Geisel Library to take visitors back in time with films of the La Jolla Cinema League
Exhibit: Silent Era Filmmaking of the La Jolla Cinema League
■ When: May 1-June 20
■ Where: UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, lower level, west wing
■ Cost: Free during regular library hours.
Movie screening: Silent films of La Jolla Cinema League (with live music)
■ When: 3 p.m. May 25
■ Where: UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, Seuss Room
■ Cost: Free
■ Information: (858) 822-5758 or scottpaulson.info
By Pat Sherman
As moviegoers prepare to see Leonardo DiCaprio assume the role of Jay Gatsby in a remake of the film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby,” UC San Diego’s Geisel Library is offering its own cinematic slice of the Roaring Twenties, La Jolla-style.
Scott Paulson, outreach coordinator for the Geisel Library, will screen a selection of silent films from the La Jolla Cinema League (LJCL) 3 p.m. May 25. A live music score compiled by Paulson and performed by his Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra will accompany the films.
The screening is in conjunction with an exhibit Paulson curated about the 1920s-era Cinema League, which is on display during May and June in the west wing of the library’s lower level.
Paulson said the films are a great opportunity for the public to get a sense of life in La Jolla during the 1920s, from its “great cars and sharp clothes” to the “beautiful homes and gardens.”
“You will also notice great screen-writing, great camera work and very good acting,” Paulson said of the amateur filmmakers, which he said approached their projects very professionally.
League members wrote their own screenplays, ran the cameras, experimented with shooting angles and lighting, and developing the films with their own lab equipment.
While the men operated the cameras, the women of the league directed most of the films (including Mrs. R.G.S. Berger, who owned a house where many of the films were shot).
According to an article published by the San Diego History Center’s Journal of San Diego History, the LJCL was founded in 1926 and produced between five and 10 melodramas and newsreels ranging in length between five and 75 minutes, all likely shot on 16 millimeter film.
Many of La Jolla’s historic buildings can be seen in the films, including Casa de Mañana (1924), the La Jolla Women’s Club (Irving Gill, 1914), an early campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and “a delightfully unchanged biological grade,” Paulson said.
“To see these movies and to really be there with some 1920s La Jollans, it’s exciting, it’s time travel,” said the silent film buff, who’s convinced that “talkies are just a fad.”
The screenings will include melodramas such as “Consuelo di Capri,” the league’s first production (about a band of thugs who try to wrestle the deed to a valuable property away from an old man by kidnapping his daughter), and one of Paulson’s favorites, the dually-titled, “Virtue’s Reward or Blood for Bond” (about a weekend soiree at which pernicious partygoers attempt to steal bonds from good people).
“They tell you this is an aristocratic family of modest means,” Paulson said of “Virtue’s Reward.” “It’s brilliant that they knew to backpedal. … It’s almost as if they had a focus group.”
As an example of the LJCL’s work ethic and wit, in 1928 the league filmed the audience as they entered La Jolla’s American Legion Hall for a screening. While the audience watched a 75-minute feature, league members scurried to develop the arrival footage in a makeshift, on-site lab, which resulted in a startling encore starring the surprised audience, Paulson said.
The May 25 screenings will include several of the LJCL’s untitled, experimental films, including a chess game in which the pieces appear to “set themselves up, magically move themselves about the board and put themselves back into the fancy case where they belong,” Paulson said.
“There’s a very dramatic death of the king,” he added.
Paulson said he was aware of the league, though it was during the San Diego History Center’s 2002 exhibition on San Diego filmmaking (for which he was asked to perform live music as the silent films rolled) that he witnessed the full collection of LJCL movies.
The LJCL was associated with a larger umbrella organization, the Amateur Cinema League, which offered the budding La Jolla auteurs extra encouragement and training through its monthly publication, Movie Makers, as well as a reference library of sorts through which its regional clubs’ films were made available to each another for viewing.
Though Paulson said he is still searching for information on the Cinema League, he suspects their demise was largely due to the stock market crash of 1929.
An editorial in the May 1929 edition of Movie Makers responding to “recent demonstrations in the speculative stock market,” assured readers (and advertisers) that “amateur movie making is the soundest type of recreational investment,” and that its “initial cost is not prohibitive yet it is high enough to emphasize to the purchaser that it is not an ephemeral thing.”
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