“The films weren’t considered valuable in the day,” Mortilla said. “They would take film and burn it because it was made of silver nitrate, and when it burned away, they would retrieve the silver because it had value. The films didn’t.”
These facts and stories about the actors of the silent era will be revealed by Mortilla when he performs keyboard accompaniment for the screening of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” starring Buster Keaton at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Burbank Central Library.
Mortilla accompanies silent film screenings throughout the nation. What makes his performances different from others is he composes the music during each performance, he said.
“I never know what I’m going to play before I sit down at the piano,” Mortilla said.
He has always wanted to bring a program to Burbank and finally approached library assistant Louise Paziak with the idea, Paziak said.
“I went to a screening of a Mary Pickford film at the Alex Theatre several months ago and I found there was quite a bit of interest in silent films,” she said. “They are also universally accessible.”
Paziak has never seen “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” but she said she’s looking forward to it.
Other people must be too, she added, because the fliers promoting the show have disappeared.
Mortilla believes more than 100,000 films still exist, but that represents only about 10% to 13% of silent films ever made. He’s seen scripts and still photographs of films that have become lost, he said.