About Mont Alto

Click here for high-resolution publicity photo with a pretty backdrop of Boulder's Green Mountain.

And here for a more tightly cropped photo.

The Mont Alto Orchestra is a five piece chamber ensemble that revives the repertoire of silent film orchestras. Using historic libraries of music, and selecting pieces for each scene in the film, Mont Alto creates vibrant, emotional, and historically appropriate musical settings. “The results are often breathtakingly beautiful and always in the strict service of the film on the screen.” (The New York Times.) Mont Alto was formed in Colorado in 1989, and has scored over 100 silent films using historic orchestrations, recording over 30 film scores for releases on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Turner Classic Movies. The Mont Alto Orchestra are regulars at the Telluride Film Festival, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the TCM Classic Films Festival, and the Kansas Silent Film Festival; and have toured around the country from Films at Lincoln Center in New York to Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

Mont Alto collects original compositions and orchestrations from the turn of the century through 1930 for its tea dance series, silent film presentations, and concerts. Rodney Sauer also presents concert-lectures on photoplay music history and practice.

Contact Mont Alto:
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Orchestra
401 Spruce Street
Louisville, CO 80027-1943

E-mail: rodney@mont-alto.com

The orchestra was formed as "The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra" in 1989 to play dance and salon music of the teens. The Motion Picture Orchestra, a subset of the larger group, started scoring silent films in 1994, after discovering the music collection of Al Layton, a theater music director in Colorado in the 1920s. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies silent films in authentic period style, using original photoplay music. Tight ensemble playing and appropriate music selection bring the films to life.

The large sound of Mont Alto belies its small, portable size. The Motion Picture Orchestra is a quintet of piano, violin, cello, clarinet, and cornet. The Ragtime and Tango Orchestra adds vocalist Susan Rogers and drummer Chris Kermiet.

Mont Alto has performed film scores at venues ranging from elementary schools to the Denver International Film Festival, and has appeared as "guest artist" with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra. Mont Alto has presented film scores at the Lincoln Center in New York, the Telluride Film Festival, the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Rafael Theater in San Rafael California, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Topeka Kansas Silent Film Festival, the Chautauqua Silent Film Festival in Boulder Colorado, and at the Buster Keaton Festival in Iola Kansas. Their work has been covered on the radio and in newspapers ranging from the Iola Register to the San Francisco Chronicle (see our Reviews page).

Mont Alto's repertoire includes several thousand orchestrations photocopied from the surviving collections of four silent film theater music directors.

Mont Alto records scores for VHS and DVD releases of silent films in collaboration with David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates and Dennis Doros of Milestone Video. These have been very well received, and are considered some of the finest modern recorded silent film scores.

About the Musicians

The members of Mont Alto are all experienced professional musicians who are never happier than when working in a small chamber group, reviving long-forgotten music.

Rodney Sauer, pianist and score compiler, studied at the Oberlin Conservatory while majoring in Chemistry at Oberlin College, and has appeared as piano soloist with the Boulder Sinfonia. He is an avid student of silent film music, and his article on the history and use of "photoplay music" was published in the American Music Research Center Journal. He is a frequent performer in various participatory dance genres from early 20th century ballroom dance to morris and contra dance. He also plays solo improvised silent film scores, although the Mont Alto Orchestra is his major musical endeavor. In 2001 he won a Musical grant from the Arts and Humanities Assembly of Boulder.

Britt Swenson received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School. She made her Carnegie Hall debut soloing with the New York Pops Orchestra. She has performed throughout the US, Europe and Asia with such artists as Jean Pierre Rampal, Mstislav Rostroprovich and Yehudi Menuhin. Britt has been featured on NPR's "Performance Today" and "Music from the Grand Teton Music Festival." She has recorded extensively as soloist in Vivaldi Four Seasons with the Bismarck Symphony, as a chamber musician, as violinist with Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and in over 30 Hollywood movie soundtracks.

Awarded the prestigious Frank Huntington Beebe Fellowship, Britt spent a year studying at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. Currently Britt is a member of Colorado Ballet Orchestra. A devoted teacher, Britt is on the faculty at Parlando School for the Arts in Boulder and has been a teaching fellow at Harvard University.

