Friday, July 31, 2020

Need a laugh? Silent film screenings return to Flying Monkey with Keaton's 'Three Ages'

Buster practices pre-historic self-sanitization in 'Three Ages' (1923), to be screened on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at the Flying Monkey.

In these times of trouble, how about some timeless comedy?

To provide just that, we're running Buster Keaton's 'Three Ages' (1923) to restart silent film screenings next week at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

Think of it as a public service: an attempt to alleviate the Great Levity Shortage of 2020.

'Three Ages,' Buster's send-up of D.W. Griffith's epic drama 'Intolerance' (1916), will be shown on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. General admission is $10 per person.

The Keaton screening ends an intermission of more than four months at the Flying Monkey, where the last film I accompanied was a Western, 'Wild Horse Mesa' (1925), in mid-March.

But we're back in business, with a varied program of silents all with live music, and all scheduled to run (well, mostly) on the last Wednesday of each month.

One necessary nod to today's reality: the Flying Monkey is following all local public health and CDC guidelines to keep patrons safe. Masks, limited capacity, social distancing, hand sanitizing: they're all part of the show.

With Buster, only the laughter should be contagious. And boy, could we ever use a big dose of that.

Hope to see you there! For more about 'Three Ages,' and a preview of other films scheduled for later months, check out the press release below.

And let me note here that if 'Three Ages' isn't enough to cure your Keaton withdrawal, we have 'The General' (1926) and 'Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) running next month as part of Silent Film Comedy Week at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

More on that later, but check out this story posted on the web site of Box Office Pro.

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Classic comedy in classical times: Buster Keaton in 'Three Ages' (1923)>

TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film with live music returns to Flying Monkey on Wednesday, Aug. 5


Monthly series to open with 'Three Ages,' classic 1923 comedy starring Buster Keaton

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It's a comeback worth making some noise about.

After a four-month hiatus due to Covid-19, the long-running silent film series at the Flying Monkey will resume in August.

First up is Buster Keaton's classic 1923 comedy 'Three Ages,' to be shown on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person.

At the reopened Flying Monkey, accommodations will be made to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity will be limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

"In these times, we need laughter more than ever," Rapsis said. "So it was only natural to restart our silent film series with one of the era's legendary comedians, Buster Keaton."

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

'Three Ages,' a send-up of the then-famous drama 'Intolerance' (1916), weaves together similar love stories told in three different epochs: the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and "Modern" (1920s) times.

The three-stories-in-one approach was Keaton's first attempt at a feature-length comedy. If 'Three Ages' ran into box office trouble, Keaton planned to split it up into three shorter films to be released separately.

But the picture was a hit, due to inspired comic touches that still shine through today. 'Three Ages' launched Keaton's spectacular run of classic comic features that lasted until the industry's transition to sound pictures in 1929.

Although 'Three Ages' spans three historical eras, Keaton performs jaw-dropping physical comedy in each of them.

The "caveman" sequences feature knockabout comedy with Buster in a bearskin outfit; the Roman scenes include a wild chariot race held during a snowstorm; and the modern era scenes include one of the great silent film chases.

A smitten Keaton counts flower petals.

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

"If you've never seen a silent comedy in a theater with an audience and live music, you're missing one of the cinema's great experiences," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 silent film programs each year.

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

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

'Three Ages' opens a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include more comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Why Worry?' (1923) starring Harold Lloyd. Wealthy hypochondriac Harold gets caught up in a south-of-the-border uprising, finding romance along the way. One of Lloyd's wackiest outings; he co-stars with an actual giant. Perfect escapist fun for these worrisome times!

• Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1928). Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of daily life in the Soviet Union. Experimental documentary with no story and no actors, but filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

• Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.: The original 'Nosferatu' (1922). Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is the best ever done, and has become creepier with the passage of time.

• Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Broken Blossoms' (1919). Can two outcasts in Edwardian London find peace and happiness in a cruel world? Will Lillian Gish overcome her abusive father? Can Richard Barthelmess find love in a forbidden relationship? Great D.W. Griffith drama, with stellar performance from iconic silent actress Gish.

• Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy. In 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, with hilarious results. Preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train.

'Three Ages' (1923) starring Buster Keaton will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to the rescue!
Next up in Wilton, N.H.: 'Robin Hood' (1922)

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as 'Robin Hood': robbing the the rich, giving to the poor, and saving local independent cinemas!

And now, news from the front lines of small independent cinemas.

Last week, the Town Hall Theatre of Wilton, N.H. stopped playing first-run movies or new releases.

Why? Lack of films, and also lack of film-goers.

Thanks to the coronavirus, Hollywood is holding back a lot of what's in the pipeline. Or, in the case of 'Hamilton,' bypassing theaters and going direct to streaming.

And theater-goers are staying away, due to the lack of on-screen excitement and also over lingering fears of joining strangers in close proximity for two hours or more.

For the Town Hall Theatre, an independent movie house that reopened in early July after a four-month closure, it's an equation that doesn't add up.

Dennis Markaverich, longtime owner/operator of the Town Hall Theatre, took every precaution prior to reopening, implementing procedures to follow all public health guidelines to the letter.

The Town Hall Theatre's main screening room, which normally seats 216 but is limited to 50 percent capacity, or 108.

But since opening in early July (after a four-month closure due to N.H.'s stay-at-home order), attendance has been abysmal. On many evenings, not a single person showed up for the films on his two screens.

I was there one night and the grand total for both theaters was one person. I got to hear Dennis report the evening's box office by phone, which he announced grandly:

"Tonight, five, as in five dollars. That's one senior admission!"

Well, you can't run a theater without movies and without movie-goers. So last week, Dennis reluctantly went back into what he calls "intermission mode," ceasing the screening of first-run films until better conditions prevail. That might be Labor Day weekend, but could be longer.

The one exception to the pattern has been the Town Hall's silent film series, which also restarted in early July when the theater reopened. On the program: a summertime series of silent swashbucklers (say that five times fast) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.!

Our first title, 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), brought in about 30 people. Our next one, Fairbanks in 'The Three Musketeers' (1921), had 50 people attend. Wow, a box office record!

Both Dennis and I remarked on the irony: even as today's Hollywood leaves independent theaters in the lurch, yesterday's Hollywood could outdraw today's product and still save the day at the box office. Douglas Fairbanks to the rescue!

So even though first-run films are on pause, the "Silent Film Sunday" series will continue with our Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler series.

Next up is 'Robin Hood' (1922), to be screened on Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. with live music by me. More details in the press release below.

And after that, we're cooking up something special: a whole week of silent film comedy to fill the void left by Hollywood's first-run failure.

More on that in a bit. For now, check your calendar and hope you can join us on Sunday, Aug. 9 as we travel back to medieval England and Sherwood Forest with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'Robin Hood.'

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Douglas Fairbanks plays the title role in 'Robin Hood' (1922).
TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Robin Hood' leaps into action at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 9



It's off to Sherwood Forest as Douglas Fairbanks summer swashbuckler series continues, with live music

WILTON, N.H.—He robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and was the top box office attraction of 1922.

He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starring in 'Robin Hood,' the original blockbuster movie adaptation of the legendary tale.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

It's part of a summer season of silent swashbucklers starring the charismatic Fairbanks, one of early cinema's most popular stars.

Set in medieval England, 'Robin Hood' tells the tale of the Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks), a dashing nobleman who joins King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Wallace Beery) on a Crusade to the Holy Land.

Huntingdon later returns to England to find Richard's cruel brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse), falsely claiming the throne, enriching his aristocratic cronies and tyrannizing the citizenry.

Enid Bennett as Lady Marian and Douglas Fairbanks playing the title role in 'Robin Hood' (1922).

Huntingdon takes to the woods and becomes 'Robin Hood,' soon joined by a band of merry men who undermine Prince John's reign by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Can Robin Hood and his men vanquish their enemy, the High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery)? And can they rescue Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett), Huntingdon's betrothed, from the evil clutches of Prince John?

Along the way, Fairbanks has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills in archery, fencing, and acrobatics.

Directed by Allan Dwan, 'Robin Hood' amazed audiences with its enormous sets that recreated in full scale the castles and villages of medieval England.

At a time when $200,000 was a hefty movie budget, 'Robin Hood' cost $1 million to produce.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (center) and Allan Dwan directing scenes from 'Robin Hood' (1922).

But the film proved an enormous hit, becoming the top box office attraction of 1922 and earning $2.5 million in its initial release through United Artists, the distribution company Fairbanks formed with fellow stars Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and his wife, Mary Pickford.

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.

Also in the cast for 'Robin Hood' is Alan Hale Sr., who made such an impression at Little John that he was cast in the same role in the 1938 remake starring Errol Flynn. (Hale's son, Alan Hale Jr., played the role of the Skipper on the 1960s television series "Gilligan's Island.")

Live music for 'Robin Hood' 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.

Original promotional art for 'Robin Hood' (1922).

