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Celebrating King Vidor’s classic, ‘The Crowd,’ making silent films come alive

The Crowd
The Crowd
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My favorite silent film, King Vidor’s "The Crowd," premiered 86 years ago today--February 18, 1928--at the majestic Capitol Theatre in New York City where its star, Bronx native James Murray, once worked as a doorman.

Vidor’s classic World War I drama “The Big Parade” became the most profitable film in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer history (a rank it held until “Gone With the Wind”). As a result, producer Irving Thalberg gave the director a chance to make a film about the average man’s journey through life, even though Vidor warned him it might not make much money.

The finished film grossed nearly $1 million and is considered by many to be the greatest silent picture ever made. But MGM’s Louis B. Mayer vetoed the picture’s Academy Award chances because Vidor dared to show a toilet in the film family’s modest apartment.
My latest ebook, now available on Kindle, tells the amazing backstory of this classic, tracking it from rough idea to problematic finished product:

You don't need a Kindle to read the book--or any other ebook, for that matter. You can get free software from Amazon, for any computer, smartphone or tablet, at
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Related posts:

Forgotten funsters of silent screen, rare/lost short films on DVD

Flaherty’s ‘Nanook’ on Blu-ray, Holocaust, Broadway docs on DVD

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One of the art directors on “The Crowd,” A. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie, became better known for his visual and special effects. He worked on everything from “The Wizard of Oz” to “North by Northwest” and “Forbidden Planet,” with the 1925 and 1959 versions of “Ben-Hur” more or less bookending his four-decade career in Hollywood. Small wonder today’s SFX experts are still employing techniques Gillespie pioneered. His memoirs, “The Wizard of MGM” (available in paperback from BearManor Media), are a fascinating read.

I recently asked silent film composer Ben Model—whose DVD releases are the subject of a forthcoming blog—how it feels “to accompany a silent for a live audience. How does their response affect what you do?” His response was enlightening:
“I get lost in the film and in the show itself. I go along on the ride with the film, and I'm really not aware of the process anymore, as it's really become instinctive. I'm watching the screen taking in the movie and anticipating what's coming up, I'm sensing the audience and the vibe in the room, and the music just kinda comes out of my hands. As far as the audience response affecting me, that's more noticeable with comedies, of course, but with a dramatic film if I'm in a intimate scene and I'm playing quieter or more simply, I can really hear and sense the tension in the room (when it's working). It's a very satisfying feeling,” said Model.

“Kevin Brownlow has said that, with silent film, the audience is the final participant in the filmmaking process, but I'd add that the accompanist is one as well, because you're the chemical compound that bonds the audience to the emotions, excitement and fun of what's on screen. My friend and colleague Bruce Lawton often says that there's this magic that we can do now where, by turning on a projector and having live music, these wonderful pieces of entertainment can come to life again and entertain just the way they did 90 years ago.”

More from Jordan:

Jerry Lewis at TCM film fest, La Mirada, Curtis Harrington short films on DVD

Jungle Book, Decasia on Blu-ray, Rossellini on DVD, Maureen O’Hara at TCM fest

Academy Award Losers, 1912-1939:
Great Performances in the Oscar Hall of Shame, Vol. 1

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