David Short, cellist, teaches and performs across Colorado. In addition to Mont Alto, he performs with the conductor-less Sphere Ensemble, Penumbra Quartet, Telling Stories, and the Fort Collins Symphony. With Mont Alto he has performed across the US, from Lincoln Center, NY to the Castro Theater in San Francisco. His performances with Sphere, Penumbra and Telling Stories have appeared on Colorado Public Radio's "KCFR Presents" and "Colorado Spotlight," both as soloist and collaborator.

Besides teaching his own private studio, David is cello instructor and assistant director of the Strings Attached program in Englewood, CO. Strings Attached was awarded a 2011 Creativity Grant from the Englewood Education Foundation for their efforts in providing lessons to children without access to string instrumental classes in their district. Recently David helped Rodney transcribe and expand Mont Alto's score of "Amarilly of Clothesline Alley" for the Fort Collins Symphony's collaboration with the Mary Pickford Institute.

Brian Collins is principal clarinetist with the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, and performs with the Colorado Mahler Festival. He has also performed with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Boulder Philharmonic, Boulder Sinfonia, Louisvillle Symphony, Denver Symphony, Boulder Concert Band, and too many other orchestras to count.

Dawn Kramer is a freelance trumpet player in the Denver area. She is currently a member of the Boulder Brass, the Darren Kramer Organization, salsa band Conjunto Colores, as well as the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. She is second trumpet at the Buell Theatre. She has subbed with the Colorado Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, Denver Brass, and many regional orchestras and chamber ensembles.

As a Colorado native, Ms. Kramer attended the University of Colorado. She has toured as lead trumpet aboard several cruise lines, a Miami-based salsa band, as well as the internationally acclaimed rock band, Matchbox Twenty. These travels took her across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Mexico. She has appeared on the Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, the Rosie O'Donnell show, and VH1 Storytellers.

She has recently performed at the International Trumpet Guild, the International Association of Jazz Educators, and the Colorado Music Educators Association conventions.

About the "Mont Alto" Name

The Colorado and Northwestern, a narrow-gauge railroad that lead from Boulder to the mountain communities of Ward and Eldora, was running into difficulty as the gold mines began to play out. Retooling itself as a tourist route, and calling itself "The Switzerland Trail of America," the small railroad built a dance pavilion at Mont Alto park in 1898. On the day it opened, the city of Boulder closed for business so that all of the citizens could picnic, gather flowers, and dance the night away. In the spirit of adapting life to suit dancing, the Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra was named in 1990.

The Mont Alto pavilion is no longer standing, but the park site is still accessible on the railway grade, and the foundations and chimney of the pavilion remain. The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra occasionally plays for "birthday parties" for the pavilion on the site, including on its centenary in 1998.

The Dance Pavilion at Mont Alto Park—notice the name spelled in quartz rocks

Mont Alto's Film Score Repertoire

The Mont Alto Orchestra loves to tour and present films and concerts of photoplay music. We currently have compiled film scores for the following films. and we add several new films each year. If you plan to invite Mont Alto to present a film, keep in mind that the projection capabilities of the venue may restrict which films can be shown for several reasons:

