Photo courtesy of Michelle Swift
The “Return of Silent Movies to Warnors Theatre” brings silent films to the Warnors Theatre in Downtown Fresno. Audience members are invited to dress up, and those who do will be entered in a costume contest.
Monthly silent-film screenings move to bring historic Warnors Theatre back to life
With the rise of “talkies,” movies with words and sound, in the late 1920s, the Warnors Theatre in Fresno had only two years after opening to screen the silent films for which it was designed. Now, the theater’s silent-film series, “Return of Silent Movies to Warnors Theatre,” is taking the grand theater back to its gilded beginnings of pipe organs and vintage flair.
Michelle Swift, volunteer coordinator and program director at Warnors Center for the Performing Arts, said the main purpose of the series, which shows films every month through March, is to take audiences back in time to the 1920s.
“Many of the younger generation have never had the opportunity to be in such a grand, old building,” Swift said. “As a 501(c)(3) Community Benefit Organization, our goal is to share this incredible Fresno landmark with everyone in the Central Valley, in hopes that it will mean as much to them as it does to us.”
Throughout the next six movie showings, Swift said guests enter the theater through the lobby and are greeted by costumed volunteers. Swift said audience members are also welcome to dress up.
“Those in costume will be directed upstairs into the mezzanine where a group of judges will score them, and they will later be invited up onstage to be presented to the crowd,” Swift said.
She said each film is introduced by local cinema experts and followed by a “grand” display.
“Right before the film begins, the organ will begin playing and rise up on its hydraulic lift from the organ pit in a grand entrance,” Swift said. “The professional organist will tell the audience a bit about how the organ can make all of the sounds of an orchestra, as well as sound effects for the movie.”
After, Swift said, the organist is lowered back below the stage and plays throughout the entire silent movie.
“The music goes so well with the film that you forget he’s even there,” Swift said. “For The Phantom of the Opera on Oct. 17, there will be a special surprise as well!”
Swift encourages people from all walks of life to attend the films, but said she cautions parents from bringing children 12-years-old and younger to watch.
“The experience is one that people really should see at least once in their lifetime,” Swift said. “Guests who will especially enjoy themselves are those who are interested in art, music, history and culture.”
Swift said high-school age and college-age students should particularly enjoy the screenings.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, and what college student doesn’t like an excuse to play dress-up?” Swift said. “The showings are on Thursday evenings as well, and many [students] don’t have class on Fridays, and most likely they have never been in the theater; which is stunning.
“Most impressively, it is only $3 per person!”
Swift said the series has also given out thousands of free tickets to organizations around the community. For groups interested in free tickets, Swift said you can call 264-2848.
For information on upcoming films and events, patrons can visit the theater’s events calendar at http://www.warnors.org/calendar.