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.