Monday, January 30, 2017

Coming on Tuesday. Jan. 31: Buster Keaton
in 'Seven Chances' at Phillips Exeter Academy

Original promotional art for 'Seven Chances' (1925).

Next up: an old favorite, but in a new venue.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I'm doing music for Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Showtime is 7 p.m. The free program, part of a concert series run by the school's Music Department, takes place in Phillips Church on the campus, which is in downtown Exeter.

As a product of the New Hampshire public school system, it's quite a coup to perform at Phillips Exeter, whose alumni include Mark Zuckerberg (at left), Dan Brown, Gore Vidal, John Irving, and Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States and the only one from New Hampshire.

Prior to the upcoming concert, my only connection to Phillips Exeter was when a girlfriend in college enrolled in a summer program there.

So one Friday I played hooky from my summer job at a machine shop and rode my bike all the way from Nashua to Exeter just to drop by for a visit.

I was okay going out, and we had a nice time. But I didn't fare too well on the way home, as temperatures reached the mid-90s on a cloudless afternoon.

I got as far as the Dairy Queen that used to be on Route 28 in Salem, where I made the mistake of thinking a coffee frappe would get me home.

Instead, it made me ill! I got home before dark, but with a nice case of heatstroke and dehydration, which kept me in bed for the entire weekend.

Ah, love!

My inclusion in the Phillips Exeter concert series came about from a series of silent film screenings we staged last year at Exeter's venerable Old Town Hall.

In the audience at one show was Peter Schultz, chairman of the Academy's music department. We got to talking afterwards, and the result was an invitation to do a screening at Phillips Exeter Academy.

In a case like this, where it's potentially a new audience for the silent film experience, Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) is one of the go-to films: I often refer to it (and to all of Keaton, really) as one of the "gateway drugs" of silent film.

So if you're in the area, I hope you'll 'go to' the screening Tuesday night. More info in the press release below.

* * *

Buster and brides in 'Seven Chances.'

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Phillips Exeter Academy

Silent film presentation features classic race-to-the-finish romantic farce with live music

EXETER, 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 clever visual gags, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Seven Chances' (1925), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Phillips Church at Phillips Exeter Academy.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The screening is part of the Phillips Exeter Academy Music Department's ongoing Concert Series.

Adapted from a stage play, the story finds Buster learning that he'll inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot on his own go awry, but then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who relentlessly pursue Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of the now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999), a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

The program will open with a short Keaton comedy as a warm-up to the main feature.

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, including some spectacular examples in 'Seven Chances.'

In reviving Keaton's 'Seven Chances,' organizers of the Music Department's concert series aim to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, 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 will accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'Seven Chances' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at Phillips Church, at the corner of Tan Lane and Front Street, Phillips Exeter Academy. Admission is free and the screening is open the public.

For more information about the Music Department's concert series, call (603) 777-3586. For more info on the music, visit

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