This Friday, Marvel Studios releases Avengers: Infinity Wars, a massive movie that will, reportedly, tie-up 10 years and 18 installments worth of narrative threads and character arcs in one ear-ringing, eyeball-searing, two-hour-and-30-minute extravaganza. The geek may not inherit the Earth, but their seat on the box office throne is indisputable.
But that’s not what you are looking for. You’re looking for something that speaks softly (or not at all) and carries a big cinematic stick. Something that cuts through the clutter and addresses the heart in ways only a moving image can. You don’t need words, just faces. Well, lucky for you, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — Sloans Lake welcomes back the Denver Silent Film Festival (DSFF) April 27–29, with a lineup so good even the diehard Marvelites will want to drop in.
Co-founded by Howie Movshovitz and David Dynak in 2010, the DSFF has spent the better part of the past decade keeping the lights on for silent cinema. And not just the heavy hitters, but also overlooked gems deserving of a wider audience. Case in point, 1916’s The Dumb Girl of Portici (April 29, 4:30 p.m.).
Directed by Lois Weber — one of the greatest filmmakers to ever be forgotten — and her husband, Phillips Smalley, Girl of Portici stars the famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova, as Fenella, a deaf, mute fisher-girl living under the Spanish occupation of Naples in the mid-17th century. It’s a crowd-pleaser and an early blockbuster, the first — and possibly the only blockbuster from the 20th century — helmed by a female director.
Rarities aren’t the only thing you’ll find at DSFF. Speedy (April 29, 7:30 p.m.), a comedy starring Harold Lloyd, is a delightful love letter to New York City; The Lodger (April 28, 7 p.m.) is the first film to truly display Alfred Hitchcock’s technical and emotional prowess; and The Passion of Joan of Arc (April 28, 10 a.m.) is quite possibly the greatest film ever made. Based on the court transcripts that condemned a 19-year-old to the stake, Passion features Renee Falconetti in a performance so powerful, so unforgettable, it is unlike any screen performance before or since.
Too heavy? How about some Walt Disney cartoons? On April 28, 1 p.m., renowned Disney scholar Russell Merritt receives DSFF’s David Shepard Career Achievement Award and will give a presentation of Disney’s early silent shorts — from Laugh-O-Grams to the Alice Comedies — as well as one infamously not so silent cartoon: Steamboat Willie, starring a whistling Mickey Mouse.
And so we come back to the mouse, the overlord of all those Marvel movies and more. Avengers will be playing at the Drafthouse all weekend, right alongside some of the best from cinema’s early days. Both carry with them a diehard fan base, which means you might spy someone in a Spider-Man onesie saddling up to the bar next to a Harold Lloyd look-alike, while Merritt discusses Julius, Oswald and Mickey with animation buffs in the corner. When it comes to the cinema, there’s room for everybody.
On the Bill: Denver Silent Film Festival. April 27–29, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — Sloans Lake, 4255 W. Colfax Ave., Denver, denversilentfilmfest.org