Thursday, August 11, 2022

Six days, five screenings, three states: a busy stretch of silent film accompaniment beckons

I guess if you're going to show a silent film to open a new festival, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) is a better choice than most.

Well, at least I get Monday off. 

Starting tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 12), I embark on a mini-marathon of silent film accompaniment that will take me to five venues in three states, including three former town halls.

All in a week's work of actively practicing the craft of creating live music for silent film screenings. The way I do it—mostly improv and without significant advance preparation—means iteration is most important.

Thus do I traipse about the landscape of my native northern New England, and sometimes farther afield, to maintain the fluency needed to perform at what I consider an acceptable level. 

I'm not a naturally gifted performer. So I have to work at it, which I'm willing to do, when opportunities present themselves.


The next opportunity comes tomorrow afternoon, where I am, improbably, the opening act in the first annual Manchester (N.H.) International Film Festival. I get to say a few words, and then do music for Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) for my home city's most recent attempt to cultivate a cinema culture. 

Then it's Valentino's 'Blood and Sand' (1922) on Saturday, Aug. 13 in Brandon, Vt.; Marion Davies in 'Beverly of Graustark' (1926) on Sunday, Aug. 14 in Wilton, N.H.; Buster again in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) on Tuesday, Aug. 16 in Alton, N.H.; and then 'Blood and Sand' again on Wednesday, Aug. 17 in Ogunquit, Maine.

If you're Somewhere North of Boston (capitalized because it's the name of another local film festival that is no longer active), please join me for one or two or all. 

I didn't do a separate press release for the Manchester International Film Festival, but here's a link to all the action.

Below, I'm pasting in the release for 'Blood and Sand' on Saturday night up in Brandon, Vt., which also works for the screening on Wednesday, Aug. 17 in Ogunquit, Maine except it's at the Leavitt Theatre and admission is $12 per person.

See you in a darkened theater—at least before the lights go down...

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MONDAY, AUG. 8, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Valentino's bullfighting epic  'Blood and Sand' to screen at Brandon Town Hall

Top-grossing silent film to be shown with live music on Saturday, Aug. 13 to celebrate 100th anniversary of box office hit

BRANDON, Vt.—It's an intense romantic drama that helped catapult actor Rudolph Valentino to worldwide fame.

It's 'Blood and Sand' (1922), a bullfighting epic to be screened on Saturday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

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

The classic drama will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

The No. 3 box office hit of 1922, 'Blood and Sand' combined exotic Spanish locales with Valentino's iconic performance as a bullfighter.

The film tells the story of Juan Gallardo (Valentino), a village boy born into poverty who grows up to become one of Spain's greatest matadors.

Gallardo marries a friend from his childhood, the beautiful and virtuous Carmen. But after achieving fame and fortune, he finds himself drawn to Doña Sol (Naldi), a wealthy, seductive widow.

They embark on a torrid affair. But then Gallardo, feeling guilty over his betrayal of Carmen, tries to free himself of Doña Sol.

Gallardo's troubles spill over to the bullfighting arena, where he becomes reckless.

Can he cope with the gravest challenges of his young life—both in romance, and in the arena?

The movie's immense popularity helped establish Valentino as one of the megastars of the silent film era.

Directed for Paramount Pictures by Fred Niblo, the cast includes leading ladies Lila Lee as Carmen and Nita Naldi as Doña Sol.

'Blood and Sand' was based on the 1909 Spanish novel "Sangre y arena" (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the play version of the book by Thomas Cushing.

Unusual for Hollywood at the time, women played key roles in the production of 'Blood and Sand.'

The story was adapted by June Mathis, the screenwriter credited with first recognizing Valentino's appeal, and edited by future director Dorothy Arzner.

The film inspired the 'Blood and Sand' cocktail, a Prohibition-era mixed drink.

The screening is part of the Brandon Town Hall's ongoing silent film series.

"Putting 'Blood and Sand' back on the big screen is a great way to celebrate this classic movie's 100th anniversary," said Rapsis, the silent film accompanist who creates live music for all screenings.

