Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dziga Vertov's 'Man With a Movie Camera' to screen on Wednesday, 9/30 in Plymouth, N.H.

A poster for the Russian film 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), which I'll accompany on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Had a lot of fun today accompanying Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) to an audience of about 40 people at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As a sign of how strange things are right now in the movie exhibition business: this summer, silent films with live music have been the top box office attraction at the Town Hall Theatre.

Today's audience included several families with children. In welcoming everyone, I announced the presence of the youngsters by urging all adults to behave themselves so as to make a good impression on the kids. 

The two Keaton pictures were both about the movies, and so is the next one: 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), Russian avant garde director Dziga Vertov's extraordinary documentary about daily life as captured on film. 

I say "extraordinary" because unlike a narrative film that tells a story, 'Man With a Movie Camera' instead plays like a piece of music: fast, slow, and then fast, and so on. It's like a visual symphony. 

Lots more info in the press release, which I'm pasting in below. Hope to see you next week at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth!

P.S. Want to drive your spellcheck function crazy? Try typing in this film title: Koyaanisqatsi

*    *    *

The eyes have it: an image from 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929).
 

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Man With A Movie Camera' with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Feature-length silent documentary about Russian city life regarded as world's first extended music video

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It has no story, but it tells everyone's story. It's a silent film, but it's the world's first music video. It has no actors because the star is you, the audience.

It's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of city life via a dizzying collage of images and kinetic cinematography that's left audiences breathless for nearly a century.

'Man With A Movie Camera' will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 30 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.

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

Vertov's experimental documentary caused a sensation when it was released at the end of the 1920s, when motion pictures were still a new artistic medium.

Even with no story and no actors, 'Man With A Movie Camera' was filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

Although no official score was composed for the silent feature, director Vertov specified the type of music that he wanted played wherever the film was screened. Rapsis will create music that follows those guidelines.

"Vertov wanted a kind of kinetic, energetic music to be played with the film, rather than unobtrusive background music," Rapsis said. "The goal is to create music that acts as an equal partner in conveying a kind of exhilaration that I think Vertov was going for."

Filmed mostly in the bustling city of Odessa in the late 1920s, the film features a wide range of slice-of-life scenes showing everything from streetcars to sports contests. Vertov took his camera everywhere, from a birth hospital to a divorce court.

Most spectacularly, Vertov experimented with filming ordinary scenes (such as a crowded public square) at a very slow frame rate. When run at a normal speed, the result was a speeded-up view of reality that few had ever seen or studied before.

Vertov's wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, was an equal partner in creating 'Man With A Movie Camera,' editing the film. She also appears in the film, editing it as we're watching it.

Editor Yelizaveta Svilov, wife of director Dziga Vertov, is seen editing the film in 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929).

"It's a film filled with self-referential puzzles and meta moments," Rapsis said. "It also plays like a piece of visual music, with fast sequences followed by slow ones and moods that often change."

"Although 'Man With A Movie Camera' has some dark scenes, ultimately it's a celebration — of life in what was then the fast-changing Soviet Union, but also in a way that speaks to life regardless of time or place," Rapsis said.

"That's what I'll try to capture in the musical score, which will be performed live and largely improvised," Rapsis said.

At the reopened Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place 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.

"Films from the silent era were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," Rapsis said.

'Man With A Movie Camera' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• 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.

‘Man With A Movie Camera’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 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.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Next: Two silent film programs that look at movies themselves. First up: Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'Cameraman' on Sat., 9/20 in Wilton, N.H.


Original promotional art for Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928).

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel 'Slaughterhouse Five,' there's a British officer who's been in a German prison camp since the very start of World War II. His survival routine included looking in a mirror each morning to frankly evaluate his appearance, posture, and bearing.

Wow! If I had a survival routine, it wouldn't involve looking in a mirror, as that would almost certainly rob me of my will to live. 

But holding up a mirror can be a good thing, despite unexpected results — especially when it's someone like Buster Keaton holding up a mirror to the then-new medium of motion pictures. 

And it's also a good thing when an artist such as Dziga Vertov holds up mirror to life in the then-new Soviet Union, using the art of cinema to create a reflection of life itself.

Movies from both filmmakers are on the silent film calendar in the next couple of weeks. On Sunday, Sept. 20, I'll accompany a double-feature of Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), a pair of films with stories rooted in the movie business.

