Let's start with an injury report:
The left pinkie is pretty much healed, and just in time.
I'll need all 10 fingers for a mini-marathon of four performances in four days in three separate states. Making a list, it's two in New Hampshire, one in Vermont, and one in Massachusetts. (Good thing in New England the states are so small!)
But first up, a quick report on yesterday's unexpected double feature at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.
I say "unexpected" because I originally had just 'Red Signals' (1927) programmed as part of our summer-long series of silent train melodramas.
But last week, I came across a DVD-R copy of the Eastman restoration of 'Roaring Rails' (1924), which I'd never seen.
I popped it in, and was treated to an immensely entertaining (and great-looking) film starring Harry Carey and a child actor I'd never heard of before: Frankie Darro.
In 'Roaring Rails,' Darro, as "Little Bill," suffers one calamity after another, to the point where you can't help but wonder if one of the scriptwriters was Job himself.
Let's see: Little Bill starts the film as a French lad who loses his mother in World War I. Then, brought the U.S as an orphan, he causes a huge train crash that costs his adopted railroad engineer father his job.
As 'Roaring Rails' progresses, Little Bill winds up on a bridge that gets blown up, costing him is eyesight. He's then taken custody by a cruel caretaker who at one point flings the blind youngster into the side of a metal bed.
All not so great for Little Bill, but enough to prompt me to add 'Roaring Rails' to yesterday's program, doubling it up with 'Red Signals' (1927), another railroad drama.
Who was this kid? Turns out Frankie Darro (born Frank Johnson in 1917 to parents who performed as "The Flying Johnsons" in a traveling circus) had a Hollywood career that lasted longer than most.
As a child star, he grew up in the movies, although not that much: as an adult, he was 5-foot-3, so wound up playing lots of jockeys, even showing up as one in the Marx Brothers classic 'A Day At the Races' (1937).
He also got into voice work—perhaps most notably as the character "Lampwick" in Disney's 'Pinocchio' (1940).
Still, he kept performing; later big screen roles included uncredited work as Robby the Robot (unseen, in costume) in 'Forbidden Planet' (1956) and as a 'slave' extra in the big remake of 'Ten Commandments' (also 1956).
Darro did some TV work as well. His credits include an appearance as "newsman" in a couple of episodes of the 1960s 'Batman' TV series starring Adam West in the title role. (And with Neil Hamilton, leading man of the silent era, playing Commissioner Gordon.)
So in learning about Darro, I was reminded of Jackie Coogan, the child star that Charlie Chaplin launched to fame by co-starring him in his breakthrough feature, 'The Kid' (1921). Coogan continued to perform throughout his life, but in roles that included Uncle Fester on TV's 'The Addams Family' and Barbara Eden's wacky uncle in 'I Dream of Jeannie.'
I often wonder about the psychological issues that go with being a star in childhood, but then a minor character actor in later life. It can't be easy.
Darro, alas, died in 1976—of a heart attack at age 59, still fairly young.
But I hope he'd be pleased to know his performance as 'Little Bill' way back during the silent era still keeps an audience riveted to the screen.
That was the case yesterday in Wilton, where 'Roaring Rails' turned out to be the clear program favorite. 'Red Signals' (1927) was no slouch, but seemed a little less focused—and didn't benefit from having any child star beset by endless mishaps.
Audience response was strong for the whole program, as it's been throughout this series of obscure railroad melodramas. So I'm further convinced that there are worthy discoveries to be made among the thousands of silent feature films that have survived.
Few ever get a chance to be revived with live music and in front of an audience. But it's the only way to know for sure, so I intend to keep doing it.
Coming up in my four-day mini-marathon are programs featuring more well-known performers—Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton among them.
First up is Harold Lloyd in 'Grandma's Boy' (1922), his own breakthrough film, which we're screening on Thursday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.
Admission is $10. More info about the screening is in the press release below. There's nothing like a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with an audience, so hope to see you there!
MONDAY, AUG. 3, 2015 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • email@example.com
Silent comedy 'Grandma's Boy' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Aug. 13
Classic Harold Lloyd feature film to be screened with live music accompaniment
PLYMOUTH, N.H.—The silent film era returns to the big screen at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center with the showing of 'Grandma's Boy' (1922), a classic silent comedy accompanied by live music.
Showtime is Thursday, Aug. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 Main St., Plymouth. All are welcome to this family-friendly event; admission is $10 per person general admission.
The screening, the latest in the Flying Monkey's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.
'Grandma's Boy,' stars Harold Lloyd, a popular 1920s film star.
'Grandma's Boy' tells the story a cowardly young man (Harold Lloyd) who seeks the courage to battle a menacing tramp who terrorizes his small hometown.
Audiences loved 'Grandma's Boy' when it was first released, and the picture helped establish Lloyd as a major star for the rest of the silent film era.
Despite his mega-star status in the 1920s, Lloyd is largely unknown to today's audiences, mostly because he retained control of his films in later life and refused to let them be shown on television.
"People today remember Charlie Chaplin, but the silent era had many popular stars," Rapsis said. "Harold Lloyd's 'average American' character was immensely popular in the 1920s, not just in the U.S. but around the globe."
With the release of Lloyd's films on DVD, audiences are rediscovering his timeless genius. The reissue sparked a demand for screenings in theaters, where the Lloyd films continue to cast their spell on audiences.
Shown in a theater with live music, Lloyd's features maintain their power to delight movie-goers.
"Times have changed, but people haven't," Rapsis said. "The Lloyd films were designed to be shown in a theater with an audience, and to appeal to a worldwide audience, and their universal themes haven't lost any relevance," said Rapsis, who has performed music for silent films in venues ranging the Donnell Library in New York City to the Kansas Silent Film Festival.
Using original themes created beforehand, Rapsis improvises the music live as the films are shown.
"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompanimemt.
The Flying Monkey originally opened as a silent film moviehouse in the 1920s, and showed first-run Hollywood films to generations of area residents until closing several years ago.
The theater has since been renovated by Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man restaurants, who created a performance space that hosts a wide range of music acts.
Movies of all types, however, are still a big part of the Flying Monkey's offerings, and the silent film series is a way for the theater to remain connected to its roots.
‘Grandma's Boy’ (1922), a classic silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd, will be shown on Thursday, Aug. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth. Admission $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.