Living Electric Theater: Northfield’s Movie-Going History Comes Alive in the Weitz Center Cinema

23 February 2012

Carol Donelan, associate professor of cinema and media studies, will present a narrated tour through re-created episodes in Northfield’s early movie-going history at the Weitz Center for Creativity Cinema on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. In addition to Donelan’s presentation, entitled “Living Electric Theater: Cinema Emerges in Northfield,” the event will feature early short films and a stellar cast of local musicians and performers, transporting the audience back to the early years of cinema in Northfield. Come experience the movies as they once were! This event is free and open to the public.

The talk and re-created episodes are based on historical evidence documented in Donelan’s new book, Electric Theater: The Emergence of Cinema in Northfield, 1896-1917, now on sale at the Northfield Historical Society and the Carleton Bookstore. Donelan will be on hand to sign books after the event, with all proceeds benefiting the Northfield Historical Society.

Among the re-created attractions at the “living” electric theater is the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show, staged in Lockwood’s Opera House in 1896.  Northfield resident David Hvistendahl will perform the role of snake-oil salesman Dr. Gustave Petersen, interspersing sales pitches for Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, “the blood, liver and stomach renovator,” with projections of Edison Kinetoscope films via the Animatograph, the “greatest invention conceived by the brain of man.”

Another episode from Northfield’s “electric theater” history is set in the Ware Auditorium in 1909 and features traveling film exhibitor Lyman H. Howe’s world famous “noise artists.” Carleton professors Jay Beck and Ron Rodman and students Anna Swanson ’12 (Olympia, Wash.), Sam Dunnewold ’12 (Northfield) and George Guenthner ’14 (Corcoran, Minn.) will produce live sound effects for a short film directed by D. W. Griffith, Mr. Schneider’s Anti-Noise Crusade.

Women’s suffrage gives new meaning to The Hazards of Helen, a cliffhanger serial featuring a female action hero, in a 1913 episode set in Northfield’s Gem Theater. St Olaf student violinists Sonja Gleason Wermager, Katherine Wilhelm and Elizabeth Fairfield will offer orchestral accompaniment for action star Helen Holme’s onscreen stunts.

Nostalgic, illustrated song slides based on popular songs, prevalent in vaudeville and early electric theaters, will delight the eye and may inspire an audience sing-a-long, led by Ron and Sue Rodman.

The event concludes with an episode from the history of The Grand, with a Fatty Arbuckle-Buster Keaton comedy short guaranteed to make you laugh. Musical accompaniment will be provided by faculty from Carleton’s Music department, including Ron Rodman on trombone, Nikki Melville on piano, Liz Ericksen on violin and Steve Kelly on saxophone.

Refreshments by Bon Appetit will be served and Northfield youngsters Julia Hodel and Audrey Battiste will hawk retro penny candies appropriate to the era.

This event is co-sponsored by the Carleton College Humanities Center, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, the Northfield Historical Society, the Northfield News, and KYMN Radio. For more information, including disability accommodations, please call (507) 222-5779. The Weitz Center for Creativity is located at 320 E. Third Street in Northfield.


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