Screening of Silent Films Flesh and Spirit, Her Fractured Voice, and His Neglected Wife

Truth Eldridge (Belle Bennett) haunts Donald Wallace (Walter Ringham), a logical scientist who fiercely rejects any notion of spirituality or religion.

For Immediate Release
October 1, 2012

KING’S COLLEGE STUDENTS PARTNER WITH THE LUZERNE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO HOST SCREENING OF SILENT FILMS MADE IN WILKES-BARRE AREA

Wilkes-Barre community invited to celebrate the area’s history in true 1920s style.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—The roaring twenties are back in style again. Students in the King’s College professional writing program, in collaboration with the Luzerne County Historical Society, today announced plans to host a screening of two silent films made in the Wilkes-Barre area, “Flesh and Spirit” and “Her Fractured Voice,” on Friday, October 26 at 6:00 pm in Burke Auditorium on the King’s Campus.

The event invites community members to return to a movie palace of the “Roaring 20’s.” Guests of all ages are encouraged to arrive in 1920s attire for a costume contest. Admission is free, and complimentary refreshments from the era will be served during the evening. Live musical accompaniment for the films will be provided by Dos Noisemakers.

“Flesh and Spirit” (72 minutes). Directed by Joseph Levering in 1922,“Flesh and Spirit” is a ghost story that features innovative stop-action and double exposure techniques to depict ghostly hauntings. The film features actress Belle Bennett, who later became a Hollywood silent film star in “Stella Dallas.” Bennett plays the sweet, faith-filled, ingénue Truth Eldridge, who is killed in a laboratory accident and returns as a ghost. Also in the cast is Broadway actor Walter Ringham as Donald Wallace, a logical scientist who fiercely rejects any notion of spirituality or religion. Luzerne County Historical Society is one of only a few archives holding copies of this rare silent film.

“Her Fractured Voice” (16 minutes). A locally produced “Black Diamond Comedy” starring Leatrice Joy, who would later star in a number of Hollywood silent films as a flapper, this one-reel comedy features Susie, the “dimpled darling of the dairy,” as an ambitious, untalented singer whose honor is endangered by the attentions of a slick city boarder until a faithful farmhand saves her. Filmed in the Wyoming Valley area, the film offers a glimpse of the old Wilkes-Barre city square.

The students planning the screening are currently participating in a course entitled Writing for New Media with Dr. Noreen O’Connor. The students—Tyler Biscontini, Christopher Cozzilio, James Donnelly, Carmella Gubbioti, Dale Lockhart, Kellie LoGrande, Ashley Mayberry, Ashley Panko, Shannon Rowan, Sarah Scinto, and Robert Vornlocker—have worked with the Luzerne County Historical Society to research and write a Wikipedia entry for the United States Motion Picture Corp, have created a blog called “blackdiamondcomedies.org,” and are promoting the film screening on social media.

Lockhart, a student from Northern Ireland studying at King’s this year through an exchange program, has seen Wilkes-Barre with fresh eyes through the project. “It is interesting to think that Wilkes-Barre was once the equivalent of Hollywood. Some locals may not even know what their city once was,” he said.

The event is supported by a Community-Based Faculty Research Grant that O’Connor received from the Shoval Center for Community Engagement and Learning at King’s College. William Bolan, director of the Shoval Center, said the office is proud to sponsor the research and screening. “Silent films are a forgotten part of this area’s cultural heritage, and we are very pleased to help keep them alive,” he said. “Kudos to Dr. O’Connor, her students, and the LCHS for the work they are doing and for making this public showing a reality.”

“Wilkes-Barre has a colorful and diverse history with many people taking great pride in its colonial and industrial past,” said Tony Brooks, director of the Luzerne County Historical Society.  “Few people also know that Wilkes-Barre had a vibrant film industry.  Between Lyman Howe’s traveling exhibitions of ‘high-class moving pictures’ to the United States Motion Picture Corporation’s ‘Black Diamond Comedies,”’Wilkes-Barre earned its place in the early years of the silent movie craze.”

The Luzerne County Historical Society holds a rare safety film print of “Flesh and Spirit” as well as a DVD of the film. However, O’Connor and Brooks hope that the event will help the society gather more information about the early film industry in this area. “Though the USMPC applied for copyrights for over 50 films, so far in my research I have only been able to locate a few prints. These have been located  in film archives in places as disparate as the Library Congress, the Eastman House, the University of California, Los Angeles, and even New Zealand,” said O’Connor. “I am hopeful that more prints of these films exist and that they can be restored and collected in digital copies at the Luzerne County Historical Archives.”

 About the United States Motion Picture Corporation
The United States Motion Picture Corporation, established in 1915, and had a studio in Forty Fort near the corner of Slocum Street and Wyoming Avenue. The company made a number of successful one-reel “Black Diamond Comedies” in 1916 and 1917, which were distributed by Paramount Pictures.

About the Shoval Center
Dedicated to continuing the social mission of King’s College, the Shoval Center faciliates teaching, research, and volunteer opportunities that advance the needs of the community and the educational mission of King’s College.

About the Luzerne County Historical Society
Established in May 1858, LCHS serves a memory bank for the area, maintaining a collection of documents and information on the history of Luzerne County. Their mission is to preserve and promote the collective history and heritage of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

About the King’s College Professional Writing Program
The Professional Writing Program, in the King’s College Department of English, encourages students to engage in a variety of theoretical and “real-life” writing experiences, preparing them for a wide range of writing tasks in the professional world.

Event details

  • Screening of Wilkes-Barre silent films “Her Fractured Voice” (1917) and “Flesh and Spirit” (1922)
  • Live musical accompaniment by Dos Noisemakers
  • Friday, October 26 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Burke Auditorium at King’s College
  • Commentary by Tony Brooks of the Luzerne County Historical Society
  • Admission is free; all ages welcome
  • 1920s costume contest and reception after the film showing

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