"Silent films have needed the voice of a strong advocate since at least the early decades of the last century when 'talkies' first started pushing them toward obscurity. Perhaps if Eugene film historian, author, biographer, and film fanatic Lon Davis had been born in Hollywood during that transitional era, the legacy of silent films wouldn't have grown so pale in the glare of more modern cinema.
"Davis recently launched his ninth consecutive season of monthly silent movie presentations for residents of the Willamette Oaks senior center, where 'the audiences are the most marvelous people,' he says. 'They are educated about, and know and love, silent films.'
"This past October, Davis wrapped up a successful triple bill of public screenings at Willamette Oaks, spotlighting a trio of subjects on his list of all-time favorite movie topics. He launched his series with a program called 'King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushmann[sic]'--not so coincidentally, also the title of his (and wife Debra's) most recent book. The other programs covered the life of escape artist and movie producer/director/actor Harry Houdini, and the making of the Buster Keaton silent action/comedy classic about a Civil War troop train, The General, filmed in Cottage Grove.
"Davis says there are now dozens of sensational silent films on DVD, and he offers plenty of recommendations--especially for folks new to the silent era: Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: 'I don't think anybody can beat the masters of comedy.' Director D. W. Griffith: 'Tremendous dramas!" Rudolf Valentino: 'Fascinating!' The Gish sisters and Marian Davies: 'Wonderful!' John Barrymore: 'A stunning actor!' Lon Chaney (after whom Davis was named): 'A genius. Probably the greatest actor ever!'
"'Because of the imagination it takes to watch silent films,' says Davis, 'you have to give twice as much concentration. But the more you invest in something, the more you get out of it.' If there is a movie buff anywhere who understands this investment, and the life-long passion that can grow out of a young boy's fascination with silent film, it would be Davis.
"'Film is in my blood--I could thread a movie projector in my sleep,' jokes Davis. 'And I often have done just that!'"