Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Learn about cyclones, and then feast your eyes on the wild girl

As noted in the prior blog, during the silent film era movies screened just about everywhere. That was true not only in San Francisco and the Bay Area, but across the United States as well. Movies were shown in theaters as well as in non traditional venues like clubs, community halls, hospitals, retirement homes, and businesses of all kinds.

For example, in the then small rural town of Vacaville (located about 55 miles to the northeast of San Francisco - on the way to Sacramento), motion pictures were shown in both traditional and non-traditional venues.

At the beginning of 1926, Vacaville had one theater for motion pictures. It was the Strand. During the course of the year, in all likelihood, it became known as the Clark Theatre after having been purchased by W. J. Clark. (The building still stands.) Two newspaper  advertisements for this venue are shown below. The Strand Theatre advertisement dates from January, 1926 and the Clark ad dates from December, 1926.

Each advertisement tells us a little something interesting - not only what was showing, but how long each film ran (in each case two days - a not untypical small town run), the price of admission (tickets were reduced in price over the course of the year), and how many shows per night were offered (in each case two). The Vanishing American, which starred Richard Dix and showed at the Strand was recently reprised at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont.

Where else could one see a movie in Vacaville in the mid-1920's? The other place in town, a non-traditional venue, was the local Community Church. It's uncertain what denomination this church was (it may have been Congregational), but what is known is that this church screened motion pictures every Sunday. They called their weekly screenings their "Motion Picture Service."

As can be seen from these newspaper advertisements, The Community Church showed both educational fare as well as dramatic films from both large and small studios. One could see an educational film about cyclones, or take in The Romance Road (1925), a Truart production promising exciting scenes and comic situations. There was also the Frank Borzage directed Wages for Wives (1925), or the William Fox special The Fool (1925).

Not unexpectedly, most of the films shown at The Community Church had a moral tone - while some of the accompanying programs featured old Gospel hymns or sermons. It also interesting to note that sometimes the "Motion Picture Service" dominated the advertisement, even above that for Sunday services. (One Sunday service featured famed Santa Rosa horticulturist Luther Burbank speaking over the radio, "suitably amplified," from San Francisco.) All together, these advertisements typify the sort of rural, small town entertainment one could enjoy during the silent film era.

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