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. Put it all together again, and you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'Robin Hood' continues a summer season of silent swashbucklers at the Town Hall Theatre, all starring Douglas Fairbanks. The series will conclude with a special Saturday/Sunday screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on the last weekend of August:

• Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. 100th anniversary of the break-through adventure film where Fairbanks discovered his talent for playing swashbuckling heroes of yore. Still pleasing crowds a century after it first hit theaters!

• Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m.: 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Action/adventure sequel to mega-hit 'Zorro' with Fairbanks playing both son and father, and having a ball in both roles. Builds on the original film to create a hugely entertaining swashbuckler that shows how far Hollywood had come in just five years.

For all screenings, accommodations will be made to keep Town Hall Theatre patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Also, seating will be arranged to observe social distancing and masks will be required inside the theater until patrons are seated.

'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Sunday, Aug. 9 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 defray expenses.

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Out of the concession stand, onto the screen: 'The Three Musketeers' on Sunday, July 26

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (third from left) stars in 'The Three Musketeers' (1921).

You know how one thing leads to another?

That's how it is with silent film. Creating music for films such as 'The Three Musketeers' has reacquainted me with great books, some of which I read (or pretended to) and some that I completely missed.

I hope you won't miss the silent film version of 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., which I'm accompanying on Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Complete details are in the press release below.

But really: so many great tales that helped get the movies started were originally in the form of novels from the 19th century or earlier. Just the French authors alone—Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Gaston Leroux and so many others—formed a deep reservoir of material for the then-brand-new medium of motion pictures.

And now, all these years later, I find it works the other way, too. I've become more interested in some of the big novels of bygone days after creating music for their silent film versions. And sticking again just with French authors, it's quite a roster of titles.

Victor Hugo is represented by 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928). In addition to 'The Three Musketeers' (1921), Alexandre Dumas is also on the board with 'The Count of Monte Cristo' (1922). Gaston Leroux was kind of a one-hit wonder, but 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) remains a major league home run. There's even Jules Verne with the 1916 version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.'

Yes, there is a silent film of Hugo's 'Les Misérables': it's a 1925 French movie that runs six hours. The whole thing survives but recently it's only been screened a few times in Europe. I'd love to get a chance to do music for that: talk about giving yourself up to a different world!

Victor Hugo is a personal favorite, by the way, in part because an obscure religion in Southeast Asia has canonized the French author as one of its prophets. Really! The Vietnam-based faith, called "Cao Dai," emerged in the 1920s and worships Hugo, whose image decorates temples and churches. Seems strange, but it's true.

I know because I've seen it. It's one thing to read about Victor Hugo being the saint of an obscure religious sect. But it's quite another to visit a temple in Vietnam and see it adorned inside and out with painted likenesses of the French author's visage.

From a Cao Dai temple: Victor Hugo is the one in the admiral's hat.

All of this has inspired me to revisit the books: to go to the source and understand the full extent of the author's vision. And I plan to do that just as soon as cloning technology makes it possible to create multiple versions of myself so I can experience all the literature that's out there.

For those of you rightfully concerned about the coronavirus: at least there's no silent film version of Camus' 'The Plague,' mostly because it wasn't published until 1947.

Still, I hope you'll consider escaping from the 21st century and traveling back with us this Sunday to the 17th with 'The Three Musketeers.' Press release with all the details below, including what I think is one of the best opening lines for a silent movie press release that I've ever come up with.

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An original poster for 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

MONDAY, JULY 20, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Three Musketeers' with live music at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, July 26


It's "all for one and one for all" as Douglas Fairbanks silent summer swashbuckler series continues

WILTON, N.H.—Long before it became a candy bar in the concession stand, 'The Three Musketeers' was on the big screen as a swashbuckling silent film, a major hit of 1921.

And now, 99 years later, it returns: 'The Three Musketeers' (1921), starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be shown with live music on Sunday, July 26 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.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis. It's part of a summer season of silent swashbucklers starring the charismatic Fairbanks, one of early cinema's most popular stars.

'The Three Musketeers,' adapted from the classic Alexandre Dumas novel and directed by Fred Niblo, is a costume drama set amid palace intrigue in 17th century France.

Fairbanks plays the leading role of D'Artagnan, who after challenging musketeers Athos (Leon Barry), Porthos (George Siegmann) and Aramis (Eugene Pallette) to a duel, joins forces with them in opposition of the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier).

Plotting to discredit Queen Anne (Mary McLaren) in the eyes of her husband King Louis XIII (Adolphe Menjou), Richelieu dispatches Milady de Winter (Barbara La Marr) to pilfer the diamond brooch given by Anne to her British lover, the Duke of Buckingham (Thomas Holding).

With the help of the lovely Constance (Marguerite de la Motte), D'Artagnan and the Musketeers race against time to retrieve the brooch and save their Queen.

The athletic Fairbanks is at the center of the action in 'The Three Musketeers' (1921).

The athletic Douglas Fairbanks's one-handed handspring to grab a sword during a fight scene in 'The Three Musketeers' is considered as one of the great stunts of early cinema.

Critics point to 'The Three Musketeers' as a turning point in Fairbanks' career.

" 'The Three Musketeers' was the first of the grand Fairbanks costume films, filled with exemplary production values and ornamentation," wrote author Jeffrey Vance in 2008. "With 'The Three Musketeers,' he at last found his metier and crystallized his celebrity and his cinema."

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.

As early as it is, the Fairbanks version of 'Three Musketeers' was not the first big-screen adaptation of the classic Dumas tale. At least a half-dozen earlier versions were filmed in the U.S. and Europe. Over the years, at least 24 different adaptation of the 'Musketeer' saga have been released, attesting to the timeless popularity of Dumas' tale.

Live music for 'The Three Musketeers' 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 Three Musketeers' continues a summer season of silent swashbucklers at the Town Hall Theatre, all starring Douglas Fairbanks. The series will be highlighted by a special Saturday/Sunday screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on the last weekend of August:

● Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m.: 'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Sword-fighting and archery abound as Fairbanks forsakes his noble identity as the Earl of Huntingdon to become Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor, all the while pursuing the hand of his beloved Lady Marian.

● Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. 100th anniversary of the break-through adventure film where Fairbanks discovered his talent for playing swashbuckling heroes of yore. Still pleasing crowds a century after it first hit theaters!

● Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m.: 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Action/adventure sequel to mega-hit 'Zorro' with Fairbanks playing both son and father, and having a ball in both roles. Builds on the original film to create a hugely entertaining swashbuckler that shows how far Hollywood had come in just five years.

For all screenings, accommodations will be made to keep Town Hall Theatre patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Silent film programs will now start at 2 p.m. so the theater can comply with public health guidelines for movie theaters, which recommend ample time between screenings for cleaning and sanitizing.

Also, seating will be arranged to observe social distancing and masks will be required inside the theater until patrons are seated.

'The Three Musketeers' (1921) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Sunday, July 26 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 defray expenses.

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Restarting silent film screenings: report from 'Thief of Bagdad' at the Town Hall Theatre

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to the rescue!

Yesterday's screening of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) was the first for me in nearly four months. How did it go?

The big news was the audience. From what I hear, attendance at reopened theaters has been pretty light: people are wary of Covid-19, and also Hollywood isn't releasing much.

Well, except through streaming. 'Hamilton' should have been a big title for theaters this summer, but Disney went with streaming instead. It's another factor making it more difficult for small theaters to stay in business, even factoring out coronavirus.

So how does Douglas Fairbanks Sr. fare in this environment? Well, pretty darned good, I'd have to say.

About 30 people turned up for yesterday's screening at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Ordinarily, that would be somewhat disappointing, even for a sunny summer Sunday.

But theater owner/operator Dennis Markaverich told me it was the biggest turnout for anything since the house reopened this month.

Well, that says something about today's cinema: the most popular title so far is a 1924 blockbuster. Hey, I'll take it!

The screening was a success, as really any big Fairbanks picture is really bound to be. Even I have a hard time messing up his great films of the 1920s: almost a century later, they still hold an audience, and they still hold up.

Town Hall Theatre: interior.

That's one reason the Town Hall Theatre is running a 'Five by Fairbanks' summer series of swashbucklers. If today's Hollywood won't do much to bring people to theaters, then we can at least look to yesterday's hits to get people back into the habit.

So coming up, it's 'Three Musketeers' (1921) on Sunday, July 26; 'Robin Hood' (1922) on Sunday, Aug. 9; and then a 'Zorro' double feature: 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) on Saturday, Aug. 29 and then its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on Sunday, Aug. 30.

Let me say to those concerned about coronavirus: the Town Hall Theater has room for a lot more people, even while limited to half-capacity due to the pandemic per New Hampshire public health guidelines. Thankfully, our state is one of the very few where coronavirus cases continue to decline right now, although that could change if we stop being careful.

So it was a relief to see everyone gladly wearing masks and sitting far enough apart to observe social distancing. Dennis isn't blocking off seats, but it relying on a "laissez faire" approach to social distancing, which for better or worse is kinda the New Hampshire way. (See how we handle seat belts.)

I wore a mask except for when I made opening remarks to the audience, which was seated far enough away, and also when accompanying the film, when I felt the mask got in the way of seeing the keyboard. I really don't think I could accompany in the same way while wearing a mask, as I seem to go stretches without taking a breath, and then take a big one. I don't know, but it would take some getting used to.

