Friday, June 14, 2024

Starting summer with three silent comedies: one Buster, one Harold, and one Marion Davies

Original promotional art for 'The Cameraman' (1928).

The official start of summer will arrive next week. Before we reach that seasonal milestone, I'll accompany three silent comedies at venues in three states. 

On Friday, June 14 (hey, that's tonight!) at 6 p.m., it's Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928) at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

Then on Sunday, June 16 at 2 p.m., it's Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

And then on Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m., it's Marion Davies and William Haines in 'Show People,' director King Vidor's sparkling comedy about the film business, which is at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Collect all three! 

For now, I'll post the press release for 'The Kid Brother' below so you can decide if Father's Day is a good time to screen this film.

Happy Father's Day weekend to all, and see you at the movies!

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Harold Lloyd stars in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2024 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall Theatre to screen 'The Kid Brother' on Sunday, June 16

Harold Lloyd's 1927 comedy masterpiece the latest in venue's series of silent films with live musical accompaniment

WILTON, N.H.—He was the most popular film star of the 1920s, routinely outpacing comic rivals Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton at the box office.

He was Harold Lloyd, the boy next door who could wind up hanging from the hands of a clock high atop a skyscraper. Audiences loved Lloyd's mix of visual comedy and thrilling adventures, making him one of the most recognized icons of early Hollywood.

See for yourself when 'The Kid Brother' (1927), a feature-length film regarded as Lloyd's masterpiece, is screened on Sunday, June 16 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; donations are accepted, with $10 per person suggested to defray expenses.

The screening, the latest in the venue's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.


In 'The Kid Brother,' meek country boy Harold Hickory (Lloyd) looks up to his tough father, but is overshadowed by two burly older brothers. When a traveling circus brings trouble to town and possible disgrace to the Hickory clan, can Harold save the family name?

From that simple situation, Lloyd weaves a roller coaster tale that critics and film historians say show him at the height of his powers as a filmmaker and comedian.

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd co-star in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

"The first silent film I ever saw that made me actually stand up and cheer," wrote critic Steven D. Greydanus of The Decent Films Guide. "As a first introduction to silent film, I would pick 'The Kid Brother' over the best of Chaplin or Keaton every time."

"Unlike Chaplin’s Little Tramp, who was as much defined by his bizarre eccentricities as his bowler and cane, Lloyd’s character, with his trademark spectacles, was an instantly likable, sympathetic boy-next-door type, a figure as winsome and approachable as Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks," Greydanus wrote.

The film co-stars Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Eddie Boland, and Constantine Romanoff.

Harold Lloyd, along with Chaplin and Keaton, stands as one of the three masters of silent comedy. Though Lloyd's reputation later faded due to unavailability of his movies, the recent re-release of most of his major films on home media has spurred a reawakening of interest in his work and a renewed interest in theatrical screenings.

"Seeing a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with live music and an audience is one of the great experiences of the cinema of any era," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who will accompany the film.

"Films such as 'The Kid Brother' were designed for a specific environment. If you can put those conditions together again, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'The Kid Brother' will be screened with live music on Sunday, June 16 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; donations are accepted, with $10 per person suggested to defray expenses. For more information, call the theater at (603) 654-3456.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Up next: 'Our Hospitality' (1923) on Wednesday, June 12 at Flying Monkey, Plymouth, N.H.

A lobby card for Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

Just back from a visit to Brandon, Vt. to accompany 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), and boy are my arms tired.

I know that sounds like a joke, but it isn't. I'm suffering from a pinched nerve, I think, which is causing issues with my right arm—specifically, the tendons in my right forearm and around the elbow .

It actually hurts to type this, and it hurt to accompany 'Thief,' which is 2½ hours long. I can try to take Advil to manage the pain, but let's just say I drove home with one hand last night.

The good news is that to address this, I need to visit my favorite healthcare professional: Dr. Bard, a chiropractor in Peterborough, N.H.

For personal health issues, I know it's up to me to take care of myself. When I have problems, I don't expect miracles. But that's what Dr. Bard delivers. 

He'll have me lay face down on his special adjustable chiropractic table, manipulate a few vertebrae, and then POW! 

Well, before that happens, I'll be accompanying another film: Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923), which is playing on Wednesday, June 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

If you're in the area, come see it. And bring some Advil in case I run short.

*   *   *

Buster Keaton and friend in 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2024 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton stars in 'Our Hospitality' on Wednesday, June 12 at Flying Monkey

Classic feature-length silent comedy to be screened on the big screen with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face."

