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Silent movie fans gear up for another Chaplin classic

In a world full of Hollywood's special effects and high-speed Internet, chances are some have forgotten about Charlie Chaplin and his silent movies. One group in town, the Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, hopes that's not ...

In a world full of Hollywood's special effects and high-speed Internet, chances are some have forgotten about Charlie Chaplin and his silent movies.

One group in town, the Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, hopes that's not the case. On Friday and Saturday the society will present its 32nd annual Silent Movie Night at the Fargo Theatre. Show time each night is 7:30 p.m.

Lance Johnson, program chairman for the chapter, said the appeal for silent films has only increased with the generations.

"Nationwide, there is an explosion of interest in silent movies," he said. "There's a tremendous demand for it. People like to see the movies because they're very high quality."

He said that after a while, film-goers forget that there isn't sound in the movie.

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"After 15 minutes, you forget that it's a silent movie, because you just get so drawn into the story," Johnson said. "There's more to (the movie's story) than what's being produced in Hollywood."

The film showcased this time around, "The Gold Rush," features Chaplin fighting a bear, eating a shoe to stave off hunger and encountering a number of dodgy gold-mining characters, all while seeking the love of a dance hall singer.

Johnson said that selecting the film was an easy decision.

"It's Charlie Chaplin's masterwork," Johnson said. "It's the greatest film he ever made."

This marks the 32nd year the society has been presenting Silent Movie Night. Johnson said the crowd hasn't changed much in those 32 years.

"Once they come, they get hooked," he said. "It's the same people that come to the shows. It's like a group of regulars, a group of die-hards."

In addition to showing Chaplin's film, the event will feature the Fargo South High School Jazz Ensemble before the film.

It will be "like a throwback to the 1930s, where they always began with a live show and then ended it with a movie," Johnson said.

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The Red River chapter also plans to pay tribute to Lloyd Collins, who is "probably the most well-known organist in Fargo-Moorhead," Johnson said.

Collins began his career playing for Peggy Lee and has served as head organist for Olivet Lutheran Church, Fargo, for 43 years. He said that playing for the church and theater are very different experiences.

"There are certain things you do on a theater organ that you'd never think of doing on a church organ," Collins said. "When you lose track of what you're doing on the theatre organ, you can always fake it. The church organ is a little more square, I guess."

As for playing with Peggy Lee, Collins said he always had fun.

"The first time I saw her, I thought, 'Wow, Collins, you lucky guy, she's beautiful,' " he said. "We made a good team. We had some great times together."

He reputedly rubbed elbows with Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Johnson added.

"He tells us he accompanied Frank Sinatra, who was just starting out in those days," Johnson said.

Collins said he hopes to continue his career with the organ.

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"You don't find many old organists. I hope that I can keep playing until I'm 90, which is three years away," he said. "I like playing the organ because you can express what your feelings are. But if you get it wrong, it kind of takes the stuffing out of you."

For Collins, though, playing the organ for church and theater has always been a great experience.

"You can get emotionally involved in it," he said.

For those unfortunate souls drawing a blank as they read names like Chaplin, Peggy Lee and Sinatra, this event can serve as an introduction to the silent-film era.

"It's kind of like a time warp," Johnson said.

'Trick or Vote' planned

People Escaping Poverty Project has formed the Voter Collaborative, a group of nonprofits, students and community members, to encourage people to vote in Fargo-Moorhead.

The collaborative is seeking volunteers who are interested in participating in a "Trick or Vote" nonpartisan event from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31.

For more information, call (218) 236-5434.

If you go

- What: Silent Movie Night

- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

- Where: Fargo Theatre

- Tickets: $10 in advance, $11 at the door. Available at all area Hornbacher's stores and the Fargo Theatre box office.

- Info: (701) 239-8385

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5509

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