Town Hall Theatre: the exterior.

Well, on that topic: Another way yesterday's screening scored a success, I have to say, was with the music.

After a layoff of nearly four months, I wasn't sure how I'd do. All along, I've believed a regular performance schedule was crucial to keeping up fluency in live film accompaniment, at least given my specialized (and limited) musical skills. By "regular" I mean an average of twice a week, and by "performance" I mean in front of actual people while a film is playing, forcing one into a mental state that for me is part of the process.

Well, notwithstanding a little rust here and there, I found film accompaniment to be rather like riding a bicycle. It felt like my last show (Sunday, March 15 at the Somerville Theatre in Boston) was just a few days ago. The only issues were mechanical ones: I just had a few "ciphers" (notes that kept sounding) to deal with, probably due to dust in the keyboard or just lack of use, and also my sustain pedal was squeaky and needs oiling.

Musically, I thought working on pieces such as some Chopin polonaises during the break might give my keyboard playing new depth and insight. Ha! Other than a slightly improved facility with chromatic passages, it was the same old slow-developing me, right back where I left off four months ago.

So for 'Bagdad,' that meant a pseudo-Scheherazadic world of modal scales and melodies with flattened seconds, but everything seemed to hold together as I channeled my inner Rimsky-Korsakov. Afterwards, a concert violinist friend who attended paid me the ultimate compliment: he was so engrossed by the movie that he forgot the music was being made live.

Wow! And this is a guy who studied with Jascha Heifetz!

Speaking of people at screenings: we also had an older gentleman who I'd never seen before. Afterwards, he raised his hand. Working as a delivery boy in New York in the 1950s, he once made a delivery in person to none other than Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He found Doug a nice guy, but didn't respond to my wiseguy question about what kind of a tipper he was.

Ah, the charmed show-biz life we lead here in New Hampshire!

But that's not all. After the lights came up, I found out that author/screenwriter Alison McMahan was in the audience. She introduced herself, and at first the name didn't click. But she's the author of Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, among many other projects.

We exchanged a few pleasantries about the recent rediscovery of a lost Blaché's title in a New Hampshire barn, of all places. Turns out she recently moved to Manchester, N.H., again of all places. So another nice surprise to make the acquaintance of her and her husband, whose name escapes me, although after a screening I sometimes can't remember my own name.

But make no mistake: it was Doug Sr. who carried the day at yesterday's screening. Thanks to everyone who ventured out to the Town Hall for yesterday's screening. Reaction was strong and supportive, and our new earlier start time of 2 p.m. provided ample opportunity afterwards to talk and answer questions, even following Doug's 2½-hour epic.

Many other silent film screenings remain cancelled for me, and probably will remain so into 2021. But if you're in the area and need your silent film/live music fix, the Town Hall Theatre is open and has a strong dose waiting for you.

And if nothing else, next month's 'Zorro' should remind everyone to wear a mask!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Comeback time! Silent films with live music return to Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

All this on Sunday, July 12, and flying carpets besides!

Two words I've been waiting nearly four months to write: They're back!

Silent films with live music, that is. After a long, well, silence, silent film programs with live music are starting to reappear as theatres reopen, at least in my corner of the world.

Specifically, the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. will reopen this weekend after being shut for nearly a third of a year due to Covid-19.

And that includes resuming the regular schedule of silent films with live music. So not only are silent films back, but the house accompanist is back as well.

First up is 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), which we hoped to run in June to open our "Series of Summer Swashbucklers" (say that five times fast) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., but we've now squooshed it over to Sunday, July 12 instead.

The swashbuckler series will culminate in August with a weekend-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Doug's original megahit, 'The Mask of Zorro' (1920).

I'm looking forward to that one, as these days you can't go wrong with a title that features the word "mask."

But first things first: 'The Thief of Bagdad' is a great way to get back. It's an eye-popping spectacle and among Fairbanks' best work, as detailed in the press release attached below.

One thing about Covid-19: in order to reopen, the Town Hall Theatre has had to make some changes to follow public health guidelines.

First, showtimes are 2 p.m. now instead of the former start time of 4:30 p.m., as the theater needs to be cleaned and sanitized between screenings.

Also, movie-goers are asked to observe social distancing in the theater as in other spaces such as the lobby. Face coverings will be required.

In addition, the theater can sit only 50 percent of its capacity, which means we're limited to about 100 people. I'm not sure what kind of attendance we'll get, but if we max out, we'll try to schedule follow-up screenings at a future date to accommodate everyone.

