Film is silent no more

Shelley Blundell

Student brings film back to life

Senior history major Mandy Altimus films and directs a recreated scene from the 1920’s silent film The Prodigal Daughters. Altimus is doing the film as part of her senior honors thesis.

Credit: Andrew popik

To some of us, silent films may be a dead art.

But to Mandy Altimus, the art of silent film is very much alive.

Altimus, senior history major, chose to recreate the lost 1920s silent film Prodigal Daughters as part of her senior honors thesis. She got the idea while attending the Midwest Independent Filmmakers conference in Cleveland in 2003.

“Essentially, I wanted to preserve a story and reclaim a lost silent film,” Altimus said. “There was a guy at the festival who had recreated a lost Polish short film from reviews and features from the 1930s, and I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”

According to the Library of Congress, slightly more than 20 percent of original silent films still exist.

“I thought it would be a really neat idea to try and preserve a lost silent movie — it’s a really beautiful art form that deserves to be brought back to life,” Altimus said.

And that’s just what she’s doing. Altimus enlisted the help of fellow students and community members to be actors, crew members and assistants. Although all involved are unpaid volunteers, Altimus said, they have been more than willing to give up hours of their time to see the movie is “just right.”

Chris Craft, who plays the role of J.D. Forbes, was extremely impressed with the smooth running of the production and the dedication of everyone involved.

“It’s a very intricate project and one that has been an extremely positive experience,” Craft said. “It’s a really wonderful thing (Altimus) is doing. And considering everyone involved with the project is a volunteer, they are all incredibly devoted to the making of the movie.”

Before beginning the project, Altimus went through a list of silent films that had been lost or destroyed since their production and came across Prodigal Daughters. After numerous calls to research archives across the country, Altimus confirmed that the original full-length feature had indeed been lost and set about recreating the movie.

Based on the novel Prodigal Daughters by Joseph Hocking, the film is a “reformed flapper movie,” one of many movies created by Hollywood in the 1920s to discourage women from the supposedly wild and dangerous lifestyle of flapperism.

“Probably my biggest problem so far has been making sure everything looks historically accurate,” Altimus said. “All the props, locations, costumes, hairstyles — everything needs to look as authentic as possible for the movie to come out right.”

Enter volunteer Kipp Speicher, who serves as Altimus’ production assistant and continuity supervisor.

“Mandy and I both share a passion for silent movies, so I help her with the lighting and the camera work,” Speicher said. “I also make sure the shots look the same from day to day — if we shoot something this week, we want to make sure that next week the actors are wearing the same costumes, the same makeup, that sort of thing.”

And it’s people like Speicher and Craft, Altimus said, who have made the making of the movie so easy.

“I have a wonderful and talented cast and crew; everyone is really dedicated and hardworking — I no longer consider this my movie. It’s everybody’s movie now,” Altimus said.

After the film is wrapped and turned in with the rest of her thesis assignment, Altimus will premiere the movie at Kent State Stark, with later showings on the Kent campus and the Lincoln Theatre in Massillon.

Contact general assignment reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected].