Old Hollywood Comes to Oak Park

On a warm summer night, anyone strolling through Mills Park in Oak Park, Illinois might be lucky enough to hear the syncopated sounds of ragtime piano coming from the front porch of Historic Pleasant Home. Laughter can be heard as folks gathered on the porch are entertained by the daredevil stunts and slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd.

On Friday evenings in August, the Pleasant Home Foundation will host the 2nd Annual Silent Movies on the Porch summer film festival. Pleasant Home is an architectural gem that showcases the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry of another era. It is the perfect setting for audience members to enjoy the classic charm of silent films.

The grounds of Pleasant Home, now Mills Park, have been home to silent movies before. In the spring of 1918, the Diamond Film Company came to Oak Park to produce a film. According to the local paper, “…one hundred and fifty working men, with clubs in their hands, stormed the gates of Pleasant Home. Oak Park police stood nearby and made no effort to stop the riot. The reason was that it all was staged for the movies.” – Oak Leaves, May 4, 1918.

Pleasant Home’s current celebration of silent movies will include live piano accompaniment by Thomas Holmes, an extremely talented, Chicago-area musician and composer. Holmes incorporates ragtime pieces with some of his own original compositions, and even a few moments of improvisation to create a musical score that perfectly complements the actions and emotions depicted on the big screen.

On Friday, August 1st the Pleasant Home Foundation will present Sherlock Jr., a 1924 comedy starring Buster Keaton. Keaton also directed the film, which tells the story of a young man who works as a movie theater projectionist though he longs to be a detective. The projectionist is in love with a shop girl and tries to win her heart by solving the mystery of her father’s stolen watch. The film is filled with Keaton’s trademark deadpan humor, tricky stunts and funny sight gags. In 1991, Sherlock Jr. was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

On August 8th, Pleasant Home will feature The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a German horror film from 1920. This movie has been recognized as one of the most influential films of the German Expressionist movement and is unique due to its use of abstract, painted sets and deliberately jerky movements of the actors. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is also credited for introducing the concept of a ‘twist ending’ to cinema. Thomas Holmes will present a completely new and original musical score that he has composed for this film.

On August 15th, audiences will be charmed by three Charlie Chaplin shorts from 1916 – The Count, One A.M. and The Pawn Shop. Chaplin is up to his usual tricks and will delight audiences of all ages as he portrays a tailor’s assistant who sneaks into a fancy dinner party, a clumsy and clueless employee in a pawn shop, and an intoxicated man who can’t get into his bed, no matter how hard he tries.

On Friday, August 22nd the film festival will end with Safety Last, starring Harold Lloyd. This 1923 comedy includes one of the most famous images from the silent film era – Lloyd dangling from the hands of a giant clock at the top of a towering skyscraper. Safety Last chronicles the humorous antics of a young man as he heads to the big city to work so he can earn enough money to marry his fiancé.

Pleasant Home opens at 7:30. Movies will begin at 8:15. $10 suggested donation.

For more information please visit pleasanthome.org or call (708) 383-2654.

This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.