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Museum to Show Silent Films Reviewed by Sandburg During His Time in Elmhurst

He wasn't just a poet and author; Carl Sandburg was a film critic. Check out the movies he reviewed at Elmhurst Public Library beginning this week.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is one of four silent films reviewed by Carl Sandburg in the 1920s. Elmhurst Historical Museum is screening this and three others at Elmhurst Public Library. (Photo courtesy of Elmhurst Historical Museum)
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is one of four silent films reviewed by Carl Sandburg in the 1920s. Elmhurst Historical Museum is screening this and three others at Elmhurst Public Library. (Photo courtesy of Elmhurst Historical Museum)

Source: Elmhurst Historical Museum

Most people think of Carl Sandburg as a poet, author or maybe even a folk singer. But there’s another hat the multi-talented Sandburg wore that may not be so quickly attributed to the Prairie Poet: film critic. 

In 1920, the emerging genre was on the verge of capturing the fascination of the American people. Sandburg had just moved to Elmhurst, and he landed a gig at the Chicago Daily News as the paper’s motion picture editor.

Sandburg reviewed every type of movie that came out at the time: adaptations of famous books, historical films, comedies, romances and more. He lauded the importance of the new genre, whose merits were often questioned by the establishment. He warned those who dismissed film as unworthy of serious consideration that they would be left behind. Sandburg even speculated about the future of movies, and imagined how moviegoers might someday “receive glasses at the door, for looking at motion picture plays presented in three dimensions.”

Elmhurst Historical Museum will present a four-part series of silent films reviewed by Sandburg during this time. The series begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Elmhurst Public Library, 125 S. Prospect Ave. One film will be screened each month, through April 10. Reservations are requested and can be made online or by calling (630) 279-8696. All programs are free.

The Sandburg Silent Film Series will be moderated by Robert K. Elder, author and Chicago Sun-Times Media Local editor-in-chief. Studs Terkel called Elder “a journalist in the noblest tradition,” and his latest book, The Best Film You’ve Never Seen, was praised by film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote: “How necessary this book is! And how well-judged and written!” Elder’s work has appeared in numerous national newspapers and web sites including MSNBC.com and Salon.com.

Here's the schedule for the Sandburg Silent Film Series:

Jan. 16: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920. Horror. 71 minutes)

Considered one of the best horror movies of the silent film era, the sinister Dr. Caligari is a “mad doctor” who, along with his sleepwalking companion, is accused of murder. Sandburg’s review: “Here is one Shakespeare would enjoy coming back to look at.”

Feb: 13: The Extra Girl (1920. Romantic comedy. 68 minutes)

The charming Mabel Normand stars as a small-town girl who receives a Hollywood studio contract by mistake. Sandburg’s review: “No other woman in the movies has so vivid a feeling for the comic mixed with a serious and striking personal loveliness.”

March 13: Sherlock, Jr. (1924. Comedy. 45 minutes)

A film projectionist and amateur detective (Buster Keaton) is framed for theft, and dreams he solves the crime. Sandburg’s review: “The picture is worth seeing just because it has several spots that are original; they had no idea what the public wanted; they put these spots in just to be artists.”

April 10: The Kid (1921. Dramatic comedy. 68 minutes.) 

In Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film, the Little Tramp finds an abandoned infant and for five years raises him to be his partner in petty crime. Sandburg’s review:The Kid is a masterpiece and should satisfy those who want to knock down and drag out or something the whole family will enjoy.”

These programs are made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. The series is presented in conjunction with the Elmhurst Historical Museum’s current exhibit, Carl Sandburg in Elmhurst, which is open through April 20, at 120 E. Park Ave. The museum is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free. 

For more information and a complete listing of additional programs planned throughout the exhibit’s run, visit www.elmhursthistory.org or call the Elmhurst Historical Museum at 630-833-1457.

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