Tuesday, May 26, 2015

'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) leads off series
at historic Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine

The interior of the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

And now for a silent film series where the theater is part of the show!

Really: the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit Maine first opened as a moviehouse in 1923, and has remained pretty much unchanged ever since.

Yes, there's upgraded digital projection and sound so first-run films can be run during the summer tourist season.

But the building itself, inside and out, gives you essentially the same movie-going experience as it did in 1923. Same wooden sloping floors, same wooden seats, same plain Maine decor.

Three cheers to longtime owners Peter and Maureen Clayton for keeping the Leavitt going since the mid-1970s. And best of luck to son Ian, who is assuming more responsibility for programming and running the theater this season.

The Leavitt's ticket booth has guarded the theater's entry for decades.

We've been doing silent film with live music at the Leavitt for a few years now, and it's back on the schedule this season—a total of seven film programs from now through Halloween.

I'm grateful to the Clayton family's support of silent film with live music, and we've been getting good crowds, too. So it's a great place to get the "total" silent film experience: the picture and live music, but also the crucial element of seeing a film with a large audience.

First up is Buster Keaton's classic feature comedy 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), which we're running on Thursday, June 4 at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

For more information about this year's silent film series at the Leavitt, check out the press release below.

Hope to see you there!

* * *

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Leavitt Theatre to host summer silent film series with live music

Classic comedies, action-packed dramas highlight schedule; featured stars include Chaplin, Keaton, and Clara Bow

OGUNQUIT, Maine—Classics of the silent film era will return to the big screen starting next month at Ogunquit's Leavitt Theatre, which will host a season of vintage cinema with live music in the historic facility.

The series gives area film fans a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were intended to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

Most screenings will be on Thursday evenings and will begin on Thursday, June 4 with the Buster Keaton comedy 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928). The series runs through October, concluding with a Halloween screening of Alfred Hitchcock's early horror classic 'The Lodger' (1927), to be shown on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Admission is $10 per person.

A total of seven programs will be offered in the series. Films will include comedies by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Harry Langdon. Dramas include MGM's epic silent version of 'Ben Hur' (1925) as well as 'Wings' (1927), a blockbuster film about World War I aviators that won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture.

"These are the films that first made people fall in love with the movies, and we're thrilled to present them again on the big screen," said Peter Clayton, the Leavitt's long-time owner.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nine decades.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

"These movies were intended to be shown in this kind of environment, and with live music and with an audience," Clayton said. "Put it all together, and you've got great entertainment that still has a lot of power to move people."

Live music for each program will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring silent films.

In accompanying silent films live, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. He improvises the music in real time, as the movie is shown.

In scoring a movie, Rapsis creates music to help modern movie-goers accept silent film as a vital art form rather than something antiquated or obsolete.

"Silent film is a timeless art form that still has a unique emotional power, as the recent success of 'The Artist' has shown," Rapsis said.

Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

First up in the Leavitt's series is 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), a classic silent film comedy starring Buster Keaton.

In 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' Buster plays the bumbling son of a riverboat’s rough-hewn captain. When a rival brings a newer boat to the river, the family is forced to face competition, just as Buster is forced to ride out a cyclone threatening to destroy the community.

Can Buster save the day and win the hand of his girlfriend, who happens to be daughter of his father's business rival?

The film includes the famous shot of an entire building front collapsing on Keaton, who is miraculously spared by a conveniently placed second-story window.

Other feature films in this year's series include:

• Thursday, June 18, 2015, 8 p.m. 'Wings' (1927) starring Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Richard Arlen; directed by William Wellman. Sweeping drama about fighter pilots in World War I; one of the great achievements of the silent cinema, winner of "Best Picture" at the first-ever Academy Awards. Compelling story, great performances, battle scenes filmed on an immense scale, and in-air aviation sequences that remain thrilling even today.

• Thursday, July 30, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'Silent Comedy with Harold Lloyd.' See why Harold Lloyd was the most popular performer of the silent film era. Instead of getting ahead, his everyone man character (a nice young man with horn-rimmed glasses) had a knack for getting into spectacular trouble, often requiring him to overcome amazing odds to win the day.

• Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan. Chaplin's landmark comedy/drama about a man who raises an infant against all odds. As the film tells us: "A story with a smile, and perhaps a tear." Highlighted by amazing performance of four-year-old Coogan, who matches Chaplin pratfall for pratfall. Also, two of Charlie's earlier slapstick comedy shorts that helped establish him as a star.

• Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'Ben Hur' (1925) starring Ramon Navarro. In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; inspired by encounters with Jesus, he lives to seek justice. One of the great religious epics of Hollywood's silent film era, including a legendary chariot race that's lost none of its power to thrill.

• Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'Silent Comedy with Harry Langdon' Silent comedy featuring the unique style of Harry Langdon, whose innocent baby-faced character rocketed to fame late in the silent era on the strength of films directed by a very young Frank Capra. Rediscover Harry's quiet genius the way it was intended to be seen: on the big screen and with a live audience.

• Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'The Lodger' (1927). A serial killer is on the loose in fog-bound London. Will the murderer be caught before yet another victim is claimed? Just in time for Halloween, suspenseful British thriller directed by a very young Alfred Hitchcock. The program is subtitled 'Chiller Theater' due to the theater's lack of central heating.

Buster Keaton's classic comedy 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) will lead off this season's silent film series on Thursday, June 4 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 http://www.leavittheatre.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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