‘The Son of the Sheik’ brings silence fascination to Ebertfest

By Earn Saenmuk

It wasn’t my first time at Ebertfest, but this time, I went into The Virginia Theatre nervous, wondering what it would be like to watch a silent film.

“The Son of the Sheik” is the first silent film I have ever seen, but it is also the only film created before 1980 that I’ve ever seen, as it was released in 1926. The film stars Rudolph Valentino as Ahmed, the son of the Sheik, Vilma Banky as Yasmin, a dancer whose father is a leader of the thieves.

I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to follow the story because there was no sound, but it was nothing that I should have been worried about.

There are so many good things about this film. First of all, the chemistry between Valentino and Banky in the film was amazing. Their acting was also exceptional; it was easy to understand what they were thinking or talking about without hearing the conversation. Occasionally, there were explanations in words to help understand the film better.

Although “The Son of the Sheik” was a silent film, Alloy Orchestra, an ensemble of three people, performed live in accompaniment with the film. The ensemble has been playing accompany to many classic silent films since 1991.

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The film is based on a love story between Ahmed and Yasmin. It kept the audience entertained the whole time, and with the help of live music accompaniment, the film was fascinating. It took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotion; love, hate, revenge and even humor were injected in the film.

“The Son of the Sheik” was great in terms of special effects as well. Although the film itself was black and white, different scenes were tinted to represent different moods. For example, blue is nighttime, while brown or warmer color is daytime. The several knife-throwing and fighting scenes were very well done for the 1920s.

As a ‘90s kid, I found some of the movie’s lines really funny. The rest of the audience seemed to agree, since most people were laughing as well. Although some parts of the film, as Ken Winokur, director of Alloy Orchestra, said were not intended to be funny,

The costumes for every character are very well designed. A dancing girl’s clothes are fancy, and the son of the Sheik’s clothes reflect his higher social status well.

“(Valentino) helped bring to fashion men wearing wristwatches,” Winokur said. “Apparently, he traveled and spent thousands and thousands of dollars on his own wardrobe.”

The Library of Congress selected “The Son of the Sheik” for preservation on National Film Registry in 2003.

Earn is a senior in Media.

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