But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s, and remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Our Hospitality' (1923), one of Keaton's landmark features, on Wednesday, JUne 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Original promotional ad for 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

Set in the 1830s, 'Our Hospitality,' tells the tale of a young man (Keaton) raised in New York City but unknowingly at the center of a long-running backwoods family feud.

Resolving to return and claim his family homestead, he sets in motion a perilous cat-and-mouse game in which every move could be his last.

Highlights of the picture include Keaton's extended journey on a vintage train of the era, as well as a climatic river rescue scene.

The film stars Keaton's then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, as his on-screen love interest; their first child, newborn James Talmadge Keaton, makes a cameo appearance, playing Buster as an infant. Keaton's father also plays a role in the film.

'Our Hospitality' is part of the Flying Monkey's silent film series, which aims to show early movies as they were meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score for 'Our Hospitality.'

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life," he said.

Buster Keaton and wife Natalie Talmadge in 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated with the then-new medium. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as one of the era's leading talents.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his entire body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era without special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

In 1923, Keaton made the leap into full-length films with 'Our Hospitality,' which proved popular enough for him to continue making features for the rest of the silent era.

Although not all of Keaton's films were box office successes, critics later expressed astonishment at the sudden leap Keaton made from short comedies to the complex story and technical demands required for full-length features.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will create a musical score for the film live during its screening, in the manner of theater organists during silent cinema's peak years in the 1920s.

"For most silent films, there was never any sheet music and no official score," Rapsis said. "So creating original music on the spot to help the film's impact is all part of the experience."

"That's one of the special qualities of silent cinema," Rapsis said. "Although the films themselves are often over a century old, each screening is a unique experience—a combination of the movie, the music, and the audience reaction."

‘Our Hospitality’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, June 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission is $10 per person. For more info, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551. 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Next up: 100th anniversary of Doug Fairbanks in 'Thief of Bagdad' on Saturday, 6/8 in Brandon, Vt

A promotional image for 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924).

First, a quick thank you to everyone who contributed to this site recently reaching the milestone of 1 million page views

I've been keeping this running log about my silent film accompaniment adventures for about 15 years now. It's been fun and I'll continue to do so.

It's mostly to get the word out about upcoming screenings, such as 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), which I'm accompanying on Saturday, June 8 in Brandon, Vt. (See below!)

But occasionally I share more in-depth thoughts about the craft of accompanying, the silent era, the films themselves, or other idiosyncratic topics.

It's an intermittent diary of sorts, a record that helps me remember and keep track of the experiences I've had so far. 

Next up is a biggie: Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Thief of Bagdad,' which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season. 

I hope you'll join me up in Brandon, Vt. on Saturday, June 8 for a screening of this timeless motion picture fantasy. More info in the press release below!

*     *     *

An original poster for 'The Thief of Bagdad; (1924)

Classic epic 'Thief of Bagdad' to screen Saturday, June 8 at Brandon Town Hall

Adventure/fantasy starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. presented with live music in celebration of film's 100th anniversary

BRANDON, Vt.—It ranks among the first Hollywood epics to show the full potential for movies to depict entire worlds of fantasy. It was also one of the top grossing films of 1924.

It was 'The Thief of Bagdad,' a celebrated triumph for actor/director Douglas Fairbanks that stands as one of greatest achievements of cinema's silent era.

It's a film filled with images of flying carpets, exotic cities, underwater palaces, winged horses, fire-breathing dragons, and more!

See if for yourself with live music on Saturday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. 

Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

This 100th anniversary screening of 'The Thief of Bagdad' will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

Douglas Fairbanks, star of 'The Thief of Bagdad,' was the Harrison Ford of his time—a pioneering action hero who was among the first to entertain movie audiences with thrilling adventures.

'The Thief of Bagdad' stands among his best work. It's a timeless fable on a grand scale, boasting a great story, spectacular sets, and magical special effects.

A bare-chested Fairbanks plays a crafty street-smart rogue who can easily steal anything his heart desires—except the love of a beautiful princess, daughter of the powerful Caliph of Bagdad.

To win her hand, he must not only change his ways, but also show his worthiness over many other highly placed suitors.

In making the film, Fairbanks spared no expense for what some critics still regard as the most lavish fantasy movie ever made, a show-stopping adaptation of the traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" Arabian legend. 

