For 21st century audiences, silent movies are a celluloid window to the early 20th century.
In an era without computer-generated effects and dialogue to guide the audience along, the films are art forms unto themselves. Actors played their roles on busy streets and did their own stuntwork. The films were edited and cut by hand.
Augustans will get a chance to step back in time at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, at Sacred Heart Cultural Center, 1301 Greene St., when the center presents its 10th annual Silent Movie Night.
Veteran musician Ron Carter will put together the musical accompaniment to Safety Last, starring Harold Lloyd, one of the big three comedians of the silent 1920s era, which included Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
“It’s an event that the public is invited to, to showcase Sacred Heart and to let people enjoy being in that space,” said Catherine Wahl, the chairwoman of the silent movie committee. “Because Sacred Heart has a fabulous church organ, we like to use it as much as possible.”
The story of the film is that of an ordinary American boy of the ’20s striving for success, trying to prove himself in the big city and getting into all sorts of trouble, including hanging from the hands of a clock on the side of a building.
“Youngsters always marvel that (actors) did this themselves,” Wahl said. “There were no special effects. He actually climbed up the building and hanged from the clock.”
The center is aiming to put the audience back into the ’20s, when ornate movie palaces served as great entertainment halls, she said.
“We show (the film) on a big screen so that people get the effect of being in a movie palace in the ’20s,” Wahl said. “It’s an old church, so the inside is spectacular and just being in that space with the grandeur of the space and the live organ, it really does create the feeling of being in a movie palace.”
Carter, who is based out of Atlanta, is able to program the organ in a way to make it sound like a Wurtlizer organ of the era.
“When he’s accompanying the film, he’s able to put all the bells and whistles in like you were there 80 years ago,” Wahl said.
Music was not only important to audiences of the 1920s silent era, but also to the actors themselves, she said, as the actors had violinists or other musicians on the set to inspire them.
Since there were no words to be heard, actors had to work to use facial expressions and other nuances to get meanings across. Title cards were used to describe the action.
“You get all of this in one beautiful package that was collaborative,” Wahl said. “It preserves history and it really was an American art form at the turn of the century.”
Twenty-two recliners at the front of the seating section were so popular that they’ve sold out.
“Those have been sold out for almost a year,” Wahl said. “They’ve gotten so popular, but you can’t fill the whole building with them.”
Other seating is available for $18, including tables for eight. Concessions including popcorn, pizza, candy, beer and wine will be available.
Before the showing of the film, the center will hold a special reception for Carter from 6 to 7 p.m. in the center’s courtyard.
For tickets, call (706) 826-4700 or go to www.sacredheartaugusta.org.