La Jolla Cinema League (LJCM), a silent film club with about 20 members, was an amateur group with professional standards that produced entertaining melodramatic silent films from 1926-1928.
League members wrote their own screenplays, ran the cameras, and experimented with shooting angles and lighting. They developed the films themselves with their own lab equipment and utilized some sophisticated editing techniques. La Jolla gentlemen of the LJCL operated the cameras while La Jolla women of the club directed.
One member was cameraman Val Adams, an adept professional photographer who did all the editing, and his wife, Betty, who co-starred in many of the films. Some of the local sights in the films included Casa de Mañana, The Valencia Hotel, La Jolla Cove and Park, and local cottages.
The films also had interesting names such as “Uninvited Guests,” “Consuello,” “Avarice,” and “Blood for Bonds.”
According to Beverley Hjermstad, the daughter of Val and Betty Adams, she and her two siblings used to watch the films when they were youngsters growing up in La Jolla.
Now 80, Hjermstad said it was “a blast watching my parents in the films and seeing them when they were in their 20s.”
“My dad was a really bad actor, but he sure was good looking,” she said. “My mother was very beautiful and she was good even though she never had any formal training as an actress. They were wonderfully featured in the films … acting their hearts out.
“The fact that they had many of the local La Jollians in the films must have been such a rush for them. Dad was able to film the people coming into their first showing and then process the film and show it at the end of that evening. They must have loved seeing themselves on the big screen.”
Hjermstad said her dad owned a photography studio in La Jolla for years, but it closed during the Great Depression.
“For my dad, I think this was a technical challenge,” she said. “He was very clever and imaginative. It's a shame that he wasn't living in this era of technology, he would have loved computers,” she said.
How LJCL started
Scott Paulson, exhibits and events coordinator for the UC San Diego Library, said he first heard of LJCL in 2002, when he was asked to perform live music for some screenings of their films. The San Diego History Center, La Jolla Historical Society and the UC San Diego Library were given copies of the films by “the Adams girls,” he recalled.
“I was aware of LJCL and had seen some fragments of their films and had used the clips in some of my silent screenings. I was grateful when the San Diego Historical Society mounted their 2002 exhibition of ‘Filming San Diego: Hollywood's Backlot.’ At that exhibit, I was asked to perform live music as silent films rolled. It was because of that exhibit that I saw the full collection of La Jolla Cinema League films.”
Paulson said good acting from visiting family and residents was greatly benefited by sets featuring beautiful gardens and homes of the time.
“Familiar landscapes and landmarks in these movies will surprise you: a handsome early campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, elegant newly built Irving Gill architecture, ocean vistas and a delightfully unchanged biological grade,” he said.
This was not an inexpensive hobby, so the beautiful cars, fashions, jewels and homes of league members seen in these films should not come as a surprise. What might surprise you is the sum of LJCL’s efforts added up to some fine films that hold up well for today's viewers, with many layers to appreciate, he added.
Even the title cards (which they printed themselves) look good, Paulson said. The league’s work ethic and wit was best summed up with this well-reported feat: “at a 1928 screening at La Jolla's American Legion Hall, the League filmed the audience as they entered for seating — and while that audience watched a 75-minute feature, the Cinema League scurried to develop the filmed arrival in a make-shift lab on-site, resulting in a startling encore starring: the surprised audience.”
Besides the cameraman, mother-in-law [and Hjermstad’s grandmother] Mrs. Berger was the matriarch of the group and the director of films, while neighbor Ivan Rice served as the LJCL businessman (or CEO) and was often cast as the villain, Paulson said.
Paulson said even though the amateur film group was only together a few years, it leaves a wonderful legacy for generations to come. It disbanded possibly after “talkies” came on the scene and/or during the stock market crash.
“Their professionalism and love of filmmaking leaves them, and their body of work, with a legacy of ‘independent filmmaking’ status,” he said. “Their work relates to La Jolla as a lively and engaging historical document — I feel it helped encourage La Jolla tourism, as their films were available to be shown in the many towns and states that had active [Amateur Cinema League] membership.”
The LJCL’s work will be featured throughout the summer at La Jolla’s Wisteria Cottage at the current History in Motion exhibition.