by Diane VanDyke
Montgomery County Community College will present the 23nd annual Betzwood Silent Film Festival featuring Western films on Saturday, May 14 at 8 p.m. in the Science Center Theater, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. General admission is $10. For information and tickets, visit www.mc3.edu/livelyarts or call 215-641-6518.
This year’s program will feature cowboy Louis Bennison in his 1919 feature film, “High Pockets.” In this film, the baddest of bad guys, Max Mannon, meets his match when “High Pockets” Henderson comes to town. Some old-fashioned detective work and a ghost or two gives Max exactly what he deserves for his heinous behavior. The evening’s program also includes two early westerns starring the infamous Betzwood cowboy, Edgar Jones.
The historic films will be presented as they would have been seen originally—on a large screen with live organ accompaniment by Don Kinnier. Professor Joe Eckhardt will offer his insights on the films, including the tale of cowboy star, Louis Bennison, and his meteoric and ultimately tragic career.
The Betzwood Motion Picture Studio operated in Montgomery County from 1912-1923. Founded by film pioneer Siegmund Lubin of Philadelphia, more than 110 films were made at the 350-acre studio, which was one of the largest film production facilities in the world at the time and was equipped with an advanced film processing plant.
In 2003 a commemorative sign was placed along the bike trail near the Betzwood Bridge in Valley Forge Park marking the two remaining buildings that were part of the original Betzwood studio. The marker was co-sponsored by Montgomery County Community College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
To date, only 29 Betzwood films have been located and are housed in archives in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.
The College established the Betzwood Film Archive in 1989. The Archive contains 19 copies of 16mm Betzwood films and video copies of three other film fragments, in addition to original photos, pieces of advertising, magazine articles, and pieces of movie sets.
When renovations to the Brendlinger Library, currently underway, are completed and the new and expanded archive area is ready for use, remaining artifacts from the Betzwood Studio will be transferred from private ownership into the Betzwood Film Archive at the College.
History Professor Joseph Eckhardt, who recently retired from the College, is the nation’s leading Betzwood scholar. He is the author of Lubin’s biography, The King of the Movies: Film Pioneer Siegmund Lubin. Eckhardt and the College’s Betzwood Archive were featured in a 2009 episode of PBS’ “History Detectives.”