The screening of 'Blood and Sand' is sponsored by Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, the Hanson Family in memory of Pat Hanson, and Sally Wood.

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

• Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.: 'The Flying Ace' (1926), rare example of movies produced for black-only theaters in segregated parts of the nation; added to the National Film Registry in 2021. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.

• Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) Just in time for Halloween! Celebrate the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau's original adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' story. Sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

• Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.: 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman. The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

"These are the films that set the standard for Hollywood, and still retain their power to entertain, especially when shown in a theater with live music and an audience," Rapsis said.

'Blood and Sand' starring Rudolph Valentino will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 13 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.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Up to Vermont to score Keaton's 'Battling Butler,' but first a note of thanks to Guitar Center

Buster in training: a scene from Battling Butler (1926).

Today it's up to Brandon, Vt. for a screening of Buster Keaton's 'Battling Butler' (1926).

But first, a note of thanks to the staff at the Guitar Center in North Attleboro, Mass.

I wasn't planning a visit there yesterday until I was about a half-hour from Newport, R.I. 

That was when I realized (during a raging electrical storm dumping pellet-sized hail) that I did not have the two Roland speakers I use for venues without house sound. 

And the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I., where I was to accompany Harold Lloyd's 'Safety Last' (1923) at 7 p.m., does not have house sound.

What to do? I figured there had to be a Guitar Center somewhere (they've become kind of like a public utility) and there was, but in North Attleboro, Mass.—not exactly on my way, but beggars can't be choosers.

So I set a course for North Attleboro, then called the venue, saying I was running late but would try to make the start time of 7 p.m.

To my great relief, Guitar Center fixed me up with a powered speaker. And then the fastest way to Newport was a big loop around Providence and over the Claiborne Pell suspension bridge—the longest in New England.

The way I drove to get there on time—well, 'Safety Last' could not have been a more appropriate title. 

So I pulled up to the theater at 6:55 p.m. and get the parking space right in front (a minor miracle), and then see the marquee promoting SAFETY LAST 7:30 P.M.

Well, better early than later. But there would not have been a show at all without Guitar Center renting me a speaker, which turned out to be perfect for the job. 

One weird note: loading out after the show, a ghost tour in progress in a park across the street. They were excited about something, which turned out to be a rabbit that had unexpectedly turned up.

A ghost tour and bunny wrangling on the streets of Newport, R.I.

I'll take that as a sign of good luck, as the drive home was uneventful—no electrical storms, anyway.

Now it's up to Brandon, Vt., for 'Battling Butler,' Buster's boxing comedy. The bell rings at 7 p.m. (NOT 7:30 p.m.) See you there! Press release with more info is below.

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Buster geared up for pugilism in 'Battling Butler.'

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton's 'Battling Butler' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 6

Silent film program postponed from July 23 due to excessive heat; film to be screened with live musical accompaniment

BRANDON, Vt.—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.

Acclaimed for their originality, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Battling Butler' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

The program was originally planned for Saturday, July 23, but was postponed to Saturday, Aug. 6 due to excessive heat.

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

Live music for the 'Battling Butler' and a companion Keaton feature, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

'Battling Butler' tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O'Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with the same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"As an elemental contest between two opponents, boxing inspired early filmmakers to do some great work," Rapsis said. "It's a visual sport that doesn't require a lot of dialogue or commentary to understand, and so was perfect for silent movies."

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the silent screen's three great clowns.

Many 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." But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

All those talents are on display in 'Battling Butler,' which holds the distinction of being the top-grossing title of Keaton's silent features.

The program will open with another Keaton comedy, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), in which Keaton plays a movie projectionist who dreams of being a detective.

The screening of 'Battling Butler' and 'Sherlock Jr.' is sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

Buster is shown the ropes in 'Battling Butler' (1926). (Showing someone the ropes is actually a phrase taken from the world of sailing ships, not boxing, which I didn't realize for a long time.)

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

• Saturday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Celebrating its 100th anniversary! Sponsored by Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, the Hanson Family in memory of Pat Hanson, and Sally Wood.

• Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.: 'The Flying Ace' (1926), rare example of movies produced for black-only theaters in segregated parts of the nation; added to the National Film Registry in 2021. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.

• Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) Just in time for Halloween! Celebrate the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau's original adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' story. Sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

• Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.: 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman. The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

'Battling Butler' (1926) and 'Sherlock Jr.' starring Buster Keaton will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 6 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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

This Friday, 'Safety Last' in Newport R.I.; last Saturday, 'Caligari' in Brookline, Mass.

Accompanying a midnight screening of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

It's down to Rhode Island this Friday to accompany a screening of 'Safety Last' (1923) at the Jane Pickens Theatre in downtown Newport. 

Showtime is 7 p.m.; lots more detail in the press release below.

But before going onward to the Ocean State, let us go backward to the Bay State, where this past weekend I accompanied a midnight screening of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920). 

It was at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass. (right outside of Boston), and to everyone's surprise, attendance was strong—something like 150 people, most of whom had never seen the film before.

I had a few simple motifs in mind, and enjoyed playing with them to help support the film. I don't "Mickey Mouse" the action, but I do tend to track pretty closely to the film's changing moods, which I think helps a modern audience stay with the film.

The film is divided into six "acts," which give the accompanist a chance to reset the music and signal that something different is coming. I don't know 'Caligari' that well, but I managed to reach some kind finality at the end of each act, and then went off in a total different direction, even if I wasn't sure what was coming next. It worked!

One thing no one expected was my big brass handbell, which I use exactly three times during the movie, when Caligari uses one to summon spectators. 

Great comments afterwards, which mean it was 2 a.m. and I'm not sure how coherent I was. (I'm never that coherent right after a film. Or before.) But I was delighted to find out that the sequence I picked to really build the music to a big climax—when Caligari hears voices saying he "must be Caligari"—was enough to send shivers up the spine of one attendee. Nice!

Shivers of a different kind are in store for those who attend Harold Lloyd's 'Safety Last' on Friday in Newport, R.I. Hope to see you there! If you're in California, an early morning flight into Providence, R.I. will get you there in plenty of time. 

So there's no excuse. What are you waiting for?

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From 'Safety Last': the image everyone remembers.

MONDAY, JULY 11, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Safety Last' on Friday, Aug. 5 at Jane Pickens Theatre

Thrill comedy climaxed by Harold Lloyd's iconic building climb; shown with live music

NEWPORT, R.I.—It's a cinematic image so powerful, people who've never seen the movie instantly recognize it.

The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a huge clock, from the climax of his silent comedy 'Safety Last,' (1923), has emerged as a symbol of early Hollywood and movie magic.

See how Harold gets into his high-altitude predicament with a screening of 'Safety Last,' one of Lloyd's classic comedies, on Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online or at the door.

The screening will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'Safety Last' follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business and send for his small town sweetheart.

His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea—hire a human fly to climb the building's exterior.

However, when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on.

The result is an extended sequence blending comedy and terror that holds viewers spellbound.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is regarded as one of the silent screen's three great clowns.

Lloyd's character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s.

While Chaplin and Keaton were always favored by the critics, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

Silent film at the Jane Pickens Theatre gives today's audiences the chance to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who practices the nearly lost art of silent film accompaniment.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound.

"Seeing 'Safety Last' with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound," Rapsis said. "Harold's iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released."

Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' (2011), which includes clips from 'Safety Last.'

See Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) on Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online at www.janepickens.com or at the door. For more information about the JPT Film & Event Center, call (401) 846-5474.

Nearing the top.

CRITIC COMMENTS ON ‘SAFETY LAST’:

"Impossible to watch without undergoing visitations of vertigo, Safety Last's climactic sequence is all it's reputed to be.”
—TV Guide

"Harold Lloyd manages to make the characters sympathetic enough to carry the audience's concern on his journey of crazy stunts and mishaps. One of the best of this era."
—David Parkinson, Empire Magazine

"The climb has both comic and dramatic weight because it is both a thrilling exercise in physical humor and a thematically rich evocation of the pressures men feel to succeed, lest they be viewed as less than a man."
—James Kendrick, Q Network Film Desk

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Stay up late this Saturday, July 30 for midnight screening of 'Dr. Caligari' at Coolidge Corner

Stay awake to see Cesar the Somnambulist in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920)

I'm looking forward to this weekend's midnight screening of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Mass.

For those who've never experienced this very important (and very strange) piece of early cinema, I can't think of a better environment in which to do so.

In a theater? Check! With live music? Check! With an audience? Check! 

And finally, the middle of the night? Check and double check!

Really: semi-drowsiness might be the ideal state to appreciate the dream-like visual world in which 'Caligari' takes place. 

So hope to see you at the Coolidge on Saturday, July 30 when the clock strikes 12! More details in the press release below...

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'Caligari' takes place entirely in a dream-like visual world.

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Coolidge to unleash late night silent film horror classic on Saturday, July 30

Midnight screening of breakthrough thriller 'Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' to feature live musical accompaniment

BROOKLINE, Mass.—A creepy silent film regarded as the forerunner of all horror movies will be shown at a midnight screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass.

'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) will be shown at midnight on Saturday, July 30 as part of the Coolidge's ongoing 'Carnival of Horror' series.

The screening will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $15.50 per person.
 
Set in an insane asylum, 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,' is considered a landmark in early cinema. Nearly a century after its release, the film still has the capacity to creep out audiences.

"A case can be made that 'Caligari' was the first true horror film, critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2007.

'Caligari,' made in Germany after World War I and directed in expressionist style by Robert Wiene, stars Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt.

The film employs stylized sets, with abstract, jagged buildings painted on canvas backdrops and flats.

To add to its strange visual design, the actors used an exaggerated technique that employed jerky and dancelike movements.

The movie is also cited as having introduced the surprise "twist" ending to cinema.
 
Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss, two big names of early German cinema, star in 'Cabinet.'
 
"Silents such as 'Dr. Caligari' are films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies," Rapsis said. "The aim is to present them as they were originally intended to be shown: in a theater, on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience. If you can put all those elements together, these films leap to life."

In scoring 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,' Rapsis plans to augment the traditional orchestral sound with the vocabulary of film music from later eras.

"Because I improvise the music, it's hard to know what will happen until the film actually starts running," Rapsis said.

'Caligari,' a forerunner of the 'film noir' genre, has influenced generations of movie-makers.

A sequel of sorts was released in the 1980s with the film 'Dr. Caligari,' which dealt with the granddaughter of the original Dr. Caligari and her illegal experiments on her patients in an asylum.

The Coolidge Corner Theatre is an independent, nonprofit cinema and cultural institution. Since 1933, audiences in the greater Boston area have relied on the Coolidge for contemporary independent film, repertory, and educational programming.

'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) will be shown with live music at midnight on Saturday, July 30 as part of an ongoing "Carnival of Horror" series at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass. General admission $15.50; for more info and to buy tickets, visit www.coolidge.org or call (617) 734-2500.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

A single film, but two very different endings: Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926) on Wednesday, July 27 in Ogunquit, Maine

Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno in 'The Temptress' (1926).

It's a film with one great star—but with two different endings!

The star: Greta Garbo. The endings: one is happy, the other sad.

It's 'The Temptress' (1926), one of Garbo's first pictures after coming to Hollywood from her native Sweden at the height of the silent era.

The film, with live music by me, will be shown on Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Which ending work better? Decide for yourself, as we plan to show them both.

Details in the press release below. See you at the Leavitt on Wednesday night.

Whether you're in the mood for happy or sad, hey—we've got you covered.

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Greta Garbo stars in 'The Temptress' (1926).

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis at (603) 236-9237 • e-mail jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Greta Garbo stars in 'The Temptress' (1926), a film with two endings, on Wednesday, July 27 at Leavitt Theatre

Both conclusions to be shown when steamy silent romantic drama is screened with live musical accompaniment

OGUNQUIT, Me. — It's a film with two completely different endings: one sad and tragic, and the other uplifting and positive.

It's 'The Temptress' (1926), an MGM romantic drama starring Greta Garbo, then just starting a legendary Hollywood career.

Studio boss Louis B. Mayer found the original ending to 'The Temptress' so depressing, he ordered a second—and much happier—conclusion.

Theaters were then allowed to choose which ending to show to audiences.

See both conclusions when 'The Temptress' is screened with live music on Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St, Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $12 per person. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

In 'The Temptress,' Garbo plays Elena, the wife of Monsieur Canterac (Lionel Barrymore) and the mistress of rich Parisian banker Monsieur Fontenoy (Marc MacDermott).

When the banker's friend Robledo (Antonio Moreno), a dynamic young engineer building a massive dam in Argentina, pays a visit to Paris, the fickle Elena immediately falls in love with him.

Elena follows Robledo to Argentina, where her presence leads to a whip duel between Robledo and his rival, Manos Duros (Roy D'Arcy).

She then indirectly causes the collapse of Robledo's dam, which is where the two versions of the film diverge.

In the original version, Elena returns to Paris and the movie concludes tragically.

The revised version sees the film end in Argentina on a much happier note.

Both endings will be screened at the Leavitt Theatre: first the original "tragic" conclusion, then the more optimistic ending.

Garbo, who first won notice in her native Sweden, came to Hollywood at age 19. 'The Temptress,' her second film for MGM, helped establish her as a major star.

Initially, the director of 'The Temptress' was Garbo's mentor-lover, the brilliant Mauritz Stiller. But he was replaced halfway through by Fred Niblo, giving 'The Temptress' two different styles.

Silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise a musical score to 'The Temptress' in real time as the movie is screened.

In creating music for 'The Temptress' and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

"Live music adds an element of energy to a silent film screening that's really crucial to the experience," Rapsis said.

The Leavitt Theatre's silent film screenings provide 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.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can watch them as they were designed to be shown,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.

“There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nearly a century.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

Following 'The Temptress' on Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.: Clara Bow stars in 'Mantrap' (1926). Battle-of-the-sexes comedy; city boy Richard Dix tries to win his girlfriend by taking up the rugged cowboy life, only to find it not so rugged. Rarely screened comedic gem from the height of the silent era.

• Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922). Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Will Rudy choose the pure love of Carmen, or the sinister charms of the exotic Doña Sol? And will he survive the choice?

• Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.: Rare race drama: 'The Flying Ace' (1926). All-Black motion picture added to the National Film Registry last year. Rare example of 'race' cinema, produced for audiences in Black-only theaters commonly found in segregated parts of the nation.

• Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.: F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924). Towering performance by Emil Jannings as aging doorman at posh city hotel whose unexpected change of jobs robs him of self-respect and identity. Directed by Murnau as a purely visual tale, no dialogue intertitles.

• Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.: 'Der Golem' (1920). Prepare for Halloween with one very weird flick! In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.

The romantic drama ‘The Temptress’ starring Greta Garbo will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St, Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $12 per person, general seating. For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Norma Talmadge in 'Within the Law' on Sunday, July 24 at Town Hall Theatre, Wilton, N.H.

A lobby card for Norma Talmadge in 'Within the Law' (1923).

I'm not sure what kind of attendance we'll get due to today's excessive heat, but I have high hopes for 'Within the Law' (1923), a Norma Talmadge drama that I'm accompanying this afternoon.

Showtime is 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Lots more details in the press release below. 

Like all titles in this summer's "Women of the Silent Screen" series, it's a film I've never accompanied before. 

But 'Within the Law' turns out to be what I would describe as a pre-feminist "revenge-against-the-paternity" drama, and darned interesting because of that.

I also read in the new Curtis biography of Buster Keaton that originally producer Joe Schenck (Norma's then-husband) planned to use English actress Margaret Leahy in 'Within the Law' after she won a publicity contest in Great Britain. 

But then director Frank Lloyd (who would go on to direct Charles Laughton in 1935's 'Mutiny on the Bounty') discovered the unfortunate fact that Leahy simply could not act. 

Schenck took Leahy off the picture and instead gave him to his brother-in-law, comedian Buster Keaton, then planning 'Three Ages' (1923), his first foray into features.

Buster, who was married to Norma's sister Natalie, was told to use Leahy, and he did. 

Although 'Three Ages' wasn't nearly as demanding as the Talmadge drama, Keaton found it nearly impossible to get a usable performance out of her.

In addition, 'Within the Law' contains a juicy part for Ward Crane (who plays 'English Eddie,' a police stool pigeon), familiar to Keaton fans as the villain in 'Sherlock Jr.,' made the next year.

It's remarkable the discover the close links between such different films and filmmakers. The big factor, of course, is Joe Schenck, who seems to have moved performers and technicians around his various productions like pieces on a chess board.

Hope to see you in Wilton this afternoon. I'm sure the big old window-unit air conditioners are already running...

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Norma Talmage (center) is 'Within the Law'...for now.

MONDAY, JULY 18, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Norma Talmadge stars in 'Within the Law' (1923) on Sunday, July 24 in Wilton, N.H.

Screening of vintage drama is latest in Town Hall Theatre's series of silent films presented with live music

WILTON, N.H.—An intense drama starring one of the most popular actresses of the era is next up the Town Hall Theatre's summer-long salute to female stars of the silent screen.

'Within the Law' (1923) starring Norma Talmadge will be screened with live music on Sunday, July 24 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

In 'Within the Law,' Talmadge plays Mary Turner, a shopgirl working for slave wages who winds up in prison for a theft she did not commit.

Mary is bitter over her ruined life and swears vengeance on her former employer, Edward Gilder (Joseph Kilgour).

When Mary is released from prison and cannot find work, she teams up with Aggie Lynch (Eileen Percy) to extort money out of elderly men.

The scheme takes an unexpected turn, prompting dire consequences.

'Within the Law' was partially filmed on location in New York City, providing glimpses of the Big Apple during the Roaring '20s.

Throughout the 1920s, the most famous sisters in the entertainment world were the Brooklyn-raised Talmadges: Norma, Natalie and Constance. 

Norma (at left), the eldest, was a dramatic actress of great talent and restraint. She was loved by a public that identified with the brave, tragic heroine she often played of melodramas and tragedies.

Appearing in movies with high production values and helmed by some of Hollywood's finest directors, Norma developed into one of the great screen actresses of the period.

By 1920, she had eclipsed Mary Pickford as the top worldwide female box-office attraction.

The screening of 'Within the Law' is the latest in a Town Hall Theatre summer series featuring female stars of the silent screen, all with live music by accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Here's the line-up of upcoming screenings:

• Sunday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m.: Marion Davies in 'Beverly of Graustark.' Gender-bending 1926 comedy in which Davies stars as an American cousin of a European prince—and with whom she must switch places to keep the kingdom from unraveling. Newly released title!

• Sunday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m.: Double feature with Gloria Swanson, Mae Marsh. Silent screen icon Gloria Swanson stars in 'Fine Manners' (1926), a comedy about a chorus girl trying to keep up with high society beau. In 'Daddies' (1924), Mae Marsh plays an unlikely orphan adopted by the head of the local Bachelor's Club. Hilarity ensues!

All titles in the series have never been shown as part of the Town Hall Theatre's long-running silent film programming.

"We specifically chose films that we haven't run before in Wilton, in part to explore the incredible range and surprising diversity of roles women played in Hollywood's silent era," said Jeff Rapsis, the Town Hall Theatre's silent film accompanist.

‘Within the Law’ (1923) starring Norma Talmadge will be shown with live music on Sunday, July 24 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Coming up: Keaton double feature in Vermont; first, thoughts from a screening of 'The General'

Update on Saturday, July 23: Due to extreme heat, the Buster Keaton double feature scheduled for this evening in Brandon, Vt. has been postponed to Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. Sorry for any inconvenience. We hope to see you in two weeks for an excellent program in a much more comfortable auditorium.