The screening is at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

And on Wednesday, Sept. 30, I'll do music for a screening of Vertov's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), a head-spinning slice-of-life documentary with no traditional narrative or story itself, unless you count the story of life itself, which I believe was Vertov's subject. 

The screening is at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. More details are on the "Upcoming Screenings" page, and I'll get the press release into a later post. 

For now, the focus (another movie term!) is on Buster, who plays with motion picture reality in both films we're running on Sunday, Sept. 20. 

As with all of Buster's films, the main goal was laughter. Keaton's style of comedy, however, led him to naturally to explore the strange new world of the motion picture, which he does in both 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928).

While many people marvel at the technical wizardry that enabled Keaton to put some eye-popping special effects into 'Sherlock Jr.,' I think 'The Cameraman' shows equal ingenuity in another way: in its story construction.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton creates a simple tale of a would-be newsreel cameraman that allows all manner of commentary (and laughter) about the business he's in. 

Example: a producer watches exciting newsreel footage of a dramatic event (not knowing that it was captured by an organ grinder's monkey), and shouts "That's the best camera work I've seen in years!" 

Knowing the truth of the matter, we laugh at the producer's assessment. But by holding up a mirror to the motion picture business, in 'The Cameraman' Keaton creates an insider's fun-house that transcends laughter and triggers infinity again and again. 

Hope you'll join us! Here's the press release with more info and all the details.

*   *   *


Buster Keaton in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

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

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

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

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the most timeless; 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."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 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. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The end of August, a very good month;
next up, Buster Keaton double feature on 9/20

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. protects the honor of Marguerite De La Motte in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

This past weekend's double feature of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), marked the end of a surprisingly busy month of silent film screenings. 

Altogether, August brought a total of 11 screenings, which is about on pace with what the performance schedule looks like in non-pandemic times. That's heartening, because the calendar was pretty much empty from March through July.

The bulk of these shows were at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., which gave up on first-run films (due to low attendance) and programmed an entire week of silent comedies, which actually did quite well!

The Zorro double feature was planned a long time ago to honor the 100th anniversary of the first film's 1920 release. Showing Zorro and its sequel back-to-back turned out to be a great ending for our summer series of silent swashbucklers starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

In accompanying both films, I challenged myself to come up with different musical material for each movie. After all, they're set in different places and involve a completely different story and characters. Only when the older Zorro appears in 'Don Q' did I let myself reuse some of the music from the earlier film.

This turned out to be pretty effective. After Sunday's screening of 'Don Q,' a women I'd never met before came up to say she really enjoyed how I brought back Saturday's music for Don Q's father, the original Zorro. Wow, someone noticed!

So in August, the Town Hall Theatre was where more than half the screenings took place, mostly due to the week of silent comedies. This counter-programming got another write-up in Box Office Pro, in case you're interested.

But I also had screenings at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse up in Plymouth, N.H., which has also reopened, plus the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass., my first show south of the border since Covid-19 shut everything down earlier this year.

Things quiet back down considerably in September: just a few screenings at the end of the month, with still no action at regular venues such as the Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. or the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine or the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass., all of which remain closed.  

Even Halloween — normally the busiest time of the year for me — looks pretty bleak, with just a handful of screenings on the calendar. You'd think it would be a good year for Nosferatu (1922), with its plague references. 

I might reach out to some venues that are open but not known for running silents and see if they'll try something different. The screenings I've done recently shows people will turn out. So we'll see.

For now, thanks to everyone at the theaters who have tried to make a go of it. Even in the age of limited capacities and social distancing, we've had some good screenings that successfully recreated the silent cinema experience.

Next up: nothing until a Keaton double feature at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Sept. 20, although that could change. For now, here's the press release with all the details. Hope to see you there!

*    *    * 

Original promotional art for 'The Cameraman' starring Buster Keaton.

MONDAY, AUG. 31, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

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

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

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

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the most timeless; 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."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 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. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Two Zorros are better than one: Original, sequel with live music on Aug. 29 & 30 in Wilton, N.H.

Douglas Fairbanks fails to demonstrate proper face-covering technique in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

This weekend brings a two-fer: the original big screen 'Zorro' (1920) on Saturday, Aug. 29, followed by its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on Sunday, Aug. 30. Live music by you-know-who.

Screenings are at 2 p.m. the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with donations of $10 per person suggested to help support the silent film series. 

 It's a rare chance to see these two related films back-to-back, which allows film-goers to appreciate the connections between the pair, but also to see how far movies had come in just five years.