The Town Hall Theatre's main screening room.

On a personal note: I'm grateful to longtime Town Hall Theatre owner/operater (sounds like a truck driver!) Dennis Markaverich for his continuing support of the silent film series.

We've been presenting every month (and sometimes more often) since 2008. If we keep going, our series will soon have lasted longer than the height of the silent period itself!

So thanks to Dennis, and to our loyal audience. I hope the shows continue to meet expectations as we collaborate in bringing to life this lost but lively period of unique artistic achievement.

My last public screening was Sunday, March 15: a double feature of silent Rin Tin Tin films at the Somerville Theatre. Since then, nothing! Within a few days, dozens of performances were cancelled or postponed going all the way through this summer and beyond.

For an accompanist, it's like a drunk being shut off cold turkey.

In my case, I had plenty to do at my day job, which is director of the Aviation Museum of N.H., a small non-profit here in my home state. We had to close, too, and with no money coming in, it was more than a full-time job to manage us through the situation.

One outcome of our efforts was quite serendipitous, and I'm proud enough of it to want to share it here.

Our museum does a lot of in-classroom educational outreach, but that had to stop as well because schools closed and moved to a remote learning model.

What to do? At the museum, we decided to use our flight simulator to create a virtual "Around the World Flight Adventure," a free online program designed to be a educational resource for teachers and students. Besides the physics of flight, we touch on geography, history, culture, and even local snack foods around the globe.

We left our home base at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on May 1, and ever since we've been cruising around the world in a vintage (and virtual) C-47 twin-engine propeller transport, the exact same type of plane my father flew in World War II.

Here we are, flying over the Colosseum in Rome.

And to our surprise, it's really caught on. By combining the rarefied world of the flight simulator (and the latest terrain software, which renders any part of the globe in amazing detail), and repurposing it for general education, we may have invented something new.

Not content to leave it at that, we've tried livestreaming some of the flight segments. Our Memorial Day flight over the beaches of Normandy, France, was somehow picked up by Newsweek Magazine as one of five ways Americans could celebrate Memorial Day virtually, giving us a massive audience from all parts of the globe!

I invite you to check out our 'Around the World Flight Adventure,' which is still going on.

Fortunately, not all has been quiet in the silent film world. Among the bright spots: my colleague Ben Model, a New York-based accompanist, has developed a weekly online "Silent Comedy Watch Party" that's entertaining audiences all over the world. Here's a typical episode.

The show, produced out of Ben's home, has the feel of an early television program, almost like something Ernie Kovacs would have done. I keep expecting an appearance by German disc chockey Wolfgang von Sauerbraten, or Edie Adams to come in and do a song.

Congratulations to Ben, his collaborator Steve Massa, and all the others who play a part in bringing the program to life. I hope it continues, pandemic or not.

For my own part, I have used the break to work on my keyboard technique. My big project is to get the entire Chopin Polonaise in A flat (the "Heroic") under my fingers, and believe it or not I'm about 80 percent there.

If you've never heard it, here it is played by someone who can truly handle it. (The image at left is the only photo of Chopin; he looks like he just heard me trying to play his music.)

Although I improvise and create my own music for film scores, taking the time to work through a piece such as the Chopin helps give me the tools and fluency to go to more and different places.

I'll keep working on the Polonaise (and some other pieces) as it'll be awhile before I get back to the former pace of about 100 performances a year. Many theaters aren't close to opening, and of course we may go back into "stay at home" mode if the virus flares up again.

But 'Thief of Bagdad' is a go, so hope you'll be able to join us as we get back in the groove of recreating the magic of early cinema. Here's the press release with more info:

* * *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as 'The Thief of Bagdad.'

TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film with live music returns to Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, July 12


Summer swashbuckler series to open with Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Thief of Bagdad,' epic 1924 adventure

WILTON, N.H.—It's a comeback worth making some noise about.

After a three-month hiatus due to Covid-19, the Town Hall Theatre's long-running silent film series will restart in July, with extra screenings added to make up for missed shows.

First up is the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. adventure 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), to be shown on Sunday, July 12 at 2 p.m. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

Accommodations will be made to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Silent film programs will now start at 2 p.m. so the Town Hall Theatre can comply with CDC and local public health guidelines for movie theaters, which recommend ample time between screenings for cleaning and sanitizing.

Also, seating will be arranged to observe social distancing and masks will be required inside the theater.

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 swashbuckling 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.

Another scene featuring the famous flying carpet.

A bare-chested Fairbanks plays a crafty street-smart rogue who can easily steal anything his heart desires—anything, that is, 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.

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.