Buster and co-star 'The General': two-thirds of a ménage à trois?

Last night's screening of Buster Keaton's 'The General' produced some fresh observations.

First, I introduced the film by posing a question that I'd just then thought of.

"Right at the beginning," I said to the Rex Theatre audience in Manchester, N.H., "you'll be told that Buster has two loves.

"His locomotive, and..."

I paused, as the film doesn't use words, but then cuts to Marion Mack as "the girl." 

"So as you watch the film, you'll see plenty of both. And my question to you is, which do you think he loves more?"

That got a laugh, as did my follow-up observation that 'The General' may seem to be a story about the Civil War. But on an emotional level, it's about a love triangle between a man, a woman, and inanimate object with a name.

"It's like a ménage à trois," I said, to more laughter.

But it really is, when you think about it. Buster, his girl, and 'The General.' At the beginning of the film, Buster presents the girl with a photo of himself and 'The General,' just so the relationship is clear.

I also asked people why they thought Buster changed the original story to make the Confederates the heroes and the Union soldiers the villains.

"You can always make villains of the north. But you can never make villains out of the south," Buster said in a late-in-life interview. 

I feel the real reason is that for the film to do any box office at that time in the Old South, with the Civil War within living memory, the Confederacy could not be portrayed as bad guys.

Buster raises the "Stars and Bars" of the Confederacy in 'The General.'

But last night's screening brought forth a new suggestion: that Buster cast himself as a would-be Confederate soldier as a way to add to the laugh quotient. 

If I followed the logic, the thinking was that the Confederacy is worthy of mockery, and Buster was using that dynamic to get yuks. In other words: that's the best the Confederacy can do?

Not sure I buy that, as it doesn't quite mesh with Buster's original sentiment, which pointed to the need of respecting the Confederacy.

Well, the debate continues. But there's no debating what I'll be up to on Saturday night in Brandon, Vt.: more Keaton!

Yes: Saturday, July 23 brings a double helping of yet more Keaton silent film comedy: first 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), and then Buster's boxing comedy 'Battling Butler' (1926). Press release with more info is below.

I accompanied 'Butler' the other week at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, and found the audience reaction to be livelier than usual.

A contributing factor may have been my decision to deliberately underplay the accompaniment, which seems to be a key in supporting Keaton's brand of comedy.

See for yourself by making the trek up to Brandon, Vt., where the bell rings for the main event on Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m.

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Buster  puts up his dukes in 'Battling Butler' (1926).

MONDAY, JULY 11, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton's 'Battling Butler' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, July 23

Silent film series continues with knockout boxing comedy focusing on the fight game, accompanied by live music

BRANDON, Vt.—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.

Acclaimed for their originality, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Battling Butler' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

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

Live music for the 'Battling Butler' and a companion Keaton feature, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

'Battling Butler' tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O'Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with the same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

Buster in the ring—somewhat—in 'Battling Butler' (1926).

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"As an elemental contest between two opponents, boxing inspired early filmmakers to do some great work," Rapsis said. "It's a visual sport that doesn't require a lot of dialogue or commentary to understand, and so was perfect for silent movies."

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the silent screen's three great clowns.

Many 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." But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

All those talents are on display in 'Battling Butler,' which holds the distinction of being the top-grossing title of Keaton's silent features.

The program will open with another Keaton comedy, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), in which Keaton plays a movie projectionist who dreams of being a detective.

The screening of 'Battling Butler' and 'Sherlock Jr.' is sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

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

• Saturday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Celebrating its 100th anniversary! Sponsored by Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, the Hanson Family in memory of Pat Hanson, and Sally Wood.

• Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.: 'The Flying Ace' (1926), rare example of movies produced for black-only theaters in segregated parts of the nation; added to the National Film Registry in 2021. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.

• Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) Just in time for Halloween! Celebrate the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau's original adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' story. Sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

• Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.: 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman. The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

'Battling Butler' (1926) and 'Sherlock Jr.' starring Buster Keaton will be screened with live music on Saturday, July 23 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.