The Lost World (1925)
seen @ Pavillion Theater, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
Dinosaurs! Such lovable critters, aren't they? I vaguely remember seeing those dinosaur bones at the Museum of Natural History as a kid and being blown away by them. I recall reading a young adult book involving modern-day dinosaurs of some kind. That's about all I remember about them from my childhood. They say kids, especially boys, love dinosaurs, and while that's not entirely untrue in my case, I guess it never quite caught on.
Still, there is the thrill I vividly recall upon seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. In terms of visual effects, it was a great leap forward. I believed those dinosaurs were real, in a way I had never been convinced of before, and to see them on a big screen like that, running around terrorizing all the stupid humans, was amazing.
Seeing The Lost World, the dinosaur adventure film from the silent era, unfortunately, was slightly less thrilling. The film is from 1925; it's gotta be one of the oldest motion pictures still intact in the world, and the picture quality is less than pristine, even on a DVD. I expected that. What I didn't expect was how stupider the humans in the story would be. Wallace Beery plays the professor who tries to tell the world about the hidden land of dinosaurs, and he literally fights anyone who gives him a hard time about it, especially reporters. And then there's the totally useless romantic subplot... and the obligatory racial stereotype...
Thank god the dinos were fairly impressive for 1925. The King Kong influence is obvious, not just in terms of plot but in the stop-motion animation used to make these fantastic creatures come to life, and if I were watching this in 1925, I'd probably be gob-smacked. The eyes move, the tongue moves, and there's even some indication of breathing. I've talked about stop-motion animation before, and I've said - and still maintain - that it's creepier than almost anything rendered in CGI.
What also made this screening enjoyable was seeing it with a live orchestra - or band, in this case. The local quartet called the Andrew Alden Ensemble provided the music and the atmosphere for the film. I found out about this event by complete chance by seeing this article the day before, and expected a large and festive crowd. Alas, there were maybe a half dozen people in attendance, total.
I suspect part of the reason had to do with the location. The Pavillion has gotten a truly awful reputation in recent years. A huge part of the reason why has to do with allegations of rampant bedbugs running wild, which the management has denied. Now there's new management, and they're in the process of renovating the place, which means it's not exactly looking its best right now. I had only been there two other times, but I never felt the presence of bedbugs, for what it's worth. This is the only theater in the Park Slope neighborhood, so it's an issue plenty of people feel strongly about. Hopefully the new people in charge will make this a top-notch theater again.
Holding events like this will help. The AAE was very good - not like the more famous Alloy Orchestra, also known for scoring silent films, but different. There were four of them, sitting in the front, directly underneath the screen. Alden, on keyboard, sat with his back to the audience (such as it was) and conducted even as he played, with hand gestures right before tempo or mood changes in their score. A few odd instruments broke out in places, such as a PVC pipe that Alden (I think) used during one of the first dino fight scenes. It had a grating, harsh sound that fit the conflict on-screen. They were good. They deserved a much bigger crowd than they got.