Thursday, August 10, 2017

We're off to see the Wizard—and also Gloria Swanson, Buster Keaton, and the future

No, not the one with Judy Garland—it's Larry Semon's silent film version of the iconic tale, on screen at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. on Thursday, Aug. 10.

happy mid-August! The next four days bring four screenings in three states, and films that take us to Oz, France, the American West, and a city of the future.

Here's a quick round-up:

• Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: "The Wizard of Oz" (1925) starring Larry Semon; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; http://www.flyingmonkeynh.com/. Early silent film version of Frank L. Baum's immortal tales features silent comedian Larry Semon in a slapstick romp that also casts Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. Oz as you've never seen it before! Part of a monthly silent film series at a newly restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

Some original promotional art for 'Zaza,' starring Gloria Swanson and H.B. Warner.

• Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, "Zaza" (1923) starring Gloria Swanson, H.B. Warner. Vintage Dance Weekend, Knights of Columbus Hall, Nahant, Mass. Private event not open to the general public. Romance set in France in which Swanson plays a hot-tempered provincial actress who gets entangled with a married diplomat. Swanson's ebullience in Zaza was unfeigned; she called it "the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable picture I ever made."

Buster Keaton and co-star Brown Eyes in 'Go West.'

• Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Go West" (1925) starring Buster Keaton; Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Main Street/Route 7, Brandon, Vt.; http://www.brandontownhall.org. Buster heads out to ranch country, where the stone-faced comedian encounters romance with—a cow! Can he save his love from a trip to the livestock yards? Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must once again prove himself worthy to all those who doubt him. Join us for a series of silent films and live music in a wonderfully restored town hall in Brandon Vt. that features great acoustics. Admission free, donations accepted, with proceeds to help continuing preservation work.

From 'Metropolis': it just wouldn't be a city of the future without a giant mechanical gong!

• Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, 7:30 p.m. "Metropolis" (1927) directed by Fritz Lang; Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission $10 per person, limited seating. The eye-popping silent film sci-fi masterpiece of German filmmaker Fritz Lang is a vintage look at things to come. Restored version includes nearly a half-hour of lost footage that was rediscovered in Argentina in 2008. Seen in its entirety and with live music, 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future that came to pass: us! Part of the Aeronaut Brewery's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance. Limited seating so reserve early; for more details on tickets, visit Aeronaut Brewing. online.

It would have been five screenings in five days, but I gave up a slot at the Harvard Film Archive on Monday, Aug. 14 so that fellow accompanist Andrew E. Simpson could make a much-anticipated visit to the Boston area.

If you're interested in hearing one of the most talented accompanists in the field, get thee to the Harvard Film Archive next Monday night to hear Andrew do his stuff for Ernst Lubitsch's 'The Wildcat.' Here's the listing:

• Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Die Bergkatze/The Wildcat" or "The Mountain Cat" (1921), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Mass. (617) 496-3211. Admission $9 per person, $7 for non-Harvard students, Harvard faculty and staff, and senior citizens; free for Harvard students. Part of a summer-long retrospective of the work of director Ernst Lubitsch. Amidst delightfully bizarre décor—framed by altering screen shapes—a stalwart bandit chaser falls for bandit’s daughter Pola Negri. Lubitsch’s German comedy masterpiece is "both an anti-militarist satire and a wonderful fairy tale" (John Gillett). For this screening, I'm pleased to have accompanist Andrew E. Simpson sit in at the keyboard!

And another special note: earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be asked to do a piano score for Kino-Lorber's re-issue of 'Zaza.' The disc is now out, and just this week I received a box of copies that I can make available to fans at screenings.

And, thanks to the kind folks at Kino-Lorber, I'm able to make them available at a discount off the published retail price. But you can only get this deal by attending a screening!

So I'll have them with me until the stock runs out. If you'd like me to save one for you, please send me a note indicated standard DVD or Blu-ray and I'll set a copy aside.

P.S. This Sunday, I'm being interviewed by Harvard Magazine for a story about the art of silent film accompaniment. So I may not have made it into Harvard, but at least I'll be in the magazine!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August: Returning to a heavy schedule
of improvisation in darkened theatres

Buster and his co-star Brown Eyes in 'Go West' (1925), which I'll accompany in several venues this month.

People think of movie theaters as dark places, and they are.

Except when a movie is playing.

When doing live music, I find more often than not I don't need any kind of lamp or light to see the keyboard. Often, the ambient light from the screen is quite enough.

This is true so often for me because the digital keyboard I have is relatively flat, and also because I'm usually down below the screen.

So the keys are generally bathed in some kind of light flooding off the screen, which makes it easy to see when I need to.

Of course when the screen goes dark, I can easily get lost, which accounts for some spectacularly dissonant final chords at some screenings.

The only time a light is really needed, I've found, is when I'm playing a traditional acoustic piano.

Whether upright or grand, these are shaped in a way that if you're facing the screen, the location of the keyboard will almost always be deep in shadows. The light is blocked.

In this case, you really would be in the dark if you didn't have a light.

Looking ahead, August brings me back to a fairly busy schedule of film screenings in locations both close to home and fairly distant.

I've just sent out an update to my e-mail list, and figured I'd post it here for perusal.

If you'd like to receive a monthly update of upcoming screenings, just let me know (click on the link at right) and I'll add your e-mail to the list.

For now, here's what's on the docket:

Silent Film / Live Music screenings August / September 2017


Hi film fans,

A great line-up of silent film programs with live music awaits in the coming weeks.

