Theater organ group’s fund-raiser Saturday showcases Hollywood’s newest silent film

By George Basler

A charming story, a happy ending and a scene-stealing dog will be on display Dec. 29 at The Forum in downtown Binghamton when the Binghamton Theatre Organ Society presents its latest showing of a silent film.
The presentation is a fund-raising event for the society and also marks a real change of pace for the group, which works to promote theater organs in the Southern Tier. Instead of showing a movie dating from the 1920s, the society is showcasing a film from last year, complete with an original, world premiere score being written and performed by master organist Jim Ford.
The film cannot be named because of the film distributor’s requirements for a fund-raising event of this type, said Paul F. Stapel, the society’s founder. But you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out the title. Just look up the 2012 Academy Award ceremony for best picture. The fact that one of its stars is a dog named “Uggie” gives it away even more.
To his knowledge, the Binghamton presentation marks the first time the movie has been shown with an original theater organ, Stapel said.
The Dec. 29 showing, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will have the feel of a party. For a $15 donation — $5 for all under 22 and full-time students — each audience member will receive complimentary popcorn and door prize drawing tickets. Drinks of many types and mini-refreshments will be on sale, Stapel said.
The idea for the special showing came from Ford who will accompany the movie on the Forum’s restored Robert Morton Theater Organ, one of only 300 theatrical organs still in existence in the country.
Ford is an expert in doing this, accompanying numerous silent movies, ranging from Charlie Chaplin comedies to a screening of Wings, the first film to win a “best picture” Oscar.
“If someone has never seen a silent film with live theater pipe music, it’s a unique experience,” he said.
To prepare, Ford has been repeatedly viewing the film to prepare his score . “The better the film, the easier the accompaniment,” he said, adding the move to be shown on the Dec. 29 is definitely one of the “better” films.
Organizers expect the night to be an exciting one. “For young and old, it will be something different. It‘s not just cheap entertainment; it‘s something more than that,” Stapel said

IF YOU GO: The Dec. 29 showing will begin at 7:30 p.m. at The Forum 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Cash, check or major credit cards can be used for the donation. Reservations for the opening seating can be made by calling (607) 722-0020. Patrons are encouraged to arrive not later than 7:10 p.m. for minimal lines and better parking and seating. Members of the society will have two sections reserved for them (half of the mezzanine and the front left portion of the main floor).

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