Dennis James plays
Last night I saw an exciting art form that I never knew existed before. My wife and I went to the Ponca Theatre, a movie theatre in Ponca City that was constructed in 1923 during the silent movie era when vaudville was still at its height and we watched the silent movie "Tumbleweeds" starring William S. Hart. The movie is an epic Western that depicts the opening of the Cherokee Strip and the land rush in 1893 that resulted in the opening of 120,000 square miles to homesteaders and the founding of Ponca City.
I was astonished. I had never seen a silent movie on the big screen before and certainly never with live music. Dennis James, a silent film musician, played the accompaniment to the movie and it was terrific.
I expanded the Wikipedia entry for "Tumbleweeds" and I expanded the Wikipedia entry for Dennis James and added two of my photos. This is what Dennis James Wikipedia entry looked like before I made the changes to it and here is what it looks like now.
Tumbleweeds (1925 film)
Tumbleweeds is a 1925 film produced, co-directed and starred by William S. Hart that depicts the Cherokee Strip land rush of 1893.
In the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma during the 1880's and early 1890's, the government lands that were leased to cattlemen were opened to settlement by homesteaders. To allow a fair chance for everyone, the prospective homesteaders were required to register and registrants were prohibited from entering into the Strip before the appointed time. Those who tried to get there beforehand were called Sooners, hence the nickname of Oklahoma as the Sooner State. When the cannon shot signaled the start of the land rush, the race was on as a hundred thousand men and women tried to stake their claims.
The movie features cowboy Don Carver (Hart) as a "tumbleweed" (i.e., a drifter) that decides to settle down after falling in love with Molly Lassiter (played by Barbara Bedford). Carver decides to get in on the Cherokee Strip land rush but when he's arrested and parted from his new love, he's in danger of missing the big race.
The climax called the "biggest stampede in American history" features the some of the most spectacular Western action scenes ever filmed.
William S. Hart
William S. Hart was a successful Shakespearian actor on Broadway who had worked with Margaret Mather and other stars, William S. Hart went on to become one of the first great stars of the motion picture western. Hart appeared in original 1899 stage production of Ben Hur. Hart entered films in 1914 where, after playing supporting roles in two short films, he achieved stardom as the lead in the feature, The Bargain.
Hart was particularly interested in making realistic western films. His films are noted for their authentic costumes and props, as well as Hart's extraordinary acting ability, honed on Shakespearian theatre stages in the US and England. In 1917, he accepted a lucrative offer from Adolph Zukor to join Famous Players-Laskey. In 1925, he starred in King Baggot's film Tumbleweeds which was his last and probably most famous for United Artists.
Hart loathed the contrivances and artificiality of typical Hollywood westerns. He insisted on stark realism, with sets that carefully evoked a vision of the West that Hart knew first hand from growing up. However, by 1925, the year of Tumbleweeds release, Hart was 60 years old. Tumbleweeds would be Hart's last movie. By this time, the epic Western was in vogue, so with his audiences disappearing, Hart conceded to the current fashion and created his own epic Western.
Caption: Silent Film organist Dennis James at the Ponca Theatre for his special commission of the 1925 Silent Film "Tumbleweeds" about the Cherokee Strip land rush as part of a celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Oklahoma statehood.
On September 14, 2007, Dennis James, a silent film musician who, according to Carl Bennett, has played "a pivotal role in the international revival of silent films presented with live music." performed the score to Tumbleweeds in a live performance at the Poncan Theater in Ponca City, Oklahoma as a special commission as part of a celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood.
Stephen Salmons, Artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival said of James: "Dennis James is a musician of tremendous artistic scope and range, and a scholar who strives to preserve and restore this unique 20th century musical practice. To witness a contemporary audience experience the beauty and power of silent film through the overwhelming symphonic dynamism that Dennis James unleashes with unerring skill on the theatre organ is an absolute revalation."
Photoplay Magazine said that "Bill Hart returns to the screen in a story laid in the time when the Indian territory was turned over to the homesteaders. the scene in which the prospective land owners, waiting for the cannon's boom which would send them racing in to stake their claims, furnished a brand new thrill...It is good entertainment." 
Set in Caldwell, Kansas on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, this movie is arguably the first to take place during the Land Run of 1889. Its depiction is said to have influenced Oscar-winning 1931 western Cimarron.
Take a look at my photos from the show.