum keeps the past alive with weekly Saturday evening screenings of silent movies backed by live musical accompaniments. It’s one of the few public venues where one can regularly see 16mm and 35mm prints of all kinds of American and occasionally European silents.
Tonight's Niles screening is the 500th Saturday night silent film show scheduled at the Museum's Edison Theatre since it was refurbished and reopened in 2005. 51 Saturdays per year (the only annual week off is the San Francisco Silent Film Festival weekend), film prints show on a very regular basis. Upcoming 16mm feature-film shows include The Lost World November 29th, and in December, parts 1 & 2 of Fritz Lang's epic Spiders (it's apparently the season for Lang's silent epics as the Castro shows Metropolis tonight digitally and the Berkeley Underground Film Society brings Die Nibelungen in two parts tonight and tomorrow), and finally for 2014, the delightful Colleen Moore film I dragged my family to the last time a Niles Saturday show fell on Christmas, Ella Cinders.

But one-reel and two-reel films that were the specialty of a studio like the one in Niles a hundred years ago, and programs made up of these are particularly popular today. Every month the museum programs at least one Saturday of silent comedy (November 22 is Chaplin in The Rink, Buster Keaton in The Boat, the Thanksgiving classic Pass the Gravy and Laurel & Hardy in Leave 'Em Laughing, while December brings Chaplin's Easy Street, Keaton's The High Sign and a pair of Christmas-themed shorts Their Ain't No Santa Claus and the anarchic masterpiece Big Business.) Tonight's program is an extra-special shorts program made up entirely of films shot in Niles, most around 100 years ago, including, in addition to Broncho Billy's Wild Ride, Arthur Mackley's The Prospector, the Snakeville Comedy Versus Sledge Hammers, and the first Chaplin film made entirely in the town back in 1915, The Champion.

The exception to the 100-years-ago rule is Broncho Billy and the Bandit's Secret, a brand-new silent Western shot in Niles with a genuine Bell & Howell 2709 hand-cranked camera (formerly used by John Korty) and starring Christopher Green, Bruce Cates, former silent-era child star Diana Serra Cary, and a slew of Western-garbed re-enactors. This film has screened in workprints and other preliminary versions before, but tonight is the official premiere of the finalized version at the Edison!

Tomorrow the Edison will host a screening of a independently-produced talking picture made in Niles in 2007. From the museum's press release:  
Weekend King is a romantic comedy filmed in Niles about a California dot-commer who buys a bankrupt town in rural Utah. Rupert is rich, but awkward, friendless, and loveless. In a quest to overcome his loneliness, Rupert expects to lord over the New Spring Utah populace, but ends up contending with people who don't buy into his newly invented confidence. But grappling with his bad investment turns out to be the key for finally finding friendship and love. See local characters in cameos in the local haunts including Joe's Corner, the Vine Cafe, the Mudpuddle Shop, and Belvoir Springs Hotel.
Before both days' screenings, there will be a free Walking Tour of Niles. This 75-minute tour will take you around downtown Niles and its neighborhoods, telling you tales of times gone by including film locations for the films being shown during the movie weekend. Nationally-recognized film historian David Kiehn, who is the film museum's resident expert on the Essanay film company, also knows his stuff about local buildings and historic sites. His walking tours always attract a crowd. This event is free but donations are gladly accepted.
HOW: All of tonight's films screen in 35mm prints with live music by Frederick Hodges.

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