What’s got two Chaplins, a Keaton and a Bugs Bunny, with music in between and an actual practitioner of legerdemain and prestidigitation?
Find out on Sunday, May 17, during the Bijou Film Center’s event "Music, Movies & Magic" staged at the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Co-organizer James Parrish says you can bring the kids or the kid inside you (which can go any number of ways, if you think about it). The free event begins at noon, and the Red Hot Lava Men will start the jams with their interpretation of surf rock at 1 p.m. Between films and other promised surprises, you’ll experience the world circus folk stylings of the Happy Lucky Combo and Avers' free-form throwback psychedelic garage rock.
Also on hand to fool your eye will be magician John Smallie, who learned all the tricks in the store.
"Music, Movies & Magic" inaugurates a campaign for raising $15,000 for the establishment of a film and video digitizing business to assist regional Richmonders in the "liberation" of their home movies, art films and media treasures from 8 mm, Super 8, VHS, SVHS, etc. The Bijou’s crew wants to establish a community media archive — important for Richmond and Virginia, but also connected to the great work of media archives around the world, including the Baltimore-based Center for Home Movies.
“These are the little jewels,” Parrish says, “which keeps with our ‘Bijou’ name that connects us to Richmond’s entertainment history.”
Richmond’s original Bijou — the word means a small, elaborate crafted object — opened in 1899 at 714 E. Broad St. within the former Barton Opera House. Impresario Jake Wells described his place as “devoted to tasteful vaudeville; the essence of refined entertainment, and Musical Comedy Productions of the highest class.” The promotional 1904 article at right states that the 1,400 seat auditorium will be heated by steam and "decorated in the most artistic manner." The final paragraph notes that prices will remain the same and "the upper gallery will probably be set aside for colored people."
Wells distinguished himself from the Putnam Theatre, at 1311 E. Franklin, that showed, well, the other kind of vaudeville. Wells' rigorous adherence to his personal sense of what constituted good taste proved profitable; he moved the Bijou in 1905 to 816-818 E. Broad St. (then the Swan Tavern, now the Library of Virginia), and created the original Colonial Theatre on the site of the old Bijou to show motion pictures.
In the 1929 photo at right, the Bijou displays advertisements for the romantic comedy Saturday Night Kid, featuring "It Girl" Clara Bow. At night, these facades tempted with their bright lights and promise of adventure. This image comes from Celebrate Richmond Theater, written by Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, compiled and edited by Elisabeth Dementi and Wayne Dementi.
The moving picture fad caught on. Soon enough, people wanted to make their own films about themselves.
Bijou Film Center co-creator Terry Rea explains, “Home movies matter to people who shot them. Those pieces of personal history are just as important as any Hollywood blockbuster. If you see your grandma or even the dog you played with as a kid, and you see them living and moving, that experience packs as much if not more of an emotional punch as any big-screen melodrama.”
When unearthing boxes of old 8 mm film, especially footage not seen for a long while, you might find something you didn’t expect. Exhibit A in this case would be Chicagoan John Maloof, who turned up the archive of reclusive photographer Vivian Maier, subject of the sold-out documentary presentation at the Byrd earlier this year.
Also at the event will be a demonstration of the technology that the Bijou wants to make available to the public. People who bring Super 8 films will be able to watch the process of transferring them to digital copies. A recommended donation for this is $20.
Parrish breaks the cost down as $5,000 for the dual 8 mm/Super 8 digitizing machine and the additional $10,000 for three computers, a selection of video decks (to handle different formats), hard drives for media storage and a variety of miscellaneous converters and cables. The Bijou consulted with the Raleigh, North Carolina-based A/V Geeks, who recommended one PC to handle the scanning, another for the processing or sweetening, such as editing or color correcting, plus a Mac to format files for Apple users. Additional video decks would be required for taking VHS and other video formats into the digital domain.
Bijou maintains a working space at the Anchor Studios. But the group is on the active hunt for a space for film programming that wouldn’t be like anything else in town.
And it won’t happen by magic, except of a cinematic kind. Though Rea says of Charlie Chaplin’s sense of perfectionism, “He worked to get his illusions and stunts to photograph well to the point where he destroyed film that he thought would reveal too much of how he did it.”
The scheduled film roster includes two 20-minute Chaplin pieces with sound, The Pawnshop and Easy Street. Buster Keaton shows off his agile antics in the 25-minute silent The Balloonatic. This fare is rounded out by the 10-minute Warner Bros. cartoon, Duck Amuck.
Now to take us out is the Happy Lucky Combo's performance of the "Beer Barrel Polka," the certain appropriateness of which is guaranteed by the venue for Sunday's event.