Arts & Culture Event Notices

Film Nights Celebrate Scollay Square and Silent Movie Era

The West End Museum presents two film nights to complement its current exhibit, “The Old Howard Theatre.” The exhibit of photographs, artifacts, and graphic panels runs through February 15, 2020.

Scollay Square: Boston’s Bygone Playground
January 9, 2020 at 7 p.m.; $10 / Free to Museum Members; Pre-registration required by phone at 617-723-2125.

Scollay Square served as Boston’s premier entertainment center for nearly 120 years until its demolition under urban renewal in 1962, later to be reborn as Government Center. Opera and theater gave way to vaudeville and minstrel shows, then burlesque and, ultimately, striptease. Boston the Way it Was, a two-part documentary produced by WGBH in 1995, features interviews with Bostonians sharing their favorite memories of Joe & Nemo’s famed hot dogs, “burly” shows featuring “the queen of Scollay Square” Ann Corio, outwitting surprise visits from the “Watch and Ward Society,” and more.

“Scollay Square has served as the setting for a scandalous novel, a magical tale about rats, a video game and more. Hearing and watching Bostonians’ real-life memories of the infamous district provides a fascinating window on the city’s not-so-distant past,” said West End Museum Program Director Sebastian Belfanti.

Silent Movie Night
January 23, 2020 at 7 p.m.; $10 / Free to Museum Members; Pre-registration required by phone at 617-723-2125.

America’s first action film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), introduced new filming and editing techniques in the U.S. Fights of Nations (1907) depicts highly stereotyped versions of how Mexicans, Irish, Scotts, and others behave in disputes and seemingly how all come together peacefully in America. Viewers continue to debate if the short film is rooted in comedy or xenophobia. In A Natural Born Gambler (1916), Bert Williams’ performance reflects the comedic stylings of the early 1900s and signifies the rise of stage stars becoming movie stars. A prominent entertainer and celebrated African American comedian, Williams was seen as irreplaceable by Florenz Ziegfeld of the iconic Ziegfeld Follies.

“These movies would have played at the Howard during a highly transitional period in entertainment. Some featured variety show stars shifting to the new medium, while others hinted at the future of film,” Belfanti said.