Highlights include 'Anna Boleyn' (1920), a rarely screened Ernest Lubitsch historical drama at the Harvard Film Archive; a 35mm screening of the recently rediscovered 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916) at the Somerville Theatre; and some rarely shown movies starring Harry Houdini in September.

Labor Day weekend finds me at the Western N.Y. Film Expo in Buffalo, N.Y., where I'll accompany an extensive line-up of silent features and short films.

Details listings below. Hope to see you at a screening real soon!

• Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, 6 p.m.: "Christine of the Big Tops" (1926) starring Pauline Garon, Cullen Landis; Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.; (603) 624-6550; Manchester Public Library. Raised in a traveling circus, young orphan Christine is eager to prove her worth on the trapeze. But her real challenge is choosing between the affections of her Guardian and a young doctor. Monthly series of rarely screened silent films presented with live music in 1913 auditorium. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, 7:30 p.m.: "Grandma's Boy" (1922) starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis; The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 648-6022; http://capitoltheatreusa.com/. Admission $12, $10 student/senior. A cowardly young man must learn to conquer his fears before dealing with a larger menace to his community. Riotous small town comedy that helped propel Harold Lloyd into the most popular movie comedian of the 1920s. Bonus Lloyd short comedy: "Never Weaken" (1921). Silent film with live music at a terrific locally owned neighborhood cinema!

• Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Anna Boleyn" (1920) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Mass. (617) 496-3211. Admission $9 per person, $7 for non-Harvard students, Harvard faculty and staff, and senior citizens; free for Harvard students. Part of a summer-long retrospective of the work of director Ernst Lubitsch. Emil Jannings’ tour-de-force as Henry VIII highlights the most impressive of Lubitsch’s spectacles, with Henny Porten as the eponymous Anna.

• Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: "Wagon Tracks" (1919) starring William S. Hart; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Our summer series, The Birth of the Western, continues with 'Wagon Tracks' (1919). William S. Hart as Buckskin Hamilton, guiding a wagon train across the wasteland, caring well for the pioneers he escorts, but also hoping to solve the murder of his brother by one of the travelers. Monthly series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

• Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: "The Wizard of Oz" (1925) starring Larry Semon; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; http://www.flyingmonkeynh.com/. Early silent film version of Frank L. Baum's immortal tales features silent comedian Larry Semon in a slapstick romp that also casts Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. Oz as you've never seen it before! Part of a monthly silent film series at a newly restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

• Friday, Aug. 11, 20117, "Zaza" (1923) starring Gloria Swanson, H.B. Warner. Vintage Dance Weekend, Nahant, Mass. Details to be announced. Romance set in France in which Swanson plays a hot-tempered provincial actress who gets entangled with a married diplomat. Swanson s ebullience in Zaza was unfeigned; she called it "the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable picture I ever made."

• Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Go West" (1925) starring Buster Keaton; Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Main Street/Route 7, Brandon, Vt.; http://www.brandontownhall.org. Buster heads out to ranch country, where the stone-faced comedian encounters romance with—a cow! Can he save his love from a trip to the livestock yards? Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must once again prove himself worthy to all those who doubt him. Join us for a series of silent films and live music in a wonderfully restored town hall in Brandon Vt. that features great acoustics. Admission free, donations accepted, with proceeds to help continuing preservation work.

• Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, 7:30 p.m. "Metropolis" (1927) directed by Fritz Lang; Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission $10 per person, limited seating. The eye-popping silent film sci-fi masterpiece of German filmmaker Fritz Lang is a vintage look at things to come. Restored version includes nearly a half-hour of lost footage that was rediscovered in Argentina in 2008. Seen in its entirety and with live music, 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future that came to pass: us! Part of the Aeronaut Brewery's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance. Limited seating so reserve early; for more details on tickets, visit Aeronaut Brewing. online.

Guest accompanist Andrew E. Simpson!
• Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Die Bergkatze/The Wildcat" or "The Mountain Cat" (1921), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, Mass. (617) 496-3211. Admission $9 per person, $7 for non-Harvard students, Harvard faculty and staff, and senior citizens; free for Harvard students. Part of a summer-long retrospective of the work of director Ernst Lubitsch. Amidst delightfully bizarre décor—framed by altering screen shapes—a stalwart bandit chaser falls for bandit’s daughter Pola Negri. Lubitsch’s German comedy masterpiece is "both an anti-militarist satire and a wonderful fairy tale" (John Gillett). For this screening, I'm pleased to have accompanist Andrew E. Simpson sit in at the keyboard!

• Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Sherlock Holmes" (1916) starring William Gillette; Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; http://www.leavittheatre.com. Recently discovered in France after being lost for nearly a century, see this original 1916 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories as performed by William Gillette, the actor who created the role on stage. See great silent films with live music in a summer-only theater opened in 1923 and barely changed since. Admission $10 per person.

• Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, 1:45 p.m.: "Sleeping Beauty" (1908) and "Snow White" (1916); silent film at the Toronto International Film Festival Cinematheque. "Sleeping Beauty": A beautifully designed adaptation of the Perrault fairy tale, brought to the screen by top Pathé director Albert Capellani. "Snow White": An underrated gem of the silent era, this 1916 adaptation of Snow White is one of the few surviving films of the appealingly childlike Marguerite Clark, who was one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the period. Based on Winthrop Ames' 1912 stage play (which also featured Clark in the title role), this version of the beloved tale substantially departs from the original Brothers Grimm story, most notably by dividing the character of Snow White's