Thursday, June 30, 2016

Encore screening of Keaton's 'The General'
on Friday, July 1 at Red River Theatres

What's the most expensive shot of the silent era? Here's a hint.

Coming up this Friday, July 1: an encore presentation of Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1926) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

A screening of 'The General' earlier in June sold out, prompting this reboot. The show starts at 7 p.m. and admission is $10 per person. See you there!

More details in the press release pasted at the end of this post.

And then Sunday, July 3 brings the next installment of our series of silent boxing films at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

The 4:30 p.m. show is a double feature of two obscure dramas: 'Battling Bunyan' (1924) and 'The Shock Punch' (1925). Admission is free!

When I mention we're running a series of boxing films, some people crinkle up their nose in disapproval. It's understandable, I suppose.

The sad state of Muhammad Ali's health prior to his recent death has renewed calls to ban the sport outright as too harmful and dangerous.

Boxing: a sport on the canvas.

But films from the 1920s offer a glimpse into a bygone era—a time when boxing was arguably the nation's most popular sport.

Consider: Just today, I came across a review of a book, “Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing,” by Mike Silver.

Here's the context the reviewer, Robert Cassidy, used in putting boxing in perspective during the 1920s:
The book also states that in the Roaring Twenties, the most famous Jewish person in America was not a scientist, entertainer, author or Supreme Court justice. It was lightweight champion Benny Leonard.

That breakdown provides the historical backdrop for the book. At the time, only baseball and horse racing rivaled boxing in popularity. Not just world champions, but even main-event fighters were considered national sports heroes.
You can see that popularity throughout films of the silent era—and especially in the boxing-specific films we're running this summer.

It's a sub-genre that was definitely a product of its time. And so I think films about boxing are worth focusing on for a series, in the same way we've run past series on trains, sailing ships, and melodramatic romance.

I'm of two minds about boxing. Of course I dislike the idea of any sport where brain injury is the essential aim.

But I have to admit, the idea of two equally matched men or women facing off against each other in a defined space, and not part of any team, is elemental and fascinating.

I guess it speaks to one of the fundamental human paradoxes: of being intelligent enough to know when something isn't good for us or the people involved, but being depraved enough to still want it.

Death by chocolate, anyone? Or, more topically, Brexit? We're not always such rational creatures, are we?

Okay, here's the press release about 'The General' this Friday, July 1 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

* * *

A vintage poster for 'The General.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Encore presentation of silent film classic
'The General' at Red River on Friday, July 1

Repeated due to earlier June sell-out: Buster Keaton's comic Civil War masterpiece screened with live music

CONCORD, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

Acclaimed for their originality and timeless visual humor, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with an encore screening of 'The General' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, at Red River Theatre, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, July 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person.

The program will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

The encore screening was scheduled following a sell-out show earlier in June.

Buster and his locomotive co-star, The General.

'The General,' set during the U.S. Civil War, tells the story of a southern locomotive engineer (Keaton) whose engine (named 'The General') is hijacked by Northern spies with his girlfriend onboard.

Keaton, stealing another train, races north in pursuit behind enemy lines. Can he rescue his girl? And can he steal his locomotive and make it back to warn of a coming Northern attack?

Critics call 'The General' Keaton's masterpiece, praising its authentic period detail, ambitious action and battle sequences, and its overall integration of story, drama, and comedy.

It's also regarded as one of Hollywood's great train films, with much of the action occurring on or around moving steam locomotives.

Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who has accompanied shows at venues across New England, said Keaton's films were not made to be shown on television or viewed at home.

In screening 'The General,' Red River will give the public a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—in a high quality print, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who improvises the score on the spot as a film screens. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

Buster readies for his close-up in 'The General.'

Rapsis performs on a digital keyboard that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

'The General' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at Red River. Upcoming programs include:

• Friday, July 15: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926) starring John Gilbert in a big MGM historical swashbuckling adventure thought lost for decades until a print was found recently in France.

• Friday, Aug. 12: 'The Yankee Clipper' (1927) starring William Boyd. Period drama set in the 19th century; two clipper ships race from China to Boston to compete for a lucrative tea contract.

• Friday, Sept. 16: 'Spies' (1928). Director Fritz Lang followed his futuristic saga 'Metropolis' with this pioneering espionage thriller that created the template for all future James Bond movies.

Critics review 'The General':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—Walter Kerr

"An almost perfect entertainment!"
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"What makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster's directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance."
—Time Out (London)

'The General' (1926) will be shown at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, July 1 at 7 p.m. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit

For more information about the music, visit

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