The sound of silents

Jay Warren is one of the main men behind the organ at Chicago’s silent films

August 2, 2013

Yolanda Perdomo

(WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)
Dennis Wolkowicz has been accompanying silent films in the Chicago area for more than 30 years

The Chicago Silent Summer Film Festival is underway and showing cinematic classics.

Along with seeing stars like Rudolph Valentino, one of the pleasures of the show is watching organists including Jay Warren take a seat behind the huge theater organ.  Warren’s been performing the soundtrack to silent films for three decades in the Chicago region.

The festival, which runs every Friday through Aug. 23, has a new home this year at the Des Plaines Theatre. The organizers moved the festival after the new owner of the Portage Theater unexpectedly closed the doors.

Jay Warren is the stage name for Dennis Wolkowicz.

WARREN: The silent cinema appealed to me as a young boy. We discovered Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton and all the pies in the face and Keystone Cops, etc. One day I  happened to discover a full length film, Battleship Potemkin, and I realized this was anything but slapstick.

Warren said he got hooked on silent cinema by the power and the gravity of the subject matter.

WARREN: I think I initially became fascinated by the fact that this is something from another era, which was long before when I was around ...

To learn how Warren prepares to perform, and to listen to him play (including theme music for the bad guy!), check out the audio above.

Yolanda Perdomo is a host and producer at WBEZ. Follow her @yolandanews