Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Now boarding at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre:
A summer-long series of silent railroad films!

All aboard the Arizona Express, departing at 4:30 p.m. sharp on Sunday, June 28.

Last year, it was animals. The year before that, sailing ships.

But this summer, our silent film series at the marvelous Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre will focus on trains.

So all you foamers, mark those calendars: the series starts on Sunday, June 28 at 4:30 p.m. with 'The Arizona Express' (1924), a rip-roaring saga of the rails with enough mainline action to please any railroad fan.

("Foamer" is a derisive term used by railroad employees for people who love trains, so used because such folks foam at the mouth when one goes by.)

There's a press release below with more info about 'The Arizona Express' and other films we're showing in the series.

But for now, I'm just coming off a busy weekend of accompaniment adventures that included:

• A well-attended screening of 'Wings' (1927) on Thursday, June 18 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

• A lively response to 'The Lost World' (1925) on Saturday, June 20 at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

• An unusual screening of 'The General' (1926) on Sunday, June 21 at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

The last one was scheduled as part of the first anniversary celebration of the Aeronaut, a sprawling craft brewery set up in a big old industrial space on a Somerville side street.

It's quite a place. The brewery's symbol is the iconic image of a lawn chair with balloons attached to it; because of that, the warehouse space is festooned with lawnchairs with clusters of balloons hanging from the ceiling.

But it's not just about the beer. (Which is great, by the way.) Owners Ben and Christine Holmes are developing the Aeronaut's cavernous home into a public art and performance space that features an ever-changing roster of musical acts, interpretive dance, and anything else that seems worth trying. Even silent films with live music!

And that's where I come in. Alas, before I came in, city inspectors came in, making a surprise visit to the Aeronaut, and ruled that if the film was shown where we'd planned to (an alcove off to one side), we'd be in violation of the Aeronaut's permit.

A music group performing with the trapeze above.

What to do? No problem: just show the film in the main room. Well, actually, one problem: the screen high above was obscured by a full-size trapeze and aerial silks hung from the steel girders high above.

Would this be the first silent film presentation to be cancelled due to a trapeze?

Well, nope—as it turned out, Ben had access to one of those mobile scissor lifting platforms that could be used to reach the ceiling. He piloted it from the loading dock down a narrow corridor, then raised it up to stow the trapeze and hanging silks in the rafters.

This piece of equipment saved the day. I wonder what Buster Keaton could have done with one of these.

And so the show went on: Ben introduced me as "the improvisational composer," which I kind of liked. Good reaction to 'The General.' and there's talk of another show later this summer. We'll see.

For now, I'm looking forward to our summer series of train movies in Wilton, N.H. For more information, please read on!

* * *

Tom Mix and Tony the Wonder Horse star in 'The Great K & A Train Robbery' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

All aboard! Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre
to launch series of vintage railroad dramas

Full steam ahead with summer line-up of train-themed silent films; all screened with live musical accompaniment

WILTON, N.H.—If you like trains, get ready to climb aboard.

A series of vintage big screen railroad dramas highlights this summer's silent film schedule at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

The train-themed movies, all accompanied by live music, are fast-paced silent-era melodramas set in the world of big-time railroading.

"These movies were made at a time when cars and trucks were rare, and railroads were a part of everyday life across the nation," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will provide live music for each movie.

"So the early studios capitalized on the public's close relationship with trains by churning out all kinds of railroad-themed pictures. In the silent era, it was a popular sub-genre," Rapsis said.

The Town Hall Theatre's railroad series opens on Sunday, June 28 at 4:30 p.m. with 'The Arizona Express' (1924), a rip-roaring melodrama rarely screened since its original release.

Other films in the series include silent cowboy star Tom Mix in 'The Great K & A Train Robbery' (1926) on Sunday, July 12; and the railroad crime story 'Red Signals' (1927) on Sunday, Aug. 9.

The series concludes on Sunday, Aug. 30 with 'The Iron Horse' (1924), John Ford's epic drama about building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s.

A scene from John Ford's 'The Iron Horse' (1924).

All shows in the series start at 4:30 p.m. The Town Hall Theatre's screenings are free and open to the public; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

Silent-era railroad dramas are of particular interest to train buffs because they're filled with scenes of working railroads in action about 100 years ago, at a time the nation's reliance on the rail network reached its peak.

Each film in the series has been selected for its overall story quality and lasting audience appeal.

"Even if you're not a railfan, each of these movies offers a great story told at a fast pace," Rapsis said. "These films were designed to be crowd-pleasers, and they still work today. They're the films that caused audiences to first fall in love with the movies."

The Wilton Town Hall Theatre has been showing films since 1912. In addition to running the best current releases on its two screens, the theater remains committed to alternative programming such as its ongoing series of silent films with live music.

The silent series gives local audiences to experience great work of early cinema as it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

An original poster for John Ford's epic 'The Iron Horse' (1924).

The complete roster of films in this summer's railroad series includes:

• Sunday, June 28 at 4:30 p.m.: 'The Arizona Express' (1924). We launch a summer series of train films with rip-roaring melodrama. When David Keith is sent to prison for allegedly killing his uncle, his sister Katherine must prove his innocence and get the information to the governor's office in time to save him.

• Sunday, July 12 at 4:30 p.m.: 'The Great K & A Train Robbery' (1926) starring Tom Mix. Treachery on the rails as our hero goes undercover to learn who is tipping the bandits. One of the best Tom Mix films, with plenty of action and some fantastic stunt work.

• Sunday, Aug. 9 at 4:30 p.m.: 'Red Signals' (1927). After a series of train accidents in which the wrecks were looted, the railroad's top brass bring in "Sure Fire" Frank Bennett to set things right.

• Sunday, Aug. 30 at 4:30 p.m.: 'The Iron Horse' (1924). Director John Ford's sprawling epic tale about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Highlighted by spectacular location filming in the wide open spaces of the Old West.

The Summer Train Film Series will begin with a screening of 'The Arizona Express' (1924) on Sunday, June 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H.
Admission to the screenings is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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