Bill Rowland improvises accompaniment to the silent films on a pipe organ. photo by Justin Klopfer

Circle Cinema screens “Robin Hood” for Silent Saturday

Circle Cinema’s silent films are accompanied by organist Bill Rowland on the theater’s pipe organ.

Every second Saturday of the month, local independent theater Circle Cinema shows a classic silent film. This film is accompanied by live music played on a fully acoustic 1928 authentic pipe organ. It was originally played at Circle Cinema (though it was called Circle Theater then) from 1928 to the early ‘30s. The organ was removed in 1931 due to the rise of talkies. After having been in a music club into the 1960s, it was then stored away and never played. That is, until it was found about six years ago and was reinstalled in the cinema. The pipes producing the sound rest behind the giant screen in the first theater of Circle Cinema.

September’s film was “Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood,” a 1922 swashbuckling adventure directed by Allan Dwan. After King Richard (Wallace Beery) leaves England for the crusades, the conniving Prince John (Sam De Grace) usurps his throne. The Earl of Huntingdon (Douglas Fairbanks), gets word of this takeover and requests leave from the army to take back the kingdom. After he comes back to England, he rounds up a gang of “Merry Men” and takes on the moniker of Robin Hood. With his new allies, including the king in disguise, he takes on the tyranny of the prince.

This plot may seem basic, but the reason the movie holds up almost a century later is its giant sense of action and spectacle. An enormous castle set was created to film the movie, holding both bountiful feasts and intense brawls. Douglas Fairbanks dances around his enemies, outsmarting them and deftly navigating the stage.

Despite being made in 1922, “Douglas Fairbank in Robin Hood” was already the seventh Robin Hood movie made. Since then, dozens of further film adaptations of the classic tale have been made. Many are bland schlock films designed to turn a quick buck. This film, however, radiates the energy that makes great silent films so endearing. It puts a smile on the viewer’s face and keeps them entertained in ways many modern movies simply can’t. It is a unique experience, and one that must be seen to be understood.

All this brilliance being accompanied by beautiful live music made it all the more enjoyable. Skilled organist Bill Rowland operated the instrument throughout the film’s over two hour hour runtime. Even more impressive is the fact that the music is not entirely planned out in advance; rather, Rowland improvises it as he plays. He also must constantly glance at the movie itself to see what events he must time his playing to.

The people of Tulsa seem to enjoy these events very much, as the theater was almost completely filled with enthusiastic guests of all ages. A steady stream of laughter accompanied the light-hearted adventure. Of course, this popularity may also be a result of the movie’s generous ticket pricing: only five dollars. Overall, this unique experience is certainly worth attending at least once.

October’s Saturday Silent will be “Battleship Potemkin” by Sergei Eisenstein, shown on the 12th.

Post Author: Justin Klopfer