Monday, November 23, 2009

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1923)

I suppose to the eyes of the world, we were a motley looking crew as the capacity crowd flowed eagerly into George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre in Rochester, New York last month. Unlike the first Hollywood premiere of Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1923) at Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on October 18, 1922, there were no limos, no gowns, no red carpets, no klieg lights searching the sky, and certainly no hint of a “Day of the Locust” style mob scene. However, there were about five hundred not very glam but expectantly eager people gathered on an October evening for the “World Premiere” of this restored version of the tale in the 21st century starring Douglas Fairbanks in one of his classic roles.

So, who were these people who came out to see this 87 year old film version of the English bandit’s adventures? Among the crowd at this movie were a few who might have been just old enough to have seen a later Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. film in a movie theater, a generous sprinkling of younger cinephiles, middle aged academics, and a delightful gaggle of children of about nine years of age in the audience that Saturday. Once thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1960s, this film’s “premiere” was a highlight of the seventh biennial conference of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies at the University of Rochester, where the historical and literary permutations of the appealing errant figure of lore were analyzed and, frankly, reveled in by the participants. Accredited scholars and hard core Robin buffs from around the world spent three days discussing the evergreen legend of this “Robin Hood: Media Creature”, trying to discern if the 700 year old hero of Sherwood Forest even existed, while enjoying an extravaganza of multi-media exhibits (including Douglas Fairbanks boots, seen below), early manuscripts, songs, and presentations discussing all aspects of the tale.

The night before this event, a few lucky people even found time to view an unreeling of what is presumed to be one of the first American versions of Robin Hood on film. This brief 1912 flick reportedly features this English story playing out against the background of Fort Lee, New Jersey, with the Palisades of New Jersey standing in for Sherwood’s greenery and each character’s inner good or evil characterized by animal imagery that was superimposed over their faces, (unfortunately there was no word to indicate if this might have been an early example of Surrealism. This intriguing description made me wish that some real life adventures had not kept me away from that event).

For me, attending a showing of a silent version of Robin Hood had three items that lured me from my cave: The story of Robin Hood on a truly grand scale, Douglas Fairbanks, and Fun!...more

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