A lot more info about the films and the screenings is in the press release, which I've pasted into this post a bit further down.

Before that, however, let me report that Harold Lloyd's comedy 'Why Worry?' was greeted this evening by uproarious laughter from a good-sized crowd at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center up in Plymouth, N.H.

They must have not had enough R's, L's, or Y's to spell Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?' 

It's the closest to a "normal" silent film screening I've experienced since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down live performances back in March.

Since I started accompanying screenings again last month, attendance has been hit-or-miss: a lot of people are cautious about congregating and still feel pretty vulnerable. 

But tonight's screening of 'Why Worry?' checked all the boxes: large crowd (for the Covid-19 era); genuinely funny film; generous audience response; a unique shared experience — needed now more than ever!

So I can say the silent film experience is still alive and well, at least in this corner of the planet. And if you're in the same corner, I invite you to check out 'Zorro' and 'Son of Zorro' this weekend in Wilton, N.H. Here's the press release...

*   *   *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. plays the son of Zorro, or Zorro Jr. Confused?

MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall to screen 'Zorro' and sequel 'Son of Zorro' over a single weekend Aug. 29 & 30

Swashbuckling silent adventure films starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to be shown with live music for 100th anniversary of Zorro's release

WILTON, N.H.—It's a rare chance to see the classic silent adventure 'The Mark of Zorro' and its popular sequel, 'Son of Zorro' all in one weekend.

On Saturday, Aug. 29, the Town Hall Theatre will present 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to mark the 100th anniversary of the film's original release.

Then, on Sunday, Aug. 30, the theatre will run 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), a continuation of the Zorro story and Hollywood's first-ever big budget sequel.

In 'Don Q, Son of Zorro,' Fairbanks plays dual roles: his original sword-brandishing 'Zorro' character and also his whip-wielding son.

Both screenings start at 2 p.m. and will be accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses and support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

"These two films were among the most popular of the 1920s, and there are many links between them," Rapsis said. "It's a rare chance to see them both together, although each is entertaining and enjoyable on its own."

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., an immensely popular star whose career peaked in the 1920s, served as the model for the George Valentin character in 'The Artist,' the recent silent film that recently won multiple Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture.

'The Mark of Zorro,' to be screened on Saturday, Aug. 29, tells the story of young Don Diego Vega, the son of a wealthy ranch owner in Spanish California of the early 19th century.

Witnessing the mistreatment of the poor by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego assumes the identity of "SeƱor Zorro," a masked figure of great cunning and skill, and vows to bring justice to the region.

The film stars Fairbanks, who until 'Zorro' had focused on playing traditional all-American leading roles in romantic comedies.

The success of 'Zorro' launched Fairbanks on a series of historical adventure films that went on to rank among the most popular spectacles of the silent era, including 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) and 'Robin Hood' (1922).

The enduring popularity of 'Zorro' led Fairbanks to film the sequel, which continues the story to another generation.


In 'Don Q, Son of Zorro,' Fairbanks plays Don Cesar de Vega, Zorro's grown son, a prodigy with the whip who is visiting the family's Spanish homeland to finish his education.

The trip is no dull semsester abroad: Cesar duels with Don Sebastian of the Queen's Guard (soon to be his rival for the hand of lovely Dolores de Muro), makes love to a general's daughter, and befriends the visiting Archduke of Austria.

But a quarrel ending in violence gives Don Sebastian the chance to dispose of his rival by framing him for murder! Feigning suicide, Zorro's whip-wielding son escapes to the family's abandoned castle, where he makes plans to clear the family name.

Both screenings will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis.

Rapsis achieves a "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

"Each of the 'Zorro' films are terrific movies on their own, but the chance to see the original and then the sequel is a great way to present these two films as they were intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," said Rapsis, who provides live music accompaniment for silent film screenings across New England and beyond.

'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. Its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) will be screened with live music on Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. Each screening is free and open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses.

Both screenings take place at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry?' in Plymouth, N.H.: a perfectly titled comedy for troubled times

Harold's giant friend sports vertical stripes to make him seem even taller!

Next up: Harold Lloyd's surreal south-of-the-border fantasy 'Why Worry?' (1923), which I'm accompanying on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Wow, talk about a title that ought to resonate with today's audiences, 97 years after its original release.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. 

More info below. But first, an update on recent screenings.

Last week, with so many performing venues still not open, I may have been the busiest silent film accompanist on the planet. 

