Cosford hosts silent film experience
Filmgoers can embrace their inner private-eye Sunday at the Cosford Cinema to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Buster Keaton’s classic movie “Sherlock Jr.” with live orchestration by Frost School of Music students. The film is part of the Cosford Classics series which showcases a classic film on 35-millimeter film once a month, typically based on a certain director or theme.
The black-and-white, silent film will be shown on 35-millimeter celluloid film, the principal film projection technology used before the modern digital format. The storyline follows Keaton, a film projectionist who dreams about being a detective.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for those who want to see what is a dying medium,” said senior Jacob Steiner, a motion pictures major. “Film is being killed off by digital.”
According to Trae DeLellis, the director of the Cosford Cinema, “Sherlock Jr.” is about loving and watching film – a story he believes has been popular with audiences. DeLellis also began the Cosford Classics series.
“It’s really interesting and a really reflective kind of meta-film,” he said. “There’s kind of a gag scene in which the character actually enters the screen, and that’s why I love it. It’s one of the smartest movies I’ve ever seen.”
Steiner is excited to watch his first 35-millimeter film, especially because he enjoys Keaton’s style.
“Basically, he was a stuntman before there were stunt doubles, so he’s really impressive guy to watch,” Steiner said. “He was an actor and a director, he was just everything. This film is one of his best films, so it’s a testament to him.”
Cosford is one of the last places in South Florida that has two 35-millimiter projectors, which are necessary to show archival prints like the kind that will be screened Sunday, according to DeLellis.
Because 35-millimeter film projectors are being phased out around the country, the upkeep for the machines has become increasingly difficult, DeLellis said. The Cosford Cinema is a finalist for a Knight Arts Foundation Grant with the Norton Herrick Center for Motion Pictures for this “Sherlock Jr.” screening.
Although it is a digital archive, the center is supportive of keeping viewings of 35-millimeter films as a way of enhancing film culture in Miami and for film preservation, DeLellis said.
Another distinct opportunity for film-goers is the chance to hear the one-of-a-kind score created for this screening by Sam Garner, a second-year master’s student at Frost.
With little more than a month to compose a 45-minute score, a major challenge Garner faced was time, as well as balancing the major role music plays in a silent film as compared to a traditional film.
“The silent film is wall-to-wall music; as long as the movie is, that’s how much music there is,” he said. “It was challenging to straddle the fence between not getting repetitive between the music and providing the right amount of music to not bore the viewer.”
There will be 18 undergraduate and master’s students performing along with the film on Sunday under Garner’s direction, since he will be conducting.
“I think it’s really cool that someone wrote an entire score for it,” said freshman Robyn Shapiro, a motion pictures major. “That’s intriguing and I find that to be really impressive and so I’m excited to hear that.”
Garner said he was inspired by Keaton’s comedy and stunts.
“I mean, it’s 1924, so some of the things they were able to pull off is really super impressive,” he said. “It’s mind-blowing, like no computers or anything to help him out. It’s inspiring.”
The last event featuring live orchestration took place several years ago, according to DeLellis, and featured “The Gold Rush,” a Charlie Chaplin film accompanied by live music.
“It makes it like a very limited experience,” DeLellis said. “You know it’s just going to screen this once. It’s one of those things where you can’t see it this way at home, so it’s kind of making things more special. I love to watch a film and to see scratches on it. That’s kind of how it was intended to be viewed.”
Tickets are available for purchase at cosfordcinema.com or at the ticket window. The film has a running time of 45 minutes.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Sherlock JR” Screening
WHEN: 6 p.m.Sunday, September 21, 2014
WHERE: Cosford Cinema is located on the second floor of the Dooley Memorial Building.
COST: Free for UM students.
$7 for UM Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Seniors (62+) and non-UM students with a student ID.
$9 for General Admission.
This article originally appeared in The Miami Hurricane on September 18, 2014.