Phew! Just completed a four-day mini-marathon of silent film screenings that ended yesterday with a bang.
Or actually, many bangs, as there was plenty of gunfire in 'The Great K & A Train Robbery' (1926), a Tom Mix action adventure and the latest installment of this summer's "train melodrama" series at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.
I don't know what it is about these railroad films, but they've been packing them in. We must have had 100 people at Sunday afternoon's screening—amazing considering it was an unusual date (we're usually the last Sunday of each month) and it was totally gorgeous mid-summer weather in these parts.
It's not the longest film ever made (at 53 minutes, I'm thinking it must be descended from a Kodascope show-at-home print or something similar) but still holds the screen very effectively.
And it's a great film for music, too. I had some good basic train material, a fanfare/march for Tom and Tony, a love theme, and some "bad guys" music, all of which come together really well, I thought.
One reason attendance has been strong could be that I've reached out to non-silent-film people by posting info about the series on railfan messageboards.
And I have seen some new faces at these screenings, including a couple who came up to me after Sunday afternoon's screening to say how much they enjoyed it.
They'd never been before, but came because "we love trains," the woman said. And their unsolicited comment was music to my ears: "We forgot there was someone playing the music," she said.
Looking ahead: I'm traveling out of the country for the rest of the month, but will return in time for a double bill of Harold Lloyd features on Sunday, Aug. 2 at the Somerville Theatre.
In a program that starts at 2 p.m., we're screening 'Why Worry?' (1923) and 'Speedy' (1928), using 35mm prints from the Harold Lloyd Trust.
More than most, I think, the Lloyd pictures are tooled to work with a large audience. Because we tend to get upwards of 150 people for comedy programs at the Somerville, I'm really looking forward to the Aug. 2 program.
It's a great chance to experience Lloyd's work as his original audiences did: in a theater, on the big screen, and surrounded by people all reacting together.
It makes a huge difference. Must be something about crowd psychology loosening up and intensifying our own reactions. Anyone doing a doctoral research program on this?
And I'm especially excited by 'Speedy' because I've just seen where silent film location detective John Bengston identified an appearance of Lou Gehrig in the scenes with Babe Ruth shot outside the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Bengston posted info about this a few years back, but I came across it only recently. Makes you wonder what else might be lurking in films that we think of as familiar.
Well, come see if you can spot any more members of the 1927 Yankees on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville.
More info is in the press release pasted in below. Hope to see you there!
MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis at (603) 236-9237 • e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Somerville Theatre to screen back-to-back Harold Lloyd silent comedies in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Aug. 2
Program includes political satire 'Why Worry' (1923) and 'Speedy' (1928), shot on location in 1920s NYC featuring extended Babe Ruth cameo
SOMERVILLE, Mass. — He was the bespectacled boy next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.
He was Harold Lloyd, whose fast-paced comedies made him the most popular movie star of Hollywood's silent film era.
See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a double feature revival of two of his best movies: 'Why Worry?' (1923) and 'Speedy' (1928).
Both films will be screened using archival 35mm prints on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. General admission is $15; seniors/students $12.
Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.
The 35mm prints are on loan from the Harold Lloyd Trust of Los Angeles, Calif.
"The Harold Lloyd program continues our commitment to screening movies using real film whenever possible," said Ian Judge, the Somerville's general manager. "This format is how these pictures were designed to be shown, and as time goes by, finding good 35mm prints and a theater with the know-how to handle them is getting harder to do."
Lloyd's go-getter character proved immensely popular throughout the 1920s, with fans following him from one adventure to the next. Designed for a large audience, Lloyd's pictures—with their potent mix of comedy, sentiment, and thrills—are legendary for their ability to stir an audience in a theater even today.
In the political satire 'Why Worry?', Harold plays a wealthy hypochondriac traveling abroad for his health who gets caught up in a local uprising. Thrown into prison, Harold is forced to use his wits to escape and rescue his nurse from the clutches of an evil Revolutionary.
Regarded as one of Lloyd's most surreal movies, 'Why Worry?' features a cast that includes an actual real-life giant—8-foot-tall John Aasen, discovered in Minnesota during a national talent search.
'Speedy,' Lloyd's final silent feature before the transition to talkies, finds Harold as a baseball-crazed youth who must rescue the city's last horse-drawn streetcar from gangsters bent on running it out of business.
Filmed almost entirely on location in New York, 'Speedy' features remarkable glimpses of the city at the end of the 1920s, including footage of Coney Island and the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
The latter scenes include an extended appearance by Babe Ruth, then at the height of his career during the team's storied 1927 season.
"In 'Speedy,' New York City is practically a part of the cast," Rapsis said. "In filming it on location, Lloyd knew scenes of New York would give the picture added interest to audiences across the nation and around the world. But what he didn't anticipate was that today, the location shots now provide a fascinating record of how life was lived in 1920s urban America."
Rapsis will improvise a musical score for both films as they're screened. In creating accompaniment for the Lloyd movies and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.
"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's really crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.
Other upcoming features in the Somerville's "Silents, Please" series include:
• Sunday, Sept. 13, 2 p.m.: 'The Matrimaniac' (1916) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. An unusual program that contrasts this early Fairbanks marital farce with another picture released by the same studio after Fairbanks had moved on, but which uses material from the Fairbanks film to support an entirely different story.
• Sunday, Oct. 4, 2 p.m.: 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon, Joan Crawford. The great silent film comedian Harry Langdon returns to the Somerville's big screen, this time with a very young Joan Crawford playing his love interest! His debut feature finds Harry entering a cross-country walking race to save the family business and impress the girl of his dreams.
• Sunday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m.: 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino. Sweeping drama of a divided family with members caught up on opposites sides during World War I. Breakthrough film for Rudolph Valentino, introducing the sultry tango and launching him to stardom.
All entries in the Somerville's silent film series are shown using 35mm prints, the native film format that few theaters are now equipped to run following Hollywood's transition to digital formats.
Harold Lloyd's ‘Why Worry?’ and 'Speedy' will be shown in 35mm and with live music on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m. at Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.
Admission to the screening is $15 or $12 seniors/students; general admission seating. For more info, call (617) 625-5700 or visit www.somervilletheatreonline.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.