Why? Because a local independent theater temporarily gave up on showing first-run films. Instead, every night from Monday through Friday, the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. ran silent comedy programs with live music.

Rather than limp by with Hollywood's meager diet of current titles, we feasted on Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. (And with a side helping of Harry Langdon.) 

And the audiences came! Attendance ranged from 50 people for Keaton's 'The General' (1927) to about a dozen for Langdon's 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

Those are not exactly full houses. But they're a heckuva lot better than, say, Steve Carell in 'Irresistible' (2020), which on several nights last month at the same theater attracted exactly ZERO patrons.

Part of this, of course, is that with Covid-19 among us, many people still aren't ready to return to experiencing cinema in its natural environment — in a darkened room filled with strangers.

But the Town Hall Theatre, like other venues in my part of the world, has been required to take steps to minimize the risk. Seating is limited to half capacity (in this case, from 216 to 108), face-coverings must be worn, and so on.

And I have to say, attendance at the Town Hall Theatre's silent film shows so far has struck a pretty good balance: there's enough people to create that sense of an audience being present, but also still plenty of room to spread out and achieve social distancing.

I also have to say: I much prefer New Hampshire's Covid-19 theater rules to the way things are in Massachusetts, where theaters of any size are limited to just 25 people. 

Still, even with that constraint, brave venues are testing the waters. A Buster Keaton double feature — ('The Cameraman' (1928) and 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) — last Sunday marked my first screening south of the border since things closed last March.

Held at the Center for the Arts in Natick, the 25-person limit wasn't a factor, as the screening attracted all of eight people. Still, a great time was had by all (I can say that conclusively because afterwards I talked with each person) but maybe Bay Staters aren't yet ready to get out and about. The first wave was a lot more serious down there.

Back to my five-shows-in-a-row experience: Being at the keyboard every night, it felt a little like what it must have been like to be an actual working movie theater musician in the silent era. One exception: one then had to worry about forgetting to turn off his or her phone prior to the show. 

Okay, more comedy on the way in the form of 'Why Worry?' next week up in Plymouth, N.H. And don't worry, here's the press release.

*   *   *

Let's hope Harold isn't suffering from Covid-19 in 'Why Worry?' (1923).

MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Harold Lloyd stars in 'Why Worry?' on Wednesday, Aug. 26 in Plymouth, N.H.

Public welcome: Flying Monkey to screen classic feature-length silent comedy with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He was the bespectacled young man next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.

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

See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a revival of 'Why Worry?' (1923), one of his zaniest comedies.

'Why Worry?' will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 26 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.

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

Lloyd's go-getter character proved immensely popular throughout the 1920s, with fans following him from one adventure to the next.

Harold tries on political revolution (and some boots) in 'Why Worry?' (1923).

In the political satire 'Why Worry?', Harold plays a wealthy hypochondriac traveling abroad who gets caught up in a local uprising.

Thrown into prison, Harold is forced to use his wits to escape and rescue his nurse from the clutches of an evil Revolutionary.

Regarded as one of Lloyd's most surreal movies, 'Why Worry?' features a cast that includes an actual real-life giant—8-foot-tall John Aasen, discovered in Minnesota during a national talent search.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Why Worry?' as the film screens. In creating accompaniment for the Lloyd movies and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

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

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.

"These comedies were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," said Rapsis. "Plus, we need all the laughs we can get, which makes a film titled 'Why Worry?' particularly timely.

'Why Worry?' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• 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.

‘Why Worry?’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 26 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.

For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Next up for 'Silent Comedy Week': Charlie Chaplin and a very young Uncle Fester in 'The Kid' (1921)

Tonight's 'Silent Film Comedy Week' attraction: 'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan.

When you work in show biz, you expect to rub elbows with the famous and near-famous.

But when your branch of show biz includes musical accompaniment to screenings of silent films, you take what you can get. 

For instance: after a screening last month of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., a gentleman in the audience said that in the 1950s, when he worked as a delivery boy in Manhattan, he once delivered a package to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.!

Wow! So we gave him a round of applause. What else could we do?

Which takes us to 'The Kid' (1921), starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, which is tonight's title for the ongoing "Silent Comedy Week" at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The first time I did live music for 'The Kid' was in 2008 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Afterwards, a gentleman from Derry, N.H. (I remember) raised his hand to announce that his uncle's cousin by marriage (or some kind of non-direct relative, which I don't remember) had, as a young child, the distinction of working in Hollywood as Jackie Coogan's stunt double.

