This Sunday at the Somerville (Mass.) Theatre, we close out this year's monthly programs of silent film in 35mm with a doozy: 'The Strong Man' (1926) starring Harry Langdon.
I've accompanied 'The Strong Man' several times, and it's grown into one of my all-time favorite silents.
Yes, it's absolutely crammed with gags, and contains some of Langdon's all-time best routines. It really gives an audience a good time, even if they've never encountered Langdon before.
But underneath the surface comedy is a richly textured film that resonates on several levels.
This may have something to do with 'The Strong Man' being the first feature directed by a very young Frank Capra, which in itself is a reason to catch this Sunday afternoon's screening.
As a warm-up, we're running 35mm prints of a pair of Keaton two-reelers: 'Cops' and 'One Week.' The show, set for Sunday, Nov. 16, starts at 2 p.m.
For more info, here's the text of a press release. Note how we deliberately played up the "Capra" connection, as his name is more recognized today, alas, than Harry Langdon's. That's show biz!
MONDAY, NOV. 3, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Frank Capra's first movie highlights silent film program at Somerville Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 16
Harry Langdon's classic silent comedy 'The Strong Man,' directed by a very young Frank Capra, to be shown in 35mm with live music
SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Silent film with live music returns to the big screen at the Somerville Theatre this month with a showing of an uproarious comedy starring Harry Langdon.
The screening, on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 2 p.m., will feature a 35mm print of Langdon's classic picture 'The Strong Man' (1926).
The program will also include a pair of short comedies starring silent screen comic icon Buster Keaton, also shown in the 35mm film format
Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.
Admission is $15 per person/ $12 for students and seniors.
'The Strong Man' tells the story of a World War I soldier (Langdon) who, following his discharge, finds work as assistant to a circus strong man. As the act travels the United States, Langdon continually searches for a girl he corresponded with while stationed overseas in the military.
The search leads to a town controlled by Prohibition-era gangsters, which forces Harry to test the limits of his own inner strength even as he looks for his dream girl. Can Happy triumph over the bad guys? And is love more powerful than brute strength?
The feature-length film showcases the unique child-like personality of Langdon, who is largely forgotten today. For a brief time in the 1920s, however, he rivaled Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's top movie clown.
Langdon's popularity, which grew quickly in the last years of the silent era, fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies starting in 1929.
'The Strong Man,' a family-friendly comedy, was was selected in 2007 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
In recent years, 'The Strong Man' has been recognized as a major achievement of the silent film era—a satisfying and timeless balance of emotion and comedy.
"A little tragedy and a lot of laughs can be seen in 1926's The Strong Man," wrote critic Richard von Busack in 2007. "Director Frank Capra's energy and sturdy plot sense counterpoint Langdon's wonderful strangeness."
'The Strong Man' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.
"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.
"So the Somerville's monthly silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.
The series also showcases the Somerville Theatre's continuing commitment to showing movies on actual film whenever possible.
After more than a century of serving as the standard format for cinema, 35mm film has in recent years been replaced in most theaters by digital formats for first-run movies.
While the Somerville has installed digital projection, the theater has also kept much of its 35mm projection equipment in place. This allows the Somerville to screen classic films in their native format, but also to show new titles in 35mm when filmmakers demand it.
This allowed the Somerville to start showing the expected November blockbuster 'Interstellar' a few days earlier than most other venues, as director Christopher Nolan preferred theaters that could screen the movie in the traditional 35mm format.
"We're very pleased with our decision to keep 35mm film projection in place," said Ian Judge, the Somerville's manager. "This allows us to show classic films, including the great silent pictures, as they were originally intended, but also lets us honor requests to use it for new releases as well."
Frank Capra's 'The Strong Man' will be screened in 35mm and with live music on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission $15 adults, $12 students/seniors. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.