Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Written by: Lotta Edwards & Douglas Fairbanks
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnson, Sojin, Charles Belcher, Anna May Wong, Snitz Edwards
Last night, for the third consecutive year, I attended the Roxy Theater’s “Silence is Golden” event. Originally envisioned as a celebration of the revitalization of Saskatoon’s historic Riversdale district, the occasion has grown in popularity and is fast becoming a hot ticket on the city’s cultural scene. The combination of a classic film with live accompaniment by professional musicians is proving irresistible to cinema buffs—this year, sales were brisker than ever, attendance close to capacity.
“The Thief of Bagdad” was an inspired choice for presentation. It is a crowd-pleaser, an exciting and phantasmagorical romp that had the same effect on film-goers nearly nine decades ago that “Star Wars” had on impressionable viewers several generations later. The difference is, “Thief of Bagdad” was given the “A” treatment all the way, a huge budget, star power, etc. (George Lucas had to make do with tight purse strings, surly English crews and youthful, unknown cast).
The high quality production values (the film was designed by William Cameron Menzies) are present in literally every scene of “Thief of Bagdad”. Rooms are lavishly decorated, the costumes are exotic and the sets, without benefit of matte paintings, are monstrous, the scale of the walls and main gate giving a vivid and unforgettable impression of the wonders of ancient Bagdad, a city of myth and legend, enshrined in lore by The Arabian Nights.
The second hour of the movie, when Ahmed (Fairbanks) is forced to depart the city he knows so well and embark on a great quest to earn the right to marry the princess, showcases state of the art special effects and fantastic encounters that still dazzle. The flying carpet sequences are jaw-droppingly effective and the thief’s grim battle with a huge dragon features a multiple exposure and is perfectly cut together by director Walsh (who went on to even greater fame with movies like “High Sierra”, “White Heat” & many others over a career spanning five decades).
I feel fortunate to be able to see a movie of the status of “The Thief of Badgad” on the big screen, enhanced by the powerful score provided by some of the finest musicians in this province. The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra players who took part in the 2o12 edition of “Silence is Golden” are to be commended for their endeavors. They were in top form. Special mention should be made of violinist Michael Swan, who provided some key scenes with sad and gorgeous textures. Brian Unverricht conducted and, with one eye on the screen, superbly choreographed his players; the atmosphere was relaxed, convivial, the musicians clearly enjoying themselves (and, again, praise must go to Mr. Unverricht).
As in past years, Rick Friend added his expertise—the man is a longtime and celebrated devotee of classic/silent cinema and his keyboard playing remains the heart and soul of “Silence is Golden”, lending it an unmistakeable authenticity, instantly evoking bygone days.
It is impossible to attend an event like “Silence is Golden” and not come away with an appreciation of the transformative power of film, the ability it has, like no other art form, to draw us out of ourselves and project us into make believe worlds that defy our suspension of disbelief, expanding our imaginations past the point of no return.
Eighty-eight years after its debut, “The Thief of Bagdad” remains a template of epic fantasy, a movie that has influenced and inspired countless film-makers and writers with its visionary power, the creative energy and passion devoted to building the world of Ahmed, the prince of thieves, a Bagdad that never was but should have been.
“Silence is Golden” is presented by the Roxy Theater, in partnership with the Riversdale Improvement District, The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, Magic 98.3 (Radio) and New Community Credit Union.