Wow again! So, yes, he got a round of applause. What else could we do? Of course there was no way to check the accuracy of this claim, but why would anyone make up something so specific?

So I've come to enjoy these random brushes with fame that surface within the audience for silent film screenings I do, even in the most rural New Hampshire crossroads. 

A good example is a kindly gentleman who for a time was attending screenings at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. who turned out to be the grandson of Rudi Blesh, the jazz expert who collaborated with Buster Keaton on the comedian's first biography in the 1950s. 

Amazingly, this gentlemen had in his possession many of the photos and other Keaton family mementos that his grandfather had used in writing the book. They've since been acquired by the International Buster Keaton Society, known as 'The Damfinos.'

And once, after a screening in Brandon, Vt., a very tall middle-aged fellow came up to me to talk music, and turned out he was the grandson of operetta composer Rudolph Friml of 'When I'm Calling You' Indian Love Song fame! 

And let me use this opportunity (operetta-tunity?) to share with you a couplet that renowned poet Ogden Nash sent Friml on his 90th birthday:

"I trust your conclusion and mine are similar: 'Twould be a happier world if it were Frimler."

Sometimes the connections are surprising: at one screening of 'Wings' (1927) I accompanied, in attendance was director William Wellman's youngest daughter, who lives in this part of the world and had never actually seen her father's Academy Award-winning blockbuster. (She enjoyed it!)

And perhaps the strongest connection I've come across was a retired local English teacher, Dick Backus, who as a young man was an actor in New York, and had an extended run on stage with Gloria Swanson in the 1970s, when she starred in a play titled "Butterflies Are Free." Dick would sometimes attend screenings and it was a Swanson flick, he'd talk about his experiences working with Gloria. 

Dick, are you still out there? Let's connect. If this pandemic continues, we could do a whole week of Gloria Swanson silents at the Town Hall Theater, and put you in an easy chair onstage to reminisce. 

But tonight it's 'The Kid.' I'm not sure if our local connection to Jackie Coogan's childhood stunt double will attend, but I sure hope so.

And just to show you how I can crank out the press releases, here's one for tonight's showing. See you there!

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Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan star in 'The Kid' (1921) tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

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

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' to screen on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Town Hall Theatre

Landmark movie about Little Tramp raising an orphan to be shown with live music as part of Silent Film Comedy Week

WILTON, N.H.—It's a story with "a smile, and perhaps a tear." It's Charlie Chaplin's breakthrough feature comedy, 'The Kid' (1921) and it screens with live music at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person, with proceeds to support the Town Hall Theatre during its temporary closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

The Town Hall Theatre observes all recommended CDC and local public health guidelines to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Movie-goers are asked to wear face-coverings in the lobby and theatre until seated; capacity is reduced 50 percent to allow for social distancing; and all high touch areas are cleaned and sanitized after each screening.

Chaplin was already the world's most popular comedian and filmmaker when he produced 'The Kid,' his first feature-length project.

The movie, with its daring mix of intense drama and slapstick comedy, proved an instant sensation and marked one of the high points of Chaplin's long career.

'The Kid' follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who attempts to raise an orphaned boy on his own. It includes several classic scenes, and is highlighted by a sequence in which Chaplin battles authorities attempting to return the child to an orphanage.

Co-starring with Chaplin in 'The Kid' is five-year-old Jackie Coogan, who turned in what many critics rank as the best child performance of the entire silent film era. Chaplin himself worked closely with the young Coogan for more than a year to develop the youngster's acting abilities.

Coogan went on to a long career that much later included the role of "Uncle Fester" in the popular 1960s Addams Family television show.

“Chaplin's first real feature mixes slapstick and sentiment in a winning combination, as the Tramp raises a streetwise orphan. Wonderful film launched Coogan as a major child star, and it's easy to see why.”
– Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

The screening of 'The Kid' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'The Kid' is part of Silent Film Comedy Week at the Town Hall Theatre, which has temporarily stopped running first-run movies due to lack of availability.

Thursday will bring Harold Lloyd's 1922 comedy classic 'Grandma's Boy,' while Friday finishes the week with Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

"Response has been great so far," Rapsis said. "Maybe we're at the point where we could all use a good laugh."

'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Tickets $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"It's got Joan Crawford in it? Does she play the tramp?" Plus thoughts about Harry Langdon

Can you tell? Guess who plays the clown in this picture.

