It's been more than a century since les frres Lumire first birthed the moving picture into a world we like to imagine as static and black-and-white as a word on a page and as slow moving as a lazy river. The birth of film, initially a voiceless display of strikingly mobile images accompanied by live music, has been the subject of much academic drooling and a delight for those burned out by the spastic barrage of three-second edits and empty dialogue so often proffered to the modern viewer—today, nothing shocks more than silence. Although relegated to the dusty screens of TCM aficionados, the slick plasma screens of avant-obsessed film students and the occasional late-night blanket-in-the-park bliss-out, silent films have become a treasured relic as well as a testament to the longevity of a medium that has so undeniably shaped our culture.
Times and equipment have changed considerably since 35mm reels were the DVDs of the belle poque film set. Now, anyone with $250 and a week's worth of dedication can be a filmmaker, and the Centennial Heritage Museum is offering the wherewithal. "The production crew will write a screenplay, scout locations, plan scenes, and create costumes, props and sets, as well as act in, direct and shoot the final movie." Also on set is Ron Chaney, the grandson of Lon Chaney (the original "Phantom of the Opera"), who will be hashing through his granpap's legacy, offering stories and memorabilia from way back when silence was golden. Don't forget to relegate some of that budget for your stars' salaries. It may not seem like much, but we hear Mel Gibson might be looking for some work.
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Silent Movie Week at the Centennial Heritage Museum, 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana, (714) 540-0404; www.centennialmuseum.org. Mon.-Fri., Aug. 14-18. $250. Call for schedule and reservations.