Please feel free to email me with questions about the films, or to ask for recommendations for your particular venue, event, and audience.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
Most well-known in its talkie form, this movie won two Academy Awards. But there was also a silent release, designed for foreign markets and theaters that hadn't yet made the switch to sound. Mont Alto was commissioned to score this powerful anti-war movie for the 2015 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, accompanying the newly restored print from the Library of Congress.
Amarilly of Clothesline Alley (1918) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Mary Pickford plays a resourceful Irish girl from the tenements who is courted by two very different men in this romantic comedy.
L'Argent (1928).
Marcel L'Herbier's big-budget three-hour epic film uses advanced film editing techniques and amazing art deco sets to tell a story about corruption in high finance. Mont Alto's score (presented at the Telluride Film Festival in 2009) requires an expanded performance group, including a "pit crew" of percussionists.
Assunta Spina (1915) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
The Italian actress Francesca Bertini leads this operatic tale of love, jealousy, and sacrifice filmed on location in Naples.
Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
This long-lost King Vidor film features John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman in a lively swashbuckling romance set in the time of the Three Musketeers.
The Battle of the Sexes (1928) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
D.W. Griffith's jazz-age drama-comedy features Phyllis Haver as a heartless gold-digger.
Battling Butler (1926).
Buster Keaton is a rich dandy who is mistaken for a tough boxer. He can only keep the ruse up for so long...
Beau Geste (1926).
Ronald Colman and his brothers join the foreign legion after the mysterious disappearance of a precious jewel. An excellent, moving adventure-mystery.
Bed and Sofa (1926) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
A remarkably modern story of love and infidelity in a small Moscow apartment.
Beggars of Life (1928).
Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen take to riding the rails to escape a manslaughter charge.
Behind the Scenes (1914).
Mary Pickford marries well, but decides that she can't give up her career on the stage to please a husband.
The Birth of a Nation (1916)
This early, controversial, but very influential feature by D.W. Griffith, follows two families during the Civil War. Griffith's battle scenes and dramatic film-making changed the industry, but his Southern-centric view of reconstruction, with ignorant Blacks cast as the villains, is still highly controversial. On DVD with Mont Alto's score.
The Black Pirate (1925).
Douglas Fairbanks infiltrates a band of pirates to avenge his father's death in this Technicolor romp. Writing his own script, Fairbanks included absolutely everything piratical from buried treasure to swordfights to walking the plank to broadside cannonades.
Blackmail (1929).
Alfred Hitchcock's last silent film (remade as his first talkie) is a tight, well-made thriller. A woman commits murder in self-defense, but as usual the cover-up is worse than the crime as her boyfriend--a policeman--is assigned to the case, and a mysterious stranger attempts to use his knowledge for his own gain.
Blood and Sand (1922) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Rudolph Valentino rises in Spanish society with his success in the bullring, but attracts the attention of femme fatale Nita Naldi.
The Blot (1921)
Directed by Lois Weber, this film follows the intertwining stories of three different families in an American college town. The shamefully under-paid college professor, the well-off immigrant shoe-maker who lives next-door, and the college student whose father is a wealthy trustee of the college, and who falls for the professor's charming daughter. An interesting "issue film" that uses an interesting and romantic plot to make a point about social injustice in America.
The Blue Bird (1918) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Maurice Tourneur's fairy-tale about two children in search of the blue bird of happiness alternates from whimsical to thought-provoking.
Broncho Billy's Adventure (1911).
In this short film, Broncho Billy must intervene in an argument between a young woman's father and her lover.
The Cameraman (1929).
Buster Keaton acquires a movie camera to be near the girl of his dreams, but breaking into the business is trickier than it looks. With the help of a monkey, he gets the scoop of the year.
The Cameraman's Revenge (1912).
A grasshopper gets revenge on a beetle by filming its illicit tryst with a dragonfly in this stop-motion comedy.
Caught in the Rain (1914)
Charlie Chaplin gets mixed up with a married woman -- a sleepwalker, no less -- in this short Keystone comedy.
The Cheat (1915).
Cecil B. DeMille directed this tale of a society woman in debt to a wealthy oriental who refuses to be paid in kind.
Chicago (1927) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart in the startlingly cynical silent-film version of the story of corrupted justice. (On DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Children of Divorce (1927)
Clara Bow and Esther Ralston are both children of divorce: raised in an orphanage and separated from their parents for whom they are an embarassment. As adults, Clara wants to marry for money, while Esther wants a stable marriage. When Gary Cooper shows up as an eligible bachelor, it sets the two life-long friends against each other and against their convictions.
Cobra (1925) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Rudolph Valentino travels from Italy to New York to get away from woman-troubles. But it turns out they're everywhere! Nita Naldi scorches the screen as the seductive femme fatale.
College (1927).
Buster Keaton, an academic in high-school, attempts to take up athletics by the book to impress his sweetheart.
The Cook (1918).
Buster Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Luke the Dog run a restaurant. Don't miss Roscoe's dance as Salome and Clepoatra!
The Coward (1915).
In the American Civil War, a boy deserts and returns home, to the shame of his father, who enlists in his stead. But when Northern generals tip him off to an important military secret, he finds his bravery again. Recorded as an extra for Photoplay Productions' release of The Birth of a Nation.
Cruel, Cruel Love (1914)
In this melodrama parody, Charlie Chaplin is dumped by his fiancée and attempts suicide, but what he thought was poison turns out to be water.
The Daughter of Dawn (1920)
Filmed in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma, this "docudrama" stars an amateur cast of members of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. A fascinating look at American Indian life, with costumes and sets from their own collections, not Hollywood art directors.
Delicious Little Devil (1919) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
After inventing a sordid past to get a job as a cabaret dancer, Mae Murray risks losing Rudolph Valentino unless she can prove that her scandalous past is fake.
Destiny (Der Müde Tod) (1921) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
A woman challenges Death to a contest in this wild metaphysical early film by Fritz Lang.
Les Deux Timides (1928).
This romantic comedy directed by Rene Clair features a very shy lawyer courting the daughter of a very shy land-owner in a small village in rural France. A real tour-de-force of silent film making, it uses playful camera placement, divided screens, and all of the tools at the director's disposal to communicate the story with minimal use of titles. Every character is perfectly cast and acted, including a troop of anarchic village children.
Diary of a Lost Girl (Tagebuch einer Verlorenen) (1929).
Actress Louise Brooks plays an innocent girl in Weimar Berlin, seduced by her father's co-worker, then expelled from her home by her step-mother. Escaping a sadistic reform school, she falls into prostitution -- yet manages to gain control of her life and do better than those who wronged her. Director G.W. Pabst's excellent direction helps lift this story to the status of a classic.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
John Barrymore gets in touch with his dark side in this creepy and powerful telling of the Stevenson tale.
Don't Change Your Husband (1919) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Gloria Swanson tires of her husband's bad habits, but finds that other men can be even worse.
Doubling for Romeo (1921).
Will Rogers tries to learn how to romance a woman by visiting film sets in Hollywood, but when he dreams himself into the role of Romeo, Shakespeare will never be the same.
Erotikon (1929).
After being seduced and abandoned by a traveling salesman, a woman meets him again in jazz-age Prague under very different circumstances.
The Fall of Babylon (1916/1919).
After his epic Intolerance (1916), which featured four interwoven stories set in different ages, ran in the major cities; D.W. Griffith felt that it would do better in wide release to edit out the two largest stories and release them on their own, so he re-cut these films, changing some of the footage and titles, in 1919. The Fall of Babylon tells of the betrayal of King Belshazzar by his priests, and the attack of the Persians. Constance Talmadge serves as comic relief as the Mountain Girl who fights to save the city. But the film is best rememered for the vast scale of its sets and battle scenes.
Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
After their marriage, Roscoe and Mabel's house is pushed out to sea by a jilted rival. Can Luke the Dog and the Keystone Kops save the day?
Faust--Eine Deutsche Volkssage (1926) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
F.W. Murnau brings unforgettable visuals and interesting philosophical twists to the tale of a man making a deal with the devil.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
Rudolph Valentino grows up dancing the tango in Argentina, but family history drags him into the Great War in Europe.
The Gaucho (1927).
In his darkest, most enigmatic film, Douglas Fairbanks plays an Argentinian outlaw who plans to loot a shrine where miracles take place. He meets his match in the fiesty mountain girl played by Lupe Velez, by far his most fun leading lady. The plot touches on faith and morality, but never forgets that it is first of all a top-notch swashbuckling entertainment.
The General (1927) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Railroad engineer Buster Keaton is rejected by the Confederate Army and by his sweetheart, Annabelle (Marion Mack). But when Northern spies kidnap both Annabelle and The General (his beloved train engine), it sets in motion cinema’s most perfectly structured comic epic.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).
The first true cartoon star, Gertie interacts with Mont Alto's pianist Rodney Sauer (who acts out -- live -- the role of dinosaur trainer, originally played by animator Winsor McKay) in this whimsical multi-media cartoon short.
Getting Acquainted (1914).
Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain flirt with each other's wives (Phyllis Allen and Mabel Normand) in the park.
The Girl in Tails (Flickan i Frack, 1927)
In this charming "summerlit" comedy from Sweden, a young woman whose father won't let her buy a new dress for the ball wears her brother's tuxedo instead. But she goes well beyond making a point about clothes, drinking schnapps, smoking a cigar, and dancing with women. This ignites a firestorm of indignation and gossip in her town, and she flees to a nearby mansion run by a colony of "educated women," who help her resolve her troubles. Touching on elements of feminism, equality, and even gender identity, this is a fascinating look at society from a woman's perspective. Karen Swanström directed the film, and plays the choice role of the elderly society matriarch.
The Goat (1921)
Buster Keaton is down on his luck, unable even to get bread in the bread line. Then he's mistaken for the escaped murderer Dead Shot Dan. When the girl who invites him for dinner turns out to be the chief of police, things start moving out of control!
Gribiche (1925)
In post-war Paris, a rich American widow is struck by an honest act by young Gribiche, and offers to adopt him and give him a modern education. Gribiche agrees, since he feels he's an impediment to his mother's remarriage, but he has trouble adapting to the strict schedule set by his schoolmasters. A warm, masterfully directed, and often quite funny movie, with excellent scenes shot on location in Paris.
He Did and He Didn't (1916) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand's marriage is challenged by an old boyfriend and several burglars in this surprisingly dark slapstick comedy.
The Italian (1915). (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
An immigrant earns enough to bring his sweetheart to America, but suffers discrimination and injustice in this beautiful early film.
The Italian Straw Hat (1928) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
On his way to his wedding, a young man's horse eats a hat belonging to a married woman. This small incident snowballs out of control in a brilliant comedy of manners that is considered one of the top comedies of all time (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Johanna Enlists (1918).
A plain country girl (Mary Pickford) finds unaccustomed attention when an army division camps on her farm.
The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin finds and raises an abandoned child (Jackie Coogan) in his tenement apartment. But when social workers take Jackie away, the two end up on the lam.
The Kid Brother (1927).
Harold Lloyd is the youngest in a family of burly mountain lawmen in this excellent coming-of-age comedy.
The Last of the Mohicans (1920)
Director Maurice Tourneur's poetic and tragic version of this story focuses on the impossible love between Uncas and Cora. Beautiful outdoor photography and a very calm and natural acting style make this unusual for its era.
Leap Year (1921) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Roscoe Arbuckle accidentally gets engaged to three different women while trying to prove to his girlfriend that he's serious about her.
Limousine Love (1928).
On his way to his wedding, Charley Chase accidentally ends up with a naked woman in the back of his limousine.
The Lodger (1927).
In Alfred Hitchcock's tale of the London fog, a mysterious man rents rooms in a neighborhood where a serial killer has murdered seven blonde women. When he starts courting the blonde daughter of the house, her parents and fiancée worry... could this man be the killer?
Long Fliv the King (1926) (upcoming from Milestone Films).
Charley Chase unexpectedly becomes the king of a small European country, complete with evil counselors bent on a coup.
Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
Mabel Normand's dog locks her out of her hotel room in her pajamas, where she gets pestered by Charlie Chaplin.
The Magic Clock (1926).
A girl falls in love with a knight figurine in her father's mechanical clock, and impulsively breaks it to save his life. A masterpiece of stop-motion animation by Ladslav Starevich.
The Mark of Zorro (1920) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Douglas Fairbanks poses as an ineffectual fop while secretly fighting for justice in early California, in this hugely influential comic adventure.
The Marriage Circle (1924) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
A perfect marriage is set in jeopardy by an unstable one in this witty comedy by and for adults, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
The Masquerader (1914)
Charlie Chaplin is thrown off the movie set for his prima-donna ways, and comes back in drag to get his revenge in this short Keystone comedy.
