Nosferatu Rises at Grace Cathedral

Based in the Kansas state capital of Topeka, the Kansas Silent Film Festival, Inc. has been ensuring the legacy of silent films since 1997. Every February, they gather to celebrate the history of silent cinema in a two-day marathon of celluloid greatness. However, for two decades now, they’ve also been part of a wonderful Halloween tradition, Silents in the Cathedral. This year, I was finally able to attend and it was a wonderful way to get in the spirit of the season.

Working with the Shawnee County Public Library and set in the Grace Episcopal Cathedral Church, the beautiful surroundings are perfect for an evening the entire family can enjoy. Now, having never attended and with only a little knowledge based on online pictures, my girlfriend and I loaded up the monster mobile and headed west, ready for a new adventure. My sister was also an eager attendee and we even managed to wrangle my brother-in-law in for the eerie festivities. The church was packed when we arrived, ultimately appearing to be a sold out event. Well, considering it was a free event, the word “sold” isn’t quite appropriate but the church was full with the staff having to add additional seating to accommodate the eager audience. With the screen set up on the altar, it was time for magic to begin.

Three short subjects started the evening off, with Buster Keaton’s The Haunted House (1921) setting the comedic pace. A true classic, this is a perfect example of Keaton in his prime. This was followed by a Felix the Cat cartoon and then, another short subject. Now, I grew up watching Our Gang (known to me then as “The Little Rascals”) but my gang consisted of Spanky and Alfalfa. However, this was long before they joined, focusing on the talents of Joe, Farina, Wheezer and others. Saturday’s Lesson (1929) shows the gang being tormented by the devil, who is scaring them into doing chores for their mothers. It’s a classic Our Gang comedy and only the second silent Our Gang short I’ve ever seen. It definitely made me want to see more from this different era.

Our main event was the 1922 classic, Nosferatu. This marks the third time I’ve seen it on the big screen and the second with live music accompaniment. As with all of the films this evening, Dr. Marvin Faulwell and Bob Keikeisen provided the music. To say they did an amazing job is an understatement. Having seen them at previous Kansas Silent Film Festivals, I knew we were in for a treat. There truly is nothing better than live music for these wonderful silent films. With Nosferatu, the restored print looked majestic in the surroundings of the cathedral. The music was perfect for all of the creepy moments as Count Orlock (Max Shreck) menaces his way in search for precious blood. Nosferatu is one of my all-time favorite films and it’s never looked or sounded better.

I may be a couple of decades late to the party but Silents in the Cathedral may very well become a new tradition. They had an amazing capacity crowd, which warms my heart knowing so many people love classic cinema, both young and old. You missed out on the 2017 festivities but plan ahead for 2018! And don’t forget that after the holidays are done, the 2018 Kansas Silent Film Festival is right around the corner!

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