It was not a typical night at the movies during San Diego Symphony’s presentation of “The Mark of Zorro.” Playing for one show only at Copley Symphony Hall, the silent film was accompanied by the terrific organist, Russ Peck.
Before the feature, Peck won crowd approval with a lively musical opening on the 1920’s “Fox Theatre” pipe organ. Immediately after, he gave a short introduction telling the audience to applaud whenever Douglas Fairbanks appears as Zorro and hiss if any of the multiple villains are on screen.
Peck concluded on a somber note by dedicating the performance to his late mother, who died only a few weeks ago. He lightened the mood by noting that if his mom were in the audience she’d say, “Stop talking so much! Just play.”
“Zorro” commenced with several scenes building up to the appearance of the caped crusader. When Fairbanks is first seen wearing the well-known mask, the energy level in Symphony Hall rose along with the accompanying organ.
Similar to most superheroes, Zorro is the alter ego of a man who appears to be an average person, the sometimes mischievous but mostly boring Don Diego de la Vega. Evil goons do not realize Vega is Zorro, as most of the first half of the film relies on comedic moments in which Zorro successfully clashes with bad guys, while Vega has to deal with attempts to woo Lolita Pulido (Marguerite De La Motte), a woman his father wants him to marry.
In the early sequences, Fairbanks has the same kind of charismatic presence that would be replicated almost a century later by “The Artist’s” Jean Dujardin. Dujardin did thank Fairbanks in his Oscar speech, and there are some parallels to the recent Academy Award-winning Best Picture.
After a brief intermission, it was time for Fairbanks to display the gutsy chances he took as an adventure star. In his introduction, Peck stated that Fairbanks did all of his own stunts throughout the action. As the big finale came, Fairbanks took part in life-threatening stunts such as jumping from rooftop to rooftop and tackling a henchman off of his horse. This is when people cheered for Zorro the most. Though history has shown Fairbanks got through these stunts in one piece, he sure had chutzpah to take such crazy risks.
Act 2 was also when Peck’s organ skills added the most to the overall experience. The score got faster and more intense when the climax was projected. The music became like an actual blockbuster score, with the live sound adding tension to “Zorro’s” perilous sequences.
When “Zorro” concluded, everybody cheered for quite some time, and Peck remained in the Hall for a Q-and-A session. Many attendees stayed to hear him speak, as a conclusion to the mesmerizing evening.
Peck and Fairbanks delivered an unforgettable cultural event for all. It will be exciting to see what flick Peck performs with next at Symphony Hall.
Information for “The Mark of Zorro” can be found at sandiegosymphony.org.