Mickey (1916/1918).
Mabel Normand is raised in the mining camps of California, but is sent back east to be civilized in this romantic comedy.
Mighty Like a Moose (1926) (upcoming from Milestone Films).
Charley Chase accidentally goes on a date with his own wife in this wildly funny short film.
Miss Lulu Bett (1920) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
A poor spinster is forced into servanthood until she learns to stand for herself in this wicked comedy about a dysfunctional family.
A Modern Musketeer (1917).
In this comedy, Douglas Fairbanks is a modern reincarnation of D'Artagnan, protecting women whether they want it or not, from Kansas to the depths of the Grand Canyon.
The Mother and the Law (1916/1919).
After his epic Intolerance (1916), which featured four interwoven stories set in different ages, ran in the major cities; D.W. Griffith felt that it would do better in wide release to edit out the two largest stories and release them on their own, so he re-cut these films, changing some of the footage and titles, in 1919. The Mother and the Law tells of a woman living a life of desperation in the slums whose life is made harder by the interference of well-meaning but misguided reformers.
The Mothering Heart (1913).
In one of the best of the Biograph pictures, Lillian Gish runs into marital trouble when her husband meets an idle woman at a cabaret. Under D.W. Griffith's direction, Gish gives a bravura performance of silent-era acting, and background dancers doing the two-step, apache, and other dances are of historic importance.
Mothers of Men (1917).
In this independent pro-suffrage film, Dorothy Davenport Reid plays a judge who is elected governor of California. But her integrity is called into question when her husband is convicted of bombing a newspaper office. Can a woman governor send her own husband to death row, or will she weaken and pardon him?
The Navigator (1924).
Buster Keaton finds himself at sea on a drifting ocean liner.
Nell Gwynn (1926).
Dorothy Gish portrays the English King's mistress in this risqué historical comedy from England.
Never Weaken (1921).
Harold Lloyd saves his girlfriend's job by drumming up business for her boss in unconventional ways. But a misunderstanding leads him to contemplate suicide, until an unforeseen circumstance leaves him at the top of a building under construction, where physics conspires against him ever reaching the ground... in one piece.
The New York Hat (1912).
Mary Pickford's strict father won't get her new clothes, so when the minister buys her an expensive hat, the village gossip's tongues start wagging.
One Week (1920).
In one of the best short silent comedies, Buster Keaton and his new bride (Sybil Seely) are given a kit house to build themselves. Over the course of seven days, a wide variety of difficulties arise.
Our Hospitality (1923).
Buster Keaton visits the world of the Hatfields and McCoys in this very funny feature comedy. Returning to claim an inheritance, Keaton finds that his life is at stake... but as long as he stays on his antagonists' property, their natural Southern hospitality and honor will protect him. Excellent set pieces include a recreation of Stevenson's "Rocket" locomotive, and impressive stunt work on cliffs and waterfalls. Keaton made this a family affair, with parts played by his father, wife, and young son.
Paths to Paradise (1925).
Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson play rival con artists in San Francisco, attempting to steal the same diamond at the same party. This wild comedy ends with a breathless car chase down Highway 1 towards the Mexican border.
The Patsy (1928).
Marion Davies plays the youngest daughter in a dysfunctional family, with a crush on her sister's boyfriend. But before she can work on her romance, she has to work on gaining the respect of her domineering mother. A highlight is a scene where Davies tries to impress a man by impersonating Mae Murray, Pola Negri, and Lillian Gish.
People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag, 1929).
Four young Berliners enjoy their weekend in the parks around the city in this unusual realist film about working people flirting and enjoying their day off. (On DVD with Mont Alto's score)
The Penalty (1920).
Lon Chaney's break-through film was an underworld drama in which he plays Blizzard, a criminal mastermind whose legs were needlessly amputated when he was a child. The plot is full of bizarre notions -- an accomplished but legless pianist, Blizzard keeps a woman around just to work the piano pedals; his house is full of secret passages; and he hires all of San Francisco's prostitutes to create hats to identify an army of disgruntled workers who will take over the city for him and allow his revenge on the incompetent surgeon -- but all of this weirdness is forgotten in the brilliance of Chaney's performance. He makes a convincing amputee, walking and moving like someone who has spent his whole life without legs.
Peter Pan (1925).