The result is an epic in which a flying carpet is just one of many eye-popping sights designed to astound movie audiences.
 
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in costume for 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924).

Fairbanks, swaggering through massive marketplace sets and cavernous throne rooms as an incorrigible pickpocket, scales towering walls (with the help of a magic rope) and leads merry chases through crowded bazaars in his pursuit of loot.

The jaunty opening is a preamble to the film's spectacular second half, in which the repentant thief embarks on an odyssey through caverns of fire, underwater palaces, and even outer space. 

Special effects range from a giant smoke-belching dragon to a magical flying horse, and still glow with a timeless sense of wonder from the early days of movies.

William Cameron Menzies's sets were among the largest ever created for a motion picture. Especially noteworthy is his design for a mythical Bagdad, a unique combination of Art Deco and Islamic elements—a dream city inspired by illustrations from story books.

Fairbanks, among the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). 

Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts. 

He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

A century after its premiere, 'The Thief of Bagdad' remains highly regarded. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Live music for 'The Thief of Bagdad' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

"Seeing a Fairbanks picture in a theater with live music and an audience is a classic movie experience," Rapsis said.

Rapsis emphasized the unique value of seeing early cinema as it was originally presented.

"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. If you put it all together again, you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

The screening of 'The Thief of Bagdad' is sponsored by Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Donna Malewicki, Jean and Harold Somerset, Donald and Dolories Furnari, Gary and Nancy Meffe, and Pam and Steve Douglass.
 
Other films in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, July 20, 2024, 7 p.m.: "The Cameraman" (1928) starring Buster Keaton. In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton tries to impress the gal of his dreams by working as a newsreel photographer. Can he get a break and get the girl? Classic visual comedy with Keaton at the peak of his creative powers; set in NYC and includes 1920s shots of Midtown Manhattan and the old Yankee Stadium.

• Saturday, Aug. 10, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino. Sweeping drama of a divided family with members caught up on opposites sides during World War I. Breakthrough film for Rudolph Valentino, introducing the sultry tango and launching him to stardom. The real deal! Shown both in honor of the 110th anniversary of World War I's outbreak and the anniversary of Valentino's untimely death in 1926.

• Saturday, Sept. 21, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Speedy" (1928) starring Harold Lloyd. Harold's final silent feature cis a tribute to New York City, baseball, and the idea that nice guys can indeed finish first, highlighted by one of the most exciting races to the finish in all silent cinema. Complete with an extended cameo from none other than Babe Ruth!

• Saturday, Oct. 19, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney put 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Just in time for Halloween!

• Saturday, Nov. 16, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Barbed Wire" (1927) starring Pola Negri, Clive Brook. During World War I, the French government commandeers a family farm for use as a camp for German POWs, setting the local population at each other. Intense drama about forbidden love and the human condition, with a special holiday twist.

See Douglas FairbanksSr.  in the 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) with live music on Saturday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For information, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opening night at Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine brings Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1926)

Buster Keaton and his locomotive costar in 'The General' (1926).

Never mind Memorial Day weekend—a real sign that summer is on its way is Opening Night of this year's silent film series at the historic Leavitt Theatre in downtown Ogunquit, Maine.

And yes, Opening Night is Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m., when I'll accompany Buster Keaton's classic Civil War adventure/comedy 'The General' (1926). Admission is $15 per person.

Please note the start time was moved to 6 p.m. due to the possibility of a Celtics playoff game that evening, which the Leavitt would have shown on its big screen. Although the Celtics swept the Pacers in four games, we're sticking with the earlier 6 p.m. show time.

I hope you'll join us for this and other screenings in this year's silent film series at the Leavitt, which is celebrating its 99th year entertaining vacationers and visitors to the Maine coast. 

The theater is a great venue for silent films because silent films are what it was originally built to show. And although the place has been transformed into a night spot with upscale food and drinks now available, the vintage one-screen theater remains virtually intact. 

Rows of original seats sport wire loops underneath so gentlemen may store their hats during the show!

It'll be my privilege to create music for Keaton's 'The General,' which many regard as his masterpiece, including Buster himself. Nearly 100 years after its release, the film continues to show up on lists of the Top 10 Films of any era.

If you're not familiar with Buster or his work, check out this press release about 'The General.' And hope to see you Wednesday night at the Leavitt!

*     *     *

Buster Keaton stars in 'The General' (1926).

Keaton's 'The General' to launch Leavitt Theatre's 2024 silent film series

Classic silent comedy to screen with live music on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

OGUNQUIT, Maine—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The General' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $15 per person.

The show marks Opening Night of the Leavitt Theatre's 2024 silent film series, which gives audiences the opportunity to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'The General,' set during the U.S. Civil War, tells the story of a southern locomotive engineer (Keaton) whose engine (named 'The General') is hijacked by Northern spies with his girlfriend on board.

Keaton, commandeering another train, races north in pursuit behind enemy lines. Can he rescue his girl? And can he recapture his locomotive and make it back to warn of a coming Northern attack?

Critics call 'The General' Keaton's masterpiece, praising its authentic period detail, ambitious action and battle sequences, and its overall integration of story, drama, and comedy.

It's also regarded as one of Hollywood's great railroad films, with much of the action occurring on or around moving steam locomotives.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts in 'The General' and all his other silent-era classics.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'The General' live as the movie is shown, as was typically done during the silent film era.

"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompaniment.

With the Leavitt Theatres's screening of 'The General,' audiences will get a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—in a high quality print, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

The interior of the Leavitt Theatre, with its proscenium arch still showing the original silent film aspect ratio.

Opened in 1925 as a silent movie house, the Leavitt Theatre has operated continuously for 99 years. Although the venue has been transformed into an entertainment hub featuring upscale food and craft cocktails, the one-screen theater remains virtually unchanged. 

This makes it a great venue to experience silent films in their natural environment, Rapsis said.

"Not many theaters built in the 1920s have survived intact," Rapsis said. "That makes the Leavitt a kind of time capsule for movie fans."

Critics review 'The General':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—Walter Kerr, author of 'The Silent Clowns'

"An almost perfect entertainment!"
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"What makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster's directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance."
—Time Out (London)

The Keaton films are a great introduction to silent films for modern audiences, accompanist Rapsis said.

"Keaton's comedy is as fresh today as it was a hundred years ago — maybe more so, because his kind of visual humor is a lost art," Rapsis said.

‘The General’ (1926) starring Buster Keaton will be shown with live music on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine.

General admission tickets are $15 at door or in advance online at leavittheatre.com. For more information, call (207) 646-3123.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

If it's May, then it must be time to start showing silent films with live music in Brandon, Vt.

Not-so-elegant dining: A scene from Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925)

...and sure enough, it is!

Join me for Opening Night of the Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall and Community Center's annual Silent Film Series!

The 2024 edition opens on Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. (hey, that's tonight!) with Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925), with live music by me.

Lots more info in the press release below, including the entire Brandon schedule now through November.

See you at the movies!

*   *   *

A German poster promoting Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925).

MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2024 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic Chaplin comedy 'The Gold Rush' with live music on Saturday, May 11 in Brandon, Vt. 

Brandon Town Hall's 2024 silent film series kicks off with classic comedy featuring the Little Tramp's search for fortune and romance in the Klondike


BRANDON, Vt.—Classics from the silent film era return to the big screen this May at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, which will host another season of vintage cinema with live music.

First up is Charlie Chaplin in 'The Gold Rush' (1925), an epic comedy in which the Little Tramp joins in the Klondike Gold Rush. The film screens on Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are welcome to help support ongoing Town Hall renovation efforts.

Live music for each silent film program will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

'The Gold Rush,' a landmark comedy and one of the top-grossing films of the silent era, finds Chaplin's iconic 'Little Tramp' character journeying to the frozen wastelands of the Yukon. There as a prospector, the Tramp's search for gold turns into a pursuit of romance, but with plenty of laughs along the way.
 

Improvised foot-warming: Chaplin in 'The Gold Rush' (1925).

The film contains several famous scenes, both comic and dramatic, including a starving Chaplin forced to eat his shoe for Thanksgiving dinner and a heart-breaking New Year's Eve celebration.

As a comedian, Chaplin emerged as the first superstar in the early days of cinema. From humble beginnings as a musical hall entertainer in England, he came to Hollywood and used his talents to quickly rise to the pinnacle of stardom in the then-new medium of motion pictures. His popularity never waned, and his image remains recognized around the world to this day.

'The Gold Rush,' regarded by many critics as Chaplin's best film, is a prime example of his unique talent for combining slapstick comedy and intense dramatic emotion.

" 'The Gold Rush' is still an effective tear-jerker," wrote critic Eric Kohn of indieWIRE. "In the YouTube era, audiences — myself included — often anoint the latest sneezing panda phenomenon as comedic gold. Unless I’m missing something, however, nothing online has come close to matching the mixture of affectionate fragility and seamless comedic inspiration perfected by the Tramp."
The screening of 'The Gold Rush' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

Rapsis, who uses original themes to improvise silent film scores, said the best silent film comedies often used visual humor to create laughter out of simple situations. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended — with an audience and live music.

"These comedies were created to be shown on the big screen as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life as their creators intended them to. So this screening is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies," he said.

Rapsis achieves a traditional movie score sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's a real treat to return to Brandon for another season of great silent film," Rapsis said. "If you've never seen one of these movies in a theater, check it out. These films were the pop culture of their day, and retain their ability to hold an audience and deliver a great time at the movies."

It's the 13th year of the popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

Screenings are held once a month, generally on Saturday nights starting in May and running through November. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to benefit the Town Hall's ongoing restoration.

Over the years, silent film donations have helped support projects including handicapped access to the 19th century building; renovating the bathrooms; and restoring the structure's original slate roof.

The screening of 'The Gold Rush' is sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston

Other films in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, June 8, 2024, 7 p.m.: "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Celebrate the 100th anniversary of this eye-popping cinematic spectacle; starring Fairbanks in top form as Arabian adventurer who must complete a series of epic tasks to save his beloved. Timeless tale told imaginatively and on a grand scale, complete with cutting edge special effects.

• Saturday, July 20, 2024, 7 p.m.: "The Cameraman" (1928) starring Buster Keaton. In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton tries to impress the gal of his dreams by working as a newsreel photographer. Can he get a break and get the girl? Classic visual comedy with Keaton at the peak of his creative powers; set in NYC and includes 1920s shots of Midtown Manhattan and the old Yankee Stadium.

• Saturday, Aug. 10, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino. Sweeping drama of a divided family with members caught up on opposites sides during World War I. Breakthrough film for Rudolph Valentino, introducing the sultry tango and launching him to stardom. The real deal! Shown both in honor of the 110th anniversary of World War I's outbreak and the anniversary of Valentino's untimely death in 1926.

• Saturday, Sept. 21, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Speedy" (1928) starring Harold Lloyd. Harold's final silent feature cis a tribute to New York City, baseball, and the idea that nice guys can indeed finish first, highlighted by one of the most exciting races to the finish in all silent cinema. Complete with an extended cameo from none other than Babe Ruth!

• Saturday, Oct. 19, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney put 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Just in time for Halloween!

• Saturday, Nov. 16, 2024, 7 p.m.: "Barbed Wire" (1927) starring Pola Negri, Clive Brook. During World War I, the French government commandeers a family farm for use as a camp for German POWs, setting the local population at each other. Intense drama about forbidden love and the human condition, with a special holiday twist.

See Charlie Chaplin in the 'The Gold Rush' (1925) with live music on Saturday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Next up: Emil Jannings in 'The Last Laugh' (1924) at Epsilon Spires on Friday, 5/10 in Brattleboro, Vt.

A French language poster for F.W. Murnau's film 'The Last Laugh' (1924).

April showers may bring May flowers, and May brings the start of two season series of silent film screenings. 

On Saturday, May 11, I return to Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon, Vt. for a 13th year of presenting silent films with live music. First up is Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925).

Later, on Wednesday, May 29, I'll be at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine for the start of another season of silents with live music. First up: Buster Keaton in 'The General' (1926).

All the rest of each series are listed on my "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" page, which is linked at the top right of this page.

But before any of that takes place, I'll be at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt. on Friday, May 10, where I'll accompany F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924).

More details on that screening in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

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Emil Jannings wearing the uniform that plays such an important role in 'The Last Laugh' (1924)

MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2024 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'The Last Laugh' to screen with live music at Epsilon Spires on Friday, May 10

Oscar-winning actor Emil Jannings stars in ground-breaking 1924 silent drama from German director F.W. Murnau

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—'The Last Laugh' (1924), a German silent film drama about a hotel doorman demoted to washroom attendant, will be screened with live music on Friday, May 10 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $20 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

The screening will feature live accompaniment on the venue's Estey pipe organ by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.


In 'The Last Laugh,' regarded as one of German director F.W. Murnau's best pictures, the story is told entirely in visual terms, without the use of title cards.

The film, a character study that chronicles the mental breakdown of an aging man who loses his position of authority, is also noted for its revolutionary use of camera movement.

