Spring 2012 , talent from across COFAC burst onto the stage in NFAC 221 to present a vaudeville show that accompanied the screening of The Thief of Bagdad, Douglas Fairbanks 1924 Arabian nights’ extravaganza. It was designed to show the students in Comm 362, American Silent Film, what it might have been like to attend a movie at a picture palace in a big city during the 1920s. A night at the movies in Chicago or New York or Minneapolis often included a stage show whose acts might, or might not, have had any thematic relationship to the film on the marquee. Prof. Jeannie Hill’s students danced the shim, sham, shimmy, retired Communication professor Jim Moe crooned “The Way You Look Tonight” accompanied on the piano by Lt. Col. Eric Beuerman (Professor of Military Science). Professor and cellist Lawrence Leviton improvised to themes inspired by the middle east, and, one of his students, Jacob Weissman, played the ukelele and sang.
After these wonderful performances, the movie played. It added to the spectacular qualities of the live acts as the athletic Fairbanks leaped and somersaulted , fought with dragons and evil humans, and finally, of course, won the hand of the princess because he had learned the lesson of the story that “Happiness must be earned.” Thief of Bagdad was richly tinted in shades of red and yellow and blue to reinforce scenes set in caves and in the night sky. A full orchestra played on the movie’s sound track.
Here is what one student wrote afterward, “I found The Thief of Badgad a privilege to watch. All of the elements attribduted to the experience—onscreen and live—... One global theme that was apparent, however, is communication absent actual speech. Though we talked and laughed and saw dialogue onscreen during the film, I was moved the most by the music, dance, body language and visual awe of the performances with the film.” Another student wrote of Prof. Leviton’s performance that, “I’m certainly not a music aficionado but something about that performance really moved me. I sat motionless with my eyes closed absorbing it all, letting my thoughts just drift along the currents of the music.” Jumpin Johnnie and his Ragtime Babies, the name the dancers gave their act, “put on quite a show; they were great and the dancing definitely brought me back to the mindset of being in the 1920s.” Jacob Weissman who played ukulele simply “nailed it.”