Silent Comedy Week continues tonight, with a screening of Harry Langdon's 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926) accompanied by live music at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

Show time is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per person, which is a difference from the silent films we've run on Sunday afternoons for years. 

On Sunday, the screenings have always been free, just like the Kansas Silent Film Festival, so as to encourage the largest possible attendance, because the audience is an important part of the silent film experience. 

Yes, donations are accepted. But we've always felt that keeping it open to everyone regardless of ability to pay has improved the experience, and also helped us build and audience over time. 

But Silent Comedy Week is intended to help pay the bills at the Town Hall Theatre, which was closed from mid-March to July because of Covid-19, and is now closed again due to a lack of first-run movies to program. 

An independent movie theater isn't a public utility. It won't be there if it's not supported, which is something Hollywood doesn't seem to get now that it's sending all the good stuff directly to streaming.

So Silent Film Comedy Week is a way to keep people coming to the theater, and the $10 admission charge is a way to help the Town Hall Theatre pay its bills, which include utilities. 

Our first night out, we had 39 people attend Buster Keaton's 'The General.' Pretty good for a Monday night! But then again, Keaton's Civil War masterpiece always attracts an audience.

Alas, I forgot to make my joke about the theater charging 'General' admission. Or that the picture was suitable for 'General' audiences. Double har!

Tonight is the real test: Harry Langdon is a name few recognize. And 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' is a title that's not exactly 'When Harry Met Sally.' I get more flashes of interest when I mention that Harry's love interest in the film happens to be a very young Joan Crawford.

 

It's true! Harry Langdon and...Joan Crawford?!

(Last night, this prompted a woman to ask Town Hall Theatre manager Dennis Markevarich: "It's got Joan Crawford in it? Does she play tramp?")

 It also helps that the creative team behind 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' included a very young Frank Capra, who would soon be promoted to director on Langdon's next picture, 'The Strong Man.'

So you may not be just wild about Harry, but I hope 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' has enough of interest to convince you to come out of your Covid-19 shell and join us for tonight's screening. 

And if you'd like more info, I didn't put out a press release for this specific show, but here's one anyway, just for you, as the Ad Council describes all the things the forest provides in those public service announcements on the radio.

See you tonight! You'll recognize me by the keyboard in front of me. 

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Original promotional art for Harry Langdon's 'Tramp Tramp Tramp.'

TUESDAY, AUG. 11, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film comedy 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at Town Hall Theatre

With live music: Harry Langdon, Joan Crawford star in cross-country comedy created by a young Frank Capra

WILTON, N.H.—Relive the golden age of screen comedy with a silent film program, complete with live music, on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Featured attraction is 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a full-length comedy starring Harry Langdon and written by a very young Frank Capra, who would later direct the classic Christmas film 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

Joan Crawford, at the very beginning of her career, co-stars with Langdon, a comedian whose popularity rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin for a brief period in the 1920s.

Admission is $10 per person, with proceeds to support the Town Hall Theatre during its temporary closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

In 'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' Langdon plays a young man determined to rescue the family shoe business from a much larger manufacturer.

To win money, he enters a cross-country walking race, but things get complicated when be develops a hopeless crash on the daughter of the rival factory's owner, whom he only knows through her picture on billboards.

Can Harry beat the odds, win the race, get the girl, and save the family business?

'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' filmed outdoors and on location, takes viewers on a cross-country journey that pits Harry again competitors, convicts, police officers, and even Mother Nature.

Langdon, a vaudeville performer and late-comer to silent film comedy, rocketed to sudden stardom in the late 1920s on the strength of 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' and other popular movies.

His character was that of an innocent child-like man constantly bewildered by the complexity of modern life.

Unlike many comedians of the era, Langdon earned laughs not by overreacting, but instead by his extreme slowness to respond.

"It was a whole different way of doing comedy at the time, and was a breath of fresh air in the frenetic world of film comedy," said Jeff Rapsis, who will perform a live score to the movie during the screening.

Langdon's popularity fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies in the late 1920s, but he remains of interest to film buffs today.

Seeing 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' at the Town Hall Theatre will give local audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who improvises a movie's musical score live during the screening.

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today," he said.

Rapsis performs on a digital keyboard that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

The silent film series honors the Town Hall Theatre's long service as a cinema for generations of movie-goers.

'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a silent film comedy starring Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford, will be shown with live music on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Tickets $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.