The silent film version of Peter Pan, over which author J.M. Barrie maintained considerable control, is one of the most beautiful and enchanting silent films. J.M. Barrie selected unknown actress Betty Bronson to play the enigmatic boy who never grows up, and she is supported by excellent work by character actors Ernest Torrance as Captain Hook and Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily. Children will be highly entertained by the antics of Tinker Bell and the pirates, while parents will appreciate Barrie's unorthodox insights into the nature of children.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925).
Lon Chaney plays a deranged genius who coaches and controls an opera star from secret passages in the Paris Opera.
Quality Street (1927).
Marion Davies stays home while her sweetheart goes to fight Napoleon. When he returns to find that she's grown old, she decides to teach him a lesson in youth and aging in J.M. Barrie's whimsical antidote to Peter Pan.
Ramona (1928)
Ramona (Dolores Del Rio) is the ward of a wealthy ranch owner in early California. Though courted by the ranch owner's son, she falls in love with an Indian sheep shearer -- but this leads her into a world of racial discrimination. Based on the hugely popular and influential 1888 novel by Helent Hunt Jackson, this film was considered lost for decades, but thanks to the Czech Film Archive and the Library of Congress, a new English language print was made available in 2014.
Redskin (1929).
Richard Dix plays a Navajo who gets an education with hopes of helping his tribe, but finds he's no longer accepted at home in this Technicolor adventure filmed in Canon de Chelly and the Acoma Pueblo.
The Ring (1927).
For Alfred Hitchcock's sixth film, he had the chance to write his own screenplay. Set among English carnivals and boxing rings, The Ring follows a love triangle between Jack "One Round" Sander, his fiancée Mabel, and the heavy-weight champ of Australia. The film is a study in silent film technique, from the use of symbolic objects to rapid montages, and features excellent acting and tension in the boxing scenes.
The Rink (1916).
After high-jinks in a restaurant, Charlie Chaplin goes roller skating during his lunch break, where he courts the lovely Edna Purviance and fights rivals.
Rosita (1923).
Mary Pickford is a street singer who catches the heart of the king of Spain in this comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Safety Last (1923).
Harold Lloyd is a store clerk, trying to convince his girlfriend back home that he's made it big. When his idea for a publicity stunt -- hiring a building climber to climb the outside of the department store -- goes wrong, he has to climb the building himself.
The Saphead (1920).
Buster Keaton wants to become a trader on the stock exchange.
Seven Chances (1925)
Buster Keaton finds that in order to inherit a fortune, he needs to be married... by later today. After offending his girlfriend, he's pressured to take anyone he can get, and after a series of rejections a classified ad brings in a horde of dozens of gold-digging brides who chase him across the countryside. This film has a huge range of excellent gags and stunts, climaxing with an avalanche of boulders.
7th Heaven (1927).
Janet Gaynor won her Oscar in part for her performance as an abused street waif who finds a new life with sewer-worker Charles Farrell in a Parisian garret. Their seventh-floor heaven is interrupted by World War I, leading to a tense but emotionally moving climax.
Sherlock Jr. (1924). (On Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber with Mont Alto's score).
After failing in his amateur detecting, projectionist Buster Keaton falls asleep and enters his own film, dreaming that he's a super-sleuth. For its effects and stunts, this remains one of the most impressive films of the entire silent era.
The Silent Enemy (1929).
In pre-Columbian times, a tribe of Ojibway search for game in a difficult winter. This film features astounding nature photography and views of a lost culture.
Speedy (1928)
In Harold Lloyd's last silent film, he goes to great lengths to save New York City's last horse-drawn streetcar. But that's just the excuse of a long set of comic set-pieces that serves as a love letter to New York City, Coney Island, and baseball, including a memorable cameo by Babe Ruth.
Spite Marriage (1929).
Buster Keaton is a huge fan of an actress, who marries him to spite her fickle boyfriend. But can Buster win her heart for real?
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928).
A curmudgeonly riverboat captain (Ernest Torrence) receives a visit from his long-lost son (Buster Keaton), who turns out to be a dandy college kid who wears foppish clothes and plays the ukulele. But when fate intervenes—in the form of a hurricane— Buster proves he has the strength and courage of his father. This comedy features some of the most incredible stunt work of Buster’s career.
Strike (1925) (upcoming on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Eisenstein's first feature film was an ambitious retelling of a workers' strike in 1903 that was brutally put down by the tsarist police. But the serious, didactic tone of the film is leavened with surprising humor, caricature, and passages of cinematic beauty that sets up the devastating last chapter.
Suds (1920) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Laundry girl Mary Pickford creates a fantasy life for herself around an abandoned shirt. But when the real owner finally shows up, it brings her back to reality.
Sunrise (1927).
A man and a woman restore their ruined marriage on a fantastic trip to the city in this masterpiece of film-making by F.W. Murnau.
