Suppose you lived in Athens in 1926 and wanted to see a movie you’d seen advertised in the Feb. 18, 1926 Athens Weekly Review as showing at the Dixie Theater.
This was “The Lost World” so once you paid your 25 or 50 cents admission and entered the theater – what would it be like?
Once you’ve taken your seat a few minutes later the film began to flicker across the screen – films at the time were sometimes called “flickers” – and settle in to watch the show. And watch was the only thing you could do because films at the time were silent.
Well, not entirely. That’s because probably at the Dixie Theater there was an upright piano below the screen off to the side where a lady played accompanying music to match what happened on the screen. However, you might have heard of some theaters that used not just a piano but maybe had an organ – or a violinist or a trumpeter. Why, some really big theaters in the city sometimes had a full orchestra!
Then as the film continued you probably enjoyed the elaborate and – by 21st century standards – over dramatic reactions and responses of the actors. Today, we’d call it “overacting.” However, this was the standard procedure at the time since you could only follow the story by what the actors did – certainly not what they said. Then occasionally there’d appear on the screen a dialogue or explanation slide that was designed to help you keep track of the story. You probably didn’t see another advantage to the slides but the movie makers certainly did. Someone in another culture could enjoy the same picture you saw but the slides would have been translated into the local language.
However as the film continues and the events unfold revealing the plot. So what was the story?
The Lost World was a 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and had been very popular since its publication. And according to that display ad in the Feb. 18, 1926 Athens Weekly Review “The Lost World,” set for showing on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 22 and 23, promised to be “A most astounding tale of adventure.” It was described as “science fiction” but at the time that could mean a story set in some mysterious unexplored area of earth — in this case the Amazon basin in South America.
The ad writer gave details: “Found! The lost world, a world peopled by primitive man – by gigantic dinosaurs ranging in size from six to 15 elephants, flying reptiles as big as aeroplanes [sic],, you will see them on the screen just as they are in flesh and blood.”
Besides the display ad the movie was also the subject of an adjacent “article” which was probably provided by the movie company. For the Review here the article was headlined: “’Lost World’ Said to be ‘Greatest Ever’” then went on: “Rip Van Winkle’s famous beauty nap wasn’t even a wink of sleep compared to the snooze that Old Dad Time treats himself to in “The Lost World” which comes to the Dixie Theater …” It continued: “A party of screen adventurers, including Bessie Love, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone and Lloyd Hughes, discover this land that Time forgot. They find strange and fearsome preristoric [sic] dinosaurs of the Reptilian Age still alive...”
The story began when a young woman, daughter of a lost explorer, brings her father’s journal to London to show it to the “eccentric” Professor George Challenger. Eventually he travels to South America, accompanied by the daughter, a reporter, a wealthy sportsman and others. “I shall prove to the variest [sic] skeptic that these prehistoric monsters still exist in the lost world of the Amazons!” The ad quotes Professor Challenger.
Upon arrival in South America they do find live and dangerous dinosaurs as well as native peoples, and also the remains of the explorer. Finally Challenger’s party returns to London with a dinosaur but when the creature is mishandled during unloading it ends up swimming up the Thames to apparently disappear. Then there was the prerequisite happy ending when the explorer’s daughter and the sportsman fall in love.
A fitting culmination of an adventurous film.