You want a winged horse? Yup, 'Thief of Bagdad' has one of those, too!

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.

Nearly 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 Thief of Bagdad' opens a summer season of silent swashbucklers at the Town Hall Theatre, all starring Douglas Fairbanks. The series will be highlighted by a special Saturday/Sunday screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on the last weekend of August:

● Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m.: 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Original screen adaptation that set the bar for movie versions of The Three Musketeers as well as for the swashbuckler genre itself. An action-adventure tale of a young Gascon, D'Artagnan, whose dream is to join the King's Musketeers, and travels to Paris to do so.

● Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m.: 'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Sword-fighting and archery abound as Fairbanks forsakes his noble identity as the Earl of Huntingdon to become Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor, all the while pursuing the hand of his beloved Lady Marian.

● Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. 100th anniversary of the break-through adventure film where Fairbanks discovered his talent for playing swashbuckling heroes of yore. Still pleasing crowds a century after it first hit theaters!

● Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m.: 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Action/adventure sequel to mega-hit 'Zorro' with Fairbanks playing both son and father, and having a ball in both roles. Builds on the original film to create a hugely entertaining swashbuckler that shows how far Hollywood had come in just five years.

'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Sunday, July 12 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 defray expenses.

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






Monday, February 24, 2020

Notes on Gloria Swanson's 'Manhandled' plus fried pickles at the Kansas Silent Film Festival

Promo art for 'Manhandled' starring Gloria Swanson.

We enjoyed a surprisingly strong turnout for Gloria Swanson in 'Manhandled' (1924) yesterday at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Something like 100 people came to see this rarely screened feature. It was the first time I've accompanied it.

I try to occasionally program lesser-known features just to give them a chance on the big screen, and to see how audiences react.

And 'Manhandled' was of particular interest because it figures quite prominently in an interview Gloria gave to a young Roger Ebert in 1967.

The result? Well, 'Manhandled' generated some laughs and held people's attention throughout. But alas, it's no 'Way Down East.'

Personally, I found it to be pretty weak tea—shop girl Gloria, propelled by misunderstandings with her beau Tom Moore, has misadventures in high society.

Yes, there's some tension between the once-happy couple, but no real drama until the film's final minutes.

And then it amounts to a simple misunderstanding which is promptly cleared up by a simple walk down the hall.

I think the story would have worked better if Gloria and Tom truly broke up at the beginning. Then the misadventures that followed, which enabled both to understand how much they truly meant to each other, would have resulted in a more satisfying experience. But that's just me.

Still, there's a lot to look at: the film was shot at Paramount's studios in Astoria, N.Y. (across the river from Manhattan), and Gloria's opening adventures on the 1920s NYC subway are a highlight.

Gloria's struggles with the subway are a highlight of 'Manhandled.'

Sequences in a big department store where Gloria works have a "look at how they did that!" quality similar to the scenes in Harold Lloyd's 'Safety Last,' made a year earlier. In fact, Gloria does some of the exact same business Lloyd did, such as cutting a garment in two to quell a pair of contentious customers.

But fair is fair: Lloyd's own N.Y.C. subway scenes in 'Speedy' (1928) have much the same feel as Gloria's in 'Manhandled.'

Next up for me: the Kansas Silent Film Festival this weekend in Topeka, Kansas. It's the 21st consecutive year I've attended this gathering, which remains a personal favorite and an annual performance calendar highlight.

Why? Mostly because of the people, I think.

By that, I mean the festival is geared toward the general public rather than the specialized cinema community, although people do travel from faraway places to attend. (Look at me!)

Because it's free, they attracts hundreds of people of all ages, most of whom are local folks ready to enjoy something different. So it's a rare chance to see films designed for the general public shown for exactly that same general audience all these years later. Think of how unusual that is.

But it's also about the people who stage the festival. From that first snowy morning in March 2000 when I wandered into Washburn University's White Concert Hall, I felt welcomed by everyone connected with this festival. Everyone was eager say hello and welcome a stranger, who at the time was thinking about writing a book set during the silent era. (It's something I'm still thinking about.

By the end of the day, I was carrying a pile of 16mm prints in my rental car to the afterglow at the old 'Holidome' on Fairlawn Boulevard.

And then there's this: I came to the Kansas festival at a time when my life was changing. It was a period of transition—a time when I was laying the groundwork to start what would become a successful business. And that became the foundation for a lot of other adventures.

So even now, two decades later, I continue to draw inspiration from visiting Topeka at this time of the year. Films from a century ago somehow kindle and rekindle a sense of future possibilities. And spring is not that far away.

