If it’s an authentic classic movie experience you’re after, then it’s Capitolfest you want.
Celebrating its eighteenth incarnation in the heart of Rome, New York is the best classic film festival experience on the East Coast. From Friday, August 13 to Sunday, August 15 you can immerse yourself in a memorable movie weekend inside a newly restored, 1,700-seat beauty built in 1927 called the Capitol Theatre. Its goal is “not only to show these vintage films, but also to re-create the experience of seeing these movies when they were new.” I can attest to the fact that the staff at the Capitol ensures that this three-day festival is special, a laid-back movie experience featuring movie rarities in 35MM and silent movies with organ accompaniment on one of the few remaining Möeller organs in its original position. The organists are brilliant talents too. There just is no better way to snap out of the year we’ve had than to join the land of classics alongside other passionate fans in a majestic movie palace.
This year’s Capitolfest will include A Tribute Constance & Joan Bennett, showcasing several of their films. Given the Bennett sisters are natives of Fort Lee, New Jersey, I will cover Capitolfest for the Barrymore Film Center, which will open soon for its own classic movie events. The Bennetts came from an acting family and had careers that spanned several decades and are worthy honorees indeed. Follow me on social media @CitizenScreen for Capitolfest coverage and general classic movie remembrances.
Before I get to the movies, I must mention the Capitolfest dealers room featuring films, videos, posters, and other memorabilia, which will be open throughout the weekend. Bring a bit of extra cash if you can manage it. There’s lots of terrific stuff to choose from and breaks throughout the festival allow for plenty of shopping and perusing time. Capitolfest’s leisurely pace is one of the things that makes it such a unique festival. Attendees take breaks together, have meals together, and kvetch about movies together.
Most of the films screened at Capitolfest come from archives such as the Library of Congress, George Eastman Museum, Museum of Modern Art, UCLA Film & Television Archive, and Universal Pictures, as well as from private collections. Restoration and print details are always shared with the audience before each screening. This year’s films range from short subjects from the 1890s to features from the 1940s, a bit later than most Capitolfest offerings, but still rarities starring the featured stars. As is the usual case, most films on this year’s schedule are new-to-me, including the special Thursday night screening of Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt (1941) with Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, and George Sanders. Following are other screenings I am looking forward to.
Friday, August 13
John G. Blystone’s She Wanted a Millionaire (1932) with Joan Bennett, Spencer Tracy, Una Merkel, and James Kirkwood about a woman who marries a millionaire only to find out he is less than stable, sounds rather enjoyable. This is one of four movies Bennett made with Spencer Tracy and the only one in which she is billed over him.
Norman Z. McLeod’s Topper (1937) with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett screens on Friday night in a restored 35mm print from the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Although I have seen this picture numerous times it should be a blast with that audience.
Saturday, August 14
There will be silent shorts screened throughout the weekend that I cannot wait to see. Short subjects are often as much fun as the features, and they always offer surprises. That said, Saturday has a loaded features schedule including Sidney Lanfield’s terrific Hush Money with Joan Bennett, Hardie Albright, Owen Moore, and Myrna Loy presented in a digital format. Starting late afternoon on Saturday though the schedule heats up starting with Frank Tuttle’s Her Wedding Night (1930) starring Clara Bow and the new Lobster Films restoration of Fred Guiol’s Duck Soup (1927) starring Laurel and Hardy.
UPDATE: HUSH MONEY replaced with the 35MM presentation of THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (1934) directed by Alexander Hall due to licensing issues.
The evening screenings promise to be memorable. Constance Bennett in one of her earliest starring roles plays a woman with a sordid past in Maurice Campbell’s Wandering Fires (1925). Finally, Love Letters to a Star (1936) has an interesting premise, a young woman commits suicide after being blackmailed for having written indiscreet love letters to a movie star. This one was directed by M. Carruth and stars L. R. Foster, Henry Hunter, Ralph Forbes and Polly Rowles.
Sunday, August 15
Sunday kicks off with Mitchell Leisen’s Artists and Models Abroad (1938), “a riotous trip with fun and laffs all the way!” Jack Benny, Joan Bennett, Mary Boland, Charley Grapewin and the Yacht Club Boys star.
