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The slapstick comedy duo Laurel and Hardy paid a recent visit to Petaluma Regional Library, where the Forum Room was transformed into a silent movie palace of the 1920s, replete with piano accompaniment, fringe-lined stage valance and curtain.

Celluloid Rose — also known as Annie Lore — welcomed an enthusiastic audience for the afternoon of early 20th century entertainment. The silent-movie aficionado runs the Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, an enterprise dedicated to introducing the joys of old-time movies to a new generation.

Lore can’t say enough about the silent screen era and the directors and actors who brought stories to life without recorded sound or spoken dialogue.

Her mission is to collect, preserve and present old-time, public-domain movies to modern audiences: short subjects, cartoons and features shown on acetate film from mechanical projectors, complete with the fluttering sound of real film moving from reel to reel.

“I like to do it as a party,” said Lore, a Penngrove resident who claims her age “on the sunny side of 60.”

Her recent 90-minute matinee of five films and a cartoon was hosted on April Fool’s Day, with kudos and little prizes for those in the audience who showed up in silly hats.

“I love to see people enjoying themselves,” Lore said.

A “compulsive performer” with a repertoire including singing, dancing and acting, Lore has appeared everywhere from community theater to Renaissance and Dickens fairs. She’s performed in “time travel weekends” in historic Old Sacramento, and was a well-known street musician in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley.

She’s done filmmaking as well and considers the Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace an extension of her life’s work.

“Showing things is pretty creative, too,” Lore said.

Old-time movies offer a charm and appeal that’s unique, a time capsule that Lore finds fascinating. With title cards narrating key moments and plots, and actors’ melodramatic body language and expressions, there’s no duplicating today what filmmakers of yesterday introduced in films hand-cranked by cameramen.

Mention movie pioneers like Charlie Chaplin or Cecil B. DeMille and Lore steps right into the early years of the 20th century, when silent films first drew audiences into movie houses across the country.

“Just getting out of your own time can provide perspective,” Lore said. “It’s nice to step out of it and see another place.”

She introduces films with a bit of nostalgia, dressing in period clothing and assuming the character she calls Celluloid Rose.

After opening her recent show with the hijinks of Felix the Cat, she notes it’s time “to move on to something more cerebral.” Snub Pollard is about to appear as a clever inventor with an alternative to fossil fuels in “It’s a Gift,” a 1923 film.

“It’s the 1920s and gas is 20 cents a gallon,” she says to the audience, with a gasp.

Each frame captures a moment in time, giving viewers a peek at a bygone era. Lore hopes moviegoers can experience films as audiences did back in the day — seeing something new and exciting from 1913, say, or 1925.

“Some of the things were amazing. They were a novelty when they came out, but now they’re a glimpse of that time, that era,” Lore said.

As she chats with her audience between movies, she remains in character, lamenting that women’s hemlines “keep getting shorter and shorter.”

She suggests her audience keep up with modern times, asking, “Does everyone here have a radio? You’ve got to move with the times. Pretty soon they’re going to put them in automobiles.”

Pianist Win Meyerson of Santa Rosa adds to the drama, suspense and fun of the moment with his skills at the ivories, playing sheet music and improvising throughout the chatter and films.

Meyerson also is smartly dressed to the era, in white shirt, broad tie, dark vest and plaid pants. Celluloid Rose is attired in her “beach pajamas,” with wide-legged, herringbone-patterned pants, a flowing shirt and animal-print scarf in her hair.

The fun with audiences is a highlight for Lore, who has been gathering silent films and early talkies for several decades. She’s amassed a few hundred titles, searching on eBay and through movie forums and exchanges.

“Occasionally they show up in thrift stores, saved from the dumpster,” she said.

The films, mostly 16- or 8-mm, are on reels, some damaged by the intense heat of projector lamps. Lore painstakingly goes through each discovery and then archives the movies.

She keeps many of them in refrigerators and freezers to preserve them.

Lore is both mistress of ceremonies and projectionist as she brings the Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace to venues across the North Bay for customized public and private showings.

She’s become a film historian while doing her research, gaining a vast knowledge of the era, equipment, actors, directors and genres of old-time movies.

The process is exacting but sometimes can bring as much mystery and intrigue as the stories themselves.

She once parted with $50 for an eBay bid that took her to Sacramento, only to discover a “big, stinky box” with a variety of old-time movies once owned by a prime suspect in the notorious (and unsolved) Zodiac murders.

She kept some of the movies and sold others, more than compensating for her time and expense.

Financial constraints and a move from Petaluma to Penngrove have interrupted her movie business in recent years, but Lore is undeterred.

She still is pursuing her Petaluma Project to chronicle films that once played at Petaluma’s old movie houses, like the Mystic and Hill Opera House (now the Phoenix), that operate today as venues for live entertainment.

She’s spent countless hours going through microfilm at the Petaluma library, looking for newspaper advertisements announcing the films that once played in town.

Her hope is to re-create those screenings “as authentically as possible.”

The effort is laborious, and tracking down old films is challenging.

A 2013 Library of Congress report estimates some 70 percent of American silent films are believed lost, many destroyed intentionally as filmmaking became modernized.

There’s still a big interest in silent films and early “talkies,” though, particularly in the Bay Area, Lore said. She especially enjoys the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre movie palace (June 1-4 this year), and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont.

As for reproductions on DVDs, Lore offers a polite “no thank you.” She has little interest in digital media, preferring hand-cranked movies on sensitive acetate, just as they were made.

“It’s a bit more of the real film experience,” she said.

The Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, in association with Sonoma County Library, presents its next program, “The Silent Screen Comedy Cookie Jar,” at 2 p.m. Saturday at Petaluma Regional Library, 100 Fairgrounds Drive. Admission is free.

For more information, visit excelsiorcompany.com, silentfilm.org or nilesfilmmuseum.org.

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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