Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sunday, July 31: 'Our Hospitality' and two shorts

This month's 'Summer Romance' screening at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre is 'Our Hospitality' (1923), Keaton's great family feud feature. We're showing it on Sunday, July 31 at 4:30 p.m. (More info is in the release below.)

'Our Hospitality' was a natural for this, as it's the only film to include Keaton's wife Natalie in a major role, and it's bookended in this series with films starring her two more famous sisters. Last month, we ran Constance Talmadge in 'Her Sister From Paris' (1925), a delightful comic romance, and in August we'll screen 'Kiki' (1926), the one light role from Norma Talmadge, who's more well known for her dramatic roles. Many thanks to Tim Lanza of Douris Corp. for giving us permission to screen all three of these wonderful pictures.

I accompanied 'Our Hospitality' last month at the Somerville Theatre in Boston, and was very pleased with how it all came together. Every time I see this film, I come away more impressed with how Buster made the transition from short films to features with such assurance. Take the film's beginning: it was Keaton's masterstroke to stage the 'Our Hospitality' prologue completely straight, without even a hint of comedy. As he later said, a real story was necessary to sustain a full-length feature, and in opening 'Our Hospitality' the way he did, he set the stage for a strong tale that held the interest of an audience, but also supported much Keaton comic business along the way.

Also, I think the period authenticity of this picture (it's set in the 1830s) is so well done that it's almost overlooked by viewers today. It's an old movie, so no surprise that it looks, well, old. But back in the 1920s, when it was made, I imagine Keaton and his team had to work hard to get it to look like it was the 1830s -- just as hard as they would work a few years later to recreate the Civil War period in 'The General.' In 'Our Hospitality,' they went so far as to build a working replica of Stephenson's early railroad locomotive, 'The Rocket' for the scenes in which Buster journeys to collect his interitance. But there are many smaller touches, such as the crude pipes that men smoke, and the many Dutch names in the "New York" scenes, all included without comment. And all those period firearms!

The two Keaton shorts we're running also have a strong "romantic" angle. 'The Playhouse' (1921) has Keaton exploring his feelings for identical twins, while 'My Wife's Relations' (1922) is a wild farce in which Buster is mistakenly married to...well, come see for yourself. Some critics believe the film, made shortly after his marriage to Natalie, was a not-so-veiled expression of how Keaton felt about the powerful Talmadge clan that he'd married into, but there's really no way to truly know. Buster would say he was just trying to get laughs, and I have a feeling he'll get them when we run this picture.

Here's the press release for the screening, which went out last week. Hope to see you there!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Our Hospitality' silent film Sunday, July 31 at Wilton Town Hall Theater

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

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. Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, and admired for their realistic stories and authentic location shots, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Our Hospitality' (1923), one of Keaton's landmark features, at Wilton Town Hall Theater on Sunday, July 31 at 4:30 p.m. The program, the latest in the theater's "Summer Romance" silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with donations welcome.

The program includes two classic short comedies completed by Keaton before he moved up to features: 'The Playhouse' (1921) and 'My Wife's Relations' (1922).

In reviving the Keaton films, the Wilton Town Hall Theater aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise scores on the spot for each film. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life. They all featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

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

'Our Hospitality,' a period comedy set in the 1830s, tells the story of a young man (Keaton) raised in New York City but unknowingly at the center of a long-running backwoods family feud. Highlights of the picture include Keaton's extended journey on a vintage train of the era, as well as a dramatic river rescue scene that climaxes the film. The film stars Keaton's then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, as his on-screen love interest; their first child, newborn James Talmadge Keaton, makes a cameo appearance, playing Buster as an infant. Keaton's father also plays a role in the film.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard him as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies." While making films, Keaton didn't think he was an artist, but merely an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

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.

An entirely intuitive performer, Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated with them. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era's leading talents. A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

In 1923, Keaton made the leap into full-length films with 'Our Hospitality,' which proved popular enough for him to continue making features for the rest of the silent era. Although not all of Keaton's films were box office successes, critics later expressed astonishment at the sudden leap Keaton made from short comedies to the complex story and technical demands required for full-length features.

‘Our Hospitality’ will be shown on Sunday, July 31 at 4:30 p.m. the Wilton Town Hall Theater, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456. Free admission; donations encouraged. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

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