Hep papers like the Reader covet that profitable 85-to-100 demographic, which is why I always try to plug the Silent Film Society of Chicago. Headed by Dennis Wolkowicz (aka theater organist Jay Warren), the SFSC presents a year-round calendar of silent movies with live musical accompaniment, but its centerpiece is the Silent Summer Film Festival, held Friday nights at the vintage Portage Theater from July through August. Screenings are always packed, the audience ranging from senior citizens to college students to young kids trying to wrap their heads around the concept of a movie with no sound or color. The lineup always features the usual suspects—Chaplin, Keaton, Pickford, Lloyd, Valentino, Fairbanks—but the longer the festival’s gone on, the more it’s plumbed the recesses of the silent canon, highlighting forgotten stars like Colleen Moore and Harry Langdon.
The musical programming is rigorously traditional: there’s no pandering to the younger crowd with pop bands or free-jazz outfits. Most screenings are accompanied by experienced organists like Warren, Dennis James, and Mark Noller of the Music Box. The festival’s Achilles’ heel has always been its ensembles, like the dowdy West End Jazz Band and the overtaxed Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra, whose accompaniment of Potemkin last August was often excruciating. On those occasions you might wish for a little more silence. Silent Film Society of Chicago, 4050 N. Milwaukee (at the Portage Theater), 773-205-7372, silentfilmchicago.org. —J.R. Jones
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