I am really looking forward to the next two screenings before lunch, J. A. Howe’s Dad’s Choice (1928) starring Edward Everett Horton, and Gregory La Cava’s His Nibs (1921) with Chic Sale, who I am completely unfamiliar with, and Colleen Moore. Comedian, vaudevillian Sale also wrote a popular book with an interesting story attached to it. I cannot wait to learn more about him. The Horton picture is part of the newly released Edward Everett Horton: 8 Silent Comedies from Undercrank Productions. Thought you’d like to know that.
Joan Bennett makes her final Capitolfest 2021 appearance in Alan Crosland’s Week Ends Only (1931). This pre-code co-stars Ben Lyon and John Halliday and promises to offer adequate sexiness.
Capitolfest 18 ends with the silent The Shield of Honor (1927) directed by Emory Johnson with Neil Hamilton, Dorothy Gulliver, Ralph Lewis and Thelma Todd. Neil Hamilton has a similar Capitolfest connection as Eugene Pallette who manages to sneak into at least one screening every year. I always look forward to seeing them both.
If it’s an authentic classic movie experience you’re after, then it’s Capitolfest you want. I hope to see you in Rome where even the most ardent classic movie fan is introduced to silents and rare talkies from days gone by. Stay safe.
From a pevious year’s entry, here’s what others think about Capitlfest:
“For me, Capitolfest is a great opportunity to escape August’s heat and enjoy a curated selection of cinematic treasures, discoveries and oddities with wonderful people, in a vintage theater, and at a leisurely summertime pace.” – Alan Hait @AlanHait
“Capitolfest rescues classic era films from obscurity, but the festival isn’t about obscurity only. It’s, also, about quality. Every film I’ve seen there, successful or not, had at least one element making it worthy to revisit.” – Beth Ann Gallagher of @missbethg and Spellbound by Movies
“The joy of seeing a classic flick on that big screen, along with an audience that you just KNOW is enjoying this with equal vigor, is frankly pretty damn good.” – Kellee Pratt of @Irishjayhawk66 and Outspoken & Freckled
“The intimacy of Capitolfest is wonderful. Movies are shown at the lovely Capitol Theatre; the dealer’s room and places to eat are right next door. The best part was meeting other classic movie fans who were all very welcoming.” – Toni Ruberto @ToniRuberto of Watching Forever
“My husband Ed isn’t nearly as movie-obsessed as I am but, to my surprise, he attended every screening but one, and he was the first to mention returning to Rome this year. I can’t offer a better Capitolfest testimonial than that.” – Jeff Lundenberger @jlundenberger
“A great paced Film festival where you get to see rarely screened films on 35mm in a movie palace! Especially love the silent films with wonderful accompanists playing the original organ. So glad Aurora told me about this festival four years ago. I wouldn’t miss it!” – Colleen O’Brien Fiore @MiddParent
“My first Capitolfest was four years ago, thanks to Aurora! And I haven’t missed one since… Just LOVE seeing all those rare and historical silents and early talkies with my like-minded friends and classic movie ‘family’. It’s a wonderful weekend for classic movie fans, and I can’t wait!” – Annmarie Gatti of @ClassicMovieHub and Classic Movie Hub
“Going to Capitolfest means many different things. The literal treasure trove of rarities and obscurities and discovering the depth and breadth of their featured actor/actress may be the stated purpose of the festival but what focuses the love of early film are the people. The truly lovely team that brings it all together and the ability to mingle, talk and share a meal with fellow films fans that I respect and admire makes this a film oasis like no other” – Shirley Hughes, Director, Toronto Silent Film Festival @tosilentfilm
“Still the premiere place to see rare, 35mm presentations in a real movie palace. A true cinephile’s getaway!” – Jack Theakston, film historian
Fort Lee was a big center for moviemaking before the business went west. The Bennetts were incredibly successful. Even when Constance was no longer a big movie draw she was still pulling down $6,500 a week for making appearances in vaudeville.
Didn’t feel safe commenting until we were actually on the road – we’re coming!!! First Capitolfest was 2019- you know what happened after that. Looking forward to the movies and people.
Yay!!! I just arrived in Rome. Say hello.