Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thursday, July 17 in Ogunquit, Maine:
Buster Keaton in 'The Navigator' (1924)

Starting with zero, we count the reasons to see 'The Navigator.'

Okay, just a brief note to encourage folks to head on down to the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine on Thursday, July 17.

Why? Because at 8 p.m., we're screening one of the great movie comedies ever made: Buster Keaton's 'The Navigator' (1924), with live music by yours truly.

And rather than go on and on, here are 10 reasons to see it.

1. Showtime is at 8 p.m., which means you have the whole day to enjoy the beach, and then dinner in one of Ogunquit's fine restaurants, and still have plenty of time to catch the show.

2. It's being shown at the Leavitt Theatre, a vintage moviehouse that's even older than 'The Navigator.' (It opened in 1923.) In all these years, the place hasn't changed much at all, so it's a real throwback to what theaters were like before the advent of the multiplex.

3. It's a great example of 'found' comedy. Buster and his crew started with getting use of the ocean liner first, almost by accident, and went from there. They created a story (and all the gags with it) around the ship, so 'The Navigator' has a wonderfully organic feel to it. Sequence after sequence comes clearly from what Buster and his team found on board The Buford.

4. Speaking of The Buford: the ship used in 'The Navigator' is an interesting piece of history all by itself. Prior to becoming Keaton's biggest prop, it was used by the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Labor to deport 249 non-citizens (including activist Emma Goldman) to Russia from the United States because of their alleged anarchist or syndicalist political beliefs.

5. 'The Navigator' contains some underwater sequences that are, well, groundbreaking. To get them, Keaton went up to Lake Tahoe, where the water is clear but freezing cold, and shot footage around a mock-up of the ship's exterior. It's clearly Keaton in the bulky diving suit, and his ability to get laughs while even under the most rigorous and demanding physical conditions is really something to see.

6. The program includes a rarely screened Keaton short comedy called 'The Boat.' It's a kind of warm-up for what would come later in 'The Navigator,' and is full of Keaton's unique brand of physical comedy.

7. The musical accompaniment is live and made up right there on the spot. I sometimes neglect to play up this angle because the main focus should be on the film, which the music should support. But the improv element really does add a certain freshness and immediacy to a silent film screening that makes it different from other movie-going experiences.

8. You just have to see Buster in his old-school deep-sea diving gear.

9. The Leavitt Theatre now has a liquor license, and has even set up a small bar to serve drinks way up in the back of the theater.

10. 'The Navigator' is funny. Really. But it's only really as funny as it ought to be when seen on the big screen, and with live music, and with a live audience, as it was intended to be shown. See for yourself by joining us on Thursday, July 17 for this screening at the Leavitt Theatre.

If you'd like more info, the press release is below. Hope to see you at 'The Navigator,' and at all the upcoming films that make up the Leavitt Theatre's silent film series this summer.

* * *

Buster tries boiling an egg in 'The Navigator' (1924).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Classic silent comedy ‘The Navigator’ (1924)
in Ogunquit (Me.) on Thursday, July 17

Buster Keaton's nautical masterpiece to be screened
with live music at historic Leavitt Theatre

OGUNQUIT, Me.—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 also admired for their authentic location shots and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The Navigator' (1924), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, at the historic Leavitt Theatre on Thursday, July 17 at 8 p.m. The program, part of a series of silent film programs at the Leavitt, will be accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

The Leavitt Theatre, which recently converted to digital projection for first-run features, is a moviehouse that has been in continual operation since opening in 1923.

'The Navigator' follows the adventures of wealthy nitwit Rollo Treadway (Keaton) and his pampered girlfriend, who find themselves adrift alone on a massive ocean liner. Forced to fend for themselves without servants, the pair attempt to cope with day-to-day life, creating classic comedy in the process.

But when the ship runs aground on a remote island inhabited by cannibals, is Buster's resourcefulness enough to save the day?

Filmed at sea on a real ocean liner that Keaton turned into the largest prop in comedy history, 'The Navigator' has been hailed as one of the most original and distinctive movies to come out of silent film's golden era of comedy. The film was highlighted by underwater scenes, with Keaton in an oversized antique diving suit, that were revolutionary at the time.

Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who accompanies shows at venues across New England, said Keaton's films weren't intended to be shown on television or viewed at home.

In reviving 'The Navigator,' the :eavitt Theatre aims to show silent film as it was 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. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'The Navigator' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find hugely entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening

"What I do is something of a high wire act—kind of like 'Who's Line Is It Anyway' for film scoring," Rapsis said. "But it definitely creates a one-of-a-kind spontaneity that reflects the energy of the film as well as the audience's reaction to it."

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

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.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'The Navigator.'

Following 'The Navigator' (1924) on Thursday, July 17, the Leavitt's silent film series continues through October. All films will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

• Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 8 p.m.: 'Peter Pan' (1924). Celebrate summer with the original silent film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's immortal tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up. Join the Darling children as they follow Peter to Never Never Land to do battle with the evil Captain Hook. A film that has lost none of its power over children of all ages.

• Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 8 p.m.: 'Charlie Chaplin Comedy Night.' Spend an evening with the Little Tramp on the 100th anniversary of his first screen appearances. The whole family will enjoy restored prints of some of Chaplin's most popular comedies shown the way they were intended: on the big screen, with live music, and an audience!

• Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, 8 p.m.: 'Tarzan Double Feature.' In 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927), an early screen adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, finds Tarzan adopting an orphaned lion cub, with unexpected results. Other Tarzan feature to be announced.

• Saturday, Oct 25, 2014, 8 p.m.: 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925). 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. Just in time for Halloween! The program is subtitled 'Chiller Theater' due to the theater's lack of central heating.

'The Navigator' (1924) starring Buster Keaton will be screened in 35mm with live music on Thursday, July 17 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

Critic comments on 'The Navigator':

"The Navigator looks and feels like it could be one of today's summer mega-blockbusters. It has a great, simple premise that includes the destroying of a huge set. It's endlessly imaginative, funny, inventive, etc. It's one of the greatest movies I have ever seen."
—Jeffrey Anderson, Combustible Celluloid, 2001

"His comic timing is brilliant. He says more in his face than most actors today do with their face and voices. It's a very funny story with dozens of very memorable comic scenes. A true classic."
—James Higgins, Turner Classic Movies, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment