Friday, August 17, 2012

Up next: Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921)
at Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass.

I like showing Chaplin's 'The Kid' because it's a good picture for music, but also because it's an excellent introduction to silent film in general.

For one thing, it looks and feels like what an audience might expect of a silent film, so it doesn't put people off by immediately challenging their assumptions. But it also holds up well and remains dramatically and comically effective—enough to leave people curious and wanting more.

Several times, I've heard people unfamiliar with silent film say afterwards that they expected 'The Kid' to be a musty museum curiosity. They were surprised to find it absorbing and compelling and, yes, moving.

Part of that, I think, is the cast. Chaplin remains the most universally and readily recognized persona from the silent film period — for many, he simply embodies it. And Jackie Coogan's child star turn crosses all barriers. Audience response is almost automatic.

Another reason I like screening 'The Kid' is because I grew up watching the old "Addams Family" sit-com, and it never ceases to amaze me that little Jackie Coogan would much later in life go on to play Uncle Fester. There's an arc for you!

And if an audience responds to nothing else, then SPOILER ALERT! the appearance of an angelic dog in the dream sequence never fails to provoke a reaction.

A few years ago, we screened 'The Kid' in Manchester, N.H., and I was surprised to be approached by a woman from Derry, N.H. who claimed to be the granddaughter of Jackie Coogan's stunt double for this film! There was no way to verify such a claim, nor was there a reason to (why would someone make that up?), so we introduced her to the audience and she got a nice round of applause.

I don't remember the woman's name, but if she's out there, she's welcome to attend a screening of 'The Kid' on Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

It's part of a new series of silent films in a wonderful facility. I'm doing live music and the film is being introduced by silent film author and scholar Christopher DiGrazia. (He'll start his talk at 6:30 p.m.) We'll also have a couple of the Chaplin Mutual shorts to get started, and to show how Chaplin grew and challenged himself as an artist in the span of just a few years.

It's free and open to the public. Come one, come all! Especially if you're related to Jackie Coogan's stunt double.

More info on Christopher and his series of "Theda Bara Mysteries" can be found at his Web site at More info about the screening can be found below, in the repurposed press release that went out last week. Hope to see you there!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) to screen
on Wednesday, Aug. 22 in North Andover (Mass.)

Silent film comedy/drama to be presented with live music at Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—Silent film with live music returns to the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass. with a screening of Charlie Chaplin's classic comedy/drama 'The Kid' (1921) on Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. Admission to the screening is free and the public is welcome.

The screening will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. with an informal discussion by Christopher DiGrazio, noted silent film expert and author. Musical accompaniment for 'The Kid' will be performed live during the screening by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

'The Kid' is the latest feature in the Rogers Center's ongoing silent film series. The program aims to recapture the magic of early Hollywood by presenting silent films as they were intended to be shown: in restored prints, in a theater on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put together those elements, it's amazing how much power these films still have," said Rapsis, who specializes in improvising live music for silent film screenings across New England. "You realize why these films caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

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.

'The Kid' will be preceded by several short Chaplin comedies made earlier in his career.

Upcoming silent film programs at the Rogers Center include:

• Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 7 p.m.: "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin. Celebrate Halloween with one of the all-time classics. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance.

• Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 7 p.m.: "The Mark of Zorro" (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.; Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars in the still-thrilling original adaptation of the tale of a masked avenger who sought justice in Spanish California. Great crowd-pleaser that had an enormous impact on popular culture, including inspiration for the "Batman" comic book series.

All film screenings will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation and discussion by silent film expert and author Christopher DiGrazia. The films will be accompanied by live original music performed by Rapsis, who specializes in creating silent film scores improvised on the spot.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films can be surprisingly sophisticated. They still retain a tremendous ability to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

'The Kid' will be screened on Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts, located on Walsh Way on the campus of Merrimack College, 315 Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass. Admission is free. For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355.


“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

1 comment:

  1. That's how much I love the film, Charlie and Jackie Coogan. Salute