Revisiting the Classics: Our Hospitality

  • Saturday, November 4, 2023 / 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM (PDT)
  • Pollock Theater
  • Screening Format: Sony 4K digital projection (74 minutes)
  • With Michael Mortilla (pianist)
  • Director: Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone
    Starring: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, and Natalie Talmadge

The Carsey-Wolf Center is delighted to present a special centennial screening of the 1923 Buster Keaton slapstick classic Our Hospitality, featuring live piano accompaniment by pianist and composer Michael Mortilla. The story centers around Willie McKay (Buster Keaton), a young man from New York who inherits his family’s estate in the rural South. Before he departs to claim the property, Willie learns that his family has been embroiled in a bitter, generations-long feud with the rival Canfield family. Keaton’s satirical send-up of the real-life Hatfield–McCoy feud follows. Willie navigates the comedic intricacies of the feud and develops a romance with Virginia (Natalie Talmadge), a member of the Canfield family. The film features daring rescues, a runaway train sequence, and the inventive gags and stunts that have made Buster Keaton an icon across generations.

After the screening, Michael Mortilla joined Charles Wolfe (Film and Media Studies, UCSB) for a discussion of the art of providing live accompaniment for a silent film.


A headshot of pianist Michael Mortilla. The image depicts a man leaning over an open grand piano with his head on his hands. He is smiling and looking thoughtfully towards the camera. He wears a black blazer and a blue button up shirt

Pianist and composer Michael Mortilla

Michael Mortilla is a distinguished freelance composer whose career spans five decades. Notable achievements include performing as a piano soloist with the Chicago Symphony, composing for the 1996 Olympic Games, and pioneering the first-ever broadcast of a sound-enhanced film over the internet (AFI/The Rink, 1997). He has garnered commissions from institutions such as the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the National Archives, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Getty Museum, the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), Turner Classic Movies, the National Film Foundation, and many others. Mortilla served as resident composer and faculty member at UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance from 1986 to 2000, as well as guest lecturing at CalArts on music and sound design for film and animation. His musical contributions have graced venues including the Lincoln Center, the White House, the Symphony Hall in Chicago, and LACMA, where he delivered a solo, improvised performance spanning nearly nine hours accompanying five German Expressionist films in a continuous loop. As a curator and creator, Michael Mortilla continues to live and work in Los Angeles, leaving an indelible mark on the world of composition and sound design.

This is a headshot of professor Charles Wolfe. The image depicts a man with glasses, and blue blazer, and a pin stripe blue button up shirt. He is smiling towards the camera, posed in front of a set of doors.

Moderator Charles Wolfe (Film and Media Studies, UCSB)

Charles Wolfe is the author of two books on the films of director Frank Capra and has published widely on the history of commercial, independent, and documentary filmmaking in the US. He is co-editor of the AFI’s Film Reader Series, which has published 41 volumes of new critical essays on topics in film, television, and digital media studies.

He chaired the Department of Film and Media Studies from 1994 to 1998, and he served as Associate Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts at UCSB from 2003 to 2008. A member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies from 2006 to 2009, Wolfe has also served on the advisory or editorial boards of Quarterly Review of Film and VideoCinema Journal, and Studies in Documentary Film.

 This event is sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center.

CWC Presents: Revisiting the Classics

What happens when a film becomes a “classic”? The Carsey-Wolf Center’s 2023-24 feature series Revisiting the Classics engages creatively and critically with our filmic past, approaching it with fresh eyes and novel interpretive lenses. Not simply a celebration of the “great works,” Revisiting the Classics will consider how classic texts have shaped the work of contemporary filmmakers, how complicated questions of politics and aesthetics emerge through practices of adaptation and interpretation, and how the changing landscape of film distribution, archiving, preservation, and critique affects the formation of canon and the making of new “classics.”