That first year, on my own, I found the Hanover Pancake House in downtown Topeka. On a whim, I had the breaded fried pickle spears, a curious item I'd never had before. It made quite an impression. So the next year, I returned, and had the pickle spears again. And each year thereafter: breaded fried pickle spears.

The iconic Hanover Pancake House in downtown Topeka.

I came to think of it as my personal "Ritual of Creative Renewal." Somehow, breaded fried pickle spears at the Hanover Pancake House in downtown Topeka came to symbolize the promise and limitless possibilities of the future.

Alas, last year (on my 20th consecutive visit), I was crestfallen to find that after all this time and continuity, pickle spears been removed from the menu. Nooooo!

After recovering from the shock, I comforted myself with thoughts about the impermanence of life, and felt glad I still had the hot pickles at Porubsky's (another local delicacy) to carry on my ritual.

And on a larger scale, the Hanover Pancake House itself was the result of the great 1966 tornado that destroyed a large part of downtown Topeka. It, and its parking lot, sprouted from the rubble. How's that for a lesson in impermanence?

Well, this year, whaddaya know? Turns out the Hanover Pancake House has reinstated fried breaded pickle spears. After a one-year hiatus, I can renew my ritual of creative renewal. Hooray!

You know, it's true: sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. But then that makes it all the sweeter if it returns.

Or, in the case of pickles, all the more sour!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Topeka! Utica! Columbus! Cleveland! Ocala!
But first: 'Manhandled' on 2/23 in Wilton, N.H.

Promotional art for Gloria Swanson in 'Manhandled.'

It's a new one for me: 'Manhandled,' a 1924 Gloria Swanson comedy screening on Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton N.H.

Read more about this rarely shown Allan Dwan-direct title in the press release tacked onto this post.

After that, I hit the road. In the next six weeks, I'll accompany screenings in places ranging from Topeka, Kansas (hometown of actress Annette Bening!) to Utica, N.Y. (hometown of another Annette: Annette Funicello.)

But first, I'd be remiss not to tip my tinfoil hat to everyone at the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, which took place this past Sunday-Monday at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. (They really do encourage tinfoil hats, even to the point of providing a supply of Reynolds Wrap in the lobby.

This year's program included a silent entry: the John Barrymore 'Dr. Jekyll & Hyde' (1920) in honor of the film's 100th anniversary, and I was privileged to provide live accompaniment.

Over the years, I've done music for maybe a half-dozen silents for the sci-fi marathon (now in its 45th year), and it's always one of my favorite gigs. Why? Because you can't beat the audience, which hoots and hollers and talks back to the screen and just generally has a ball.

Example: As Dr. Jekyll, John Barrymore's dramatic pause before consuming his potion goes on for just a tad too long. This prompts audience cries of "Drink it! Drink it!!"

And at the end, the ovation that erupts is like no other. The closest I will ever come to feeling like a rock star is the moment after a silent film's 'The End' title at the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon.

Thanks to everyone for making it a memorable experience. I'm actually starting to get bookings for other sci-fi marathons: I did 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924) last month at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and I'm heading out to the Buckeye State again in March to accompany 'The Lost World' (1925) at the Ohio Sci-Fi Marathon in Columbus.

Ah, but first Gloria Swanson gets 'Manhandled' this weekend in Wilton, N.H. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Next up at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.: Gloria Swanson in the 1924 hit 'Manhandled.'

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 12, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Gloria Swanson to get 'Manhandled' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 23


Iconic silent star in uproarious society comedy; silent film with live music

WILTON, N.H.—She's one of the few stars from the silent days whose name is still instantly recognized by the movie-going public.

She's Gloria Swanson, who defined an era with memorable performances that ranged from intense drama to flat-out comedy.

Swanson's comedic gifts are on display in 'Manhandled' (1924), a riotous society comedy, to be screened with live music on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free and open to all; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

'Manhandled,' directed by Allan Dwan, tells the story of Tessie McGuire (Swanson), a down-on-her-luck salesgirl who climbs the social ladder by pretending to be a Russian countess.

Tessie is a working class gal who attends a sculptor's party, where her skill with mimicry makes her a hit. She is hired by a fashionable dressmaking establishment to use her acting skills on their customers.

Tessie finds that by impersonating a Russian noblewoman, she has men at her beck and call. But then authentic Russians arrive, with unexpected complications.

"Seeing a Gloria Swanson picture in a theater with live music and an audience is a classic movie experiences," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician and the Town Hall Theatre's resident accompanist.

Rapsis emphasized the 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 can put those conditions together again, you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'Manhandled' starring Gloria Swanson, will be screened with live music on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 4:30 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 defray expenses.

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