Teddy at the Throttle (1917).
In this short but fast-moving comedy Gloria Swanson ends up tied to the railroad tracks by an evil lawyer, but is saved by the quick-thinking of her dog.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Douglas Fairbanks plays a street thief in a fantastic oriental city who must prove himself worthy of a princess. One of the great epics of the silent film era, this film contains thousands of special effects and stunningly large art-deco sets.
The Three Ages (1923).
Buster Keaton courts his girlfriend in three eras -- the stone age, ancient Rome, and the jazz-age -- in this early comedy feature.
Timothy's Quest (1922).
A very sweet example of a "regional" film, this movie is a light, Dickensian tale of two children who flee their slum to find a new life in upstate Maine. The children are not welcomed at first, but soon work their way into the hearts of the women of the village. This score was compiled by Eric Cook, and recorded for Film Preservation Associates' release of the film through Flicker Alley.
True Heart Susie (1919) (on DVD from Image Entertainment).
Not wanting to marry an idiot, country girl Lillian Gish secretly helps fund her sweetheart's education, only to find he's attracted to someone else.
The Vanishing American (1922)
This sweeping epic, the first Western filmed in Monument Valley, was based on a novel by Zane Grey. Richard Dix plays Nophaie, a Navajo whose tribe is being preyed upon by corrupt Indian agent Noah Beery. After enlisting in the Great War in Europe, hoping to advance the cause of justice, but the warriors return to find little changed. This film is a notable example of the sensitive treatment of Native American issues that largely disappeared from American commercial films by 1930.
The Waiter's Ball (1916) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Roscoe Arbuckle is the cook at a chaotic cafe. When Al St. John steals his tux, can he attend the ball in Kate Price's dress?
Way Down East (1920) (on DVD from Kino Video)
Lillian Gish is left trying to put her life together after being seduced by a scoundrel, and ends up caught on ice floes drifting down a frozen river.
What Price Goofy? (1925) (on DVD from Milestone films).
Charley Chase tries to convince his wife he's not stepping out, but is hampered by the arrival of a woman professor and a dog who retrieves ladies' underwear.
The Whirl of Life (1915).
Famous dancers and fashion plates Vernon and Irene Castle make a home-movie-style fictional account of their life together.
The Whispering Chorus (1918) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
A man listens to the voices in his head. But when he tries to cover up a minor crime by faking his own death, he ends up accused of his own murder.
Why Be Good? (1929).
The vivacious comedienne Colleen Moore is perfect in the role of Pert Kelly. Pert’s a shop girl by day and a championship Charleston dancer by night. The very image of a modern gal, she has a wild reputation but lives at home with mom and dad. When the boss’s son Winthrop Peabody Jr. (Neil Hamilton) falls for her, Pert gets the ax. But Junior is still smitten and he devises a test to convince Winthrop Senior of Pert’s virtue.
Why Change Your Wife? (1920) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
Gloria Swanson loses her husband to the friskier Bebe Daniels, then decides to win him back.
Wings (1927)
The winner of the first Academy Award is a sweeping epic of fighter pilots in the Great War. Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen fight the Germans and quarrel over Esther Ralston, but the real find is Clara Bow as a friend who joins the Women's Motor Corp. The highlight of the film is a series of dramatic air battles, filmed from the very airplanes that participate in them, and a large-scale recreation of the battle of St. Mihiel. Our score is based loosely on the New York Premiere score composed and compiled by J.S. Zamecnik, and requires a pit crew of sound effects people for the battle sequences.
The Wishing Ring (1914) (on DVD with Mont Alto's score).
The son of an English nobleman falls for a girl who thinks he's the gardener. He decides to surreptitiously make her wishes come true.
The Woman Men Yearn For (1929)
In one of Marlene Dietrich's overlooked silent films, a young Frenchman, newly married for money, falls for a mysterious woman he meets on a train, and abandons his planned life when she pleads for his assistance. But things are more complicated than they appear, and all comes to a head at an alpine New Year's Eve celebration.
A Woman of Paris (1923)
A woman leaves her grim village for the city, but her past comes to haunt her.
The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna, 1929)
Brigitte Helm (best known for portraying both Marias in Metropolis) is the rich and worldly mistress of a wealthy Russian officer. But she falls for a young, idealistic, and poor soldier. Giving up her privileged position proves difficult, not because of her own concerms, but from the young officer's embarrassment at not being able to provide her a living. This simple story is highlighted by excellent direction, involving sets, props, and fluid camera motion.
You're Darn Tootin' (1928).
Stan and Ollie are street musicians who can't seem to play in time in this short comedy.