Playing the lead role is Swiss/German actor Emil Jannings, widely recognized as one of the most versatile actors of early cinema.

Jannings would later move to Hollywood, where he earned the first-ever Best Actor Oscar at the inaugural Academy Awards for his towering performances in 'The Last Command' (1928) and 'The Patriot' (1928).

Critics and film writers regard 'The Last Laugh' as a landmark of early cinema.

" 'The Last Laugh' is a masterpiece of psychological study, perhaps the best ever portrayal of what goes through one man's mind under varying situations ... It is absolutely mind-boggling to see Emil Jannings age at least 10 or 15 years right in front of our eyes in the course of a couple of minutes," wrote author Robert K. Klepner in 'Silent Films' (2005).

Critic David Kehr of the Chicago Reader described 'The Last Laugh' as "the 1924 film in which F.W. Murnau freed his camera from its stationary tripod and took it on a flight of imagination and expression that changed the way movies were made."

The film's director of photography, Karl Freund, set new standards of cinematography in 'The Last Laugh,' setting up the camera to move through corridors and "see" action through a character's eye-view.

Freund's long career later included work in television in the 1950s in Hollywood, when he developed the "three camera" system for the "I Love Lucy" show, which became the standard format for shooting situation comedies.


'The Last Laugh' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"Films such as 'The Last Laugh' were created to be shown on the big screen and in a theater as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

'The Last Laugh' (1924) will be screened with live music on Friday, May 10 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.


Admission is $20 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

Monday, April 29, 2024

This week: Harold Lloyd is 'Speedy' on Tuesday, April 30 at Jane Pickens Theatre, Newport, R.I.

Me with members of the Boston Society of Film Critics last month at the Somerville Theatre, which the society awarded 'Best Film Series of 2023' for its 'Silents, Please!' program.

Hi everyone!

I've been a bad boy with posting in the past month or so. Real life (outside the movie theatre) has been throwing its weight around, with several big projects entering important phases.

But I'm back on the silent film wagon with regular postings, and will try to catch up on things I've missed.

To wit: Last month, I was thrilled to learn that the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please!' series (of which I'm accompanist) was recently awarded 'Best Film Series' by the Boston Society of Film Critics.

Members presented a certificate to me on Sunday, March 21 after a screening of 'Metropolis' (1927) at the Somerville. What a great honor for the theater, which remains committed to showing silent films in its main theater on 35mm prints whenever possible, and for me!

Okay, next up: Harold Lloyd's 'Speedy' (1928), which I'm accompanying tomorrow (Tuesday, April 30) at 6 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

Lots more info in the press release below. See you in Newport!

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A vintage lobby card promoting 'Speedy' (1928).

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2024 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic Harold Lloyd comedy 'Speedy' on Tuesday, April 30 at Jane Pickens Theatre

Screening features live music; 1920s rom-com filmed on location in NYC with cameo featuring Babe Ruth

NEWPORT, R.I.—He was the bespectacled boy next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.

He was Harold Lloyd, whose fast-paced comedies made him the most popular movie star of Hollywood's silent film era.

See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a revival of 'Speedy' (1928), one of his most popular comedies.

The film, shot on location in New York City, will be shown on Tuesday, April 30 at 6 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.

The screening, the latest in the venue's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $17 per person. Tickets available online at https://janepickens.com or at the door.
 
'Speedy,' Lloyd's final silent feature before the transition to talkies, finds Harold as a baseball-crazed youth who must rescue the city's last horse-drawn streetcar from gangsters bent on running it out of business.

Filmed almost entirely on location in New York, 'Speedy' features remarkable glimpses of the city at the end of the 1920s, including footage of Coney Island and the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

The latter scenes include an extended appearance by Babe Ruth, then at the height of his career during the team's storied 1927 season.

Harold Lloyd and Babe Ruth during the filming of 'Speedy' (1928) in New York City.

"In 'Speedy,' New York City is practically a part of the cast," Rapsis said. "In filming it on location, Lloyd knew scenes of New York would give the picture added interest to audiences across the nation and around the world.

"But what he didn't anticipate was that today, the location shots now provide a fascinating record of how life was lived in the Big Apple in the 1920s," Rapsis said.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Speedy' as the film is screened. In creating accompaniment for vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's really crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.

'Speedy' (1928) will be screened with live music on Tuesday, April 30 at 6 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.

Admission is $17 per person. Tickets available online at https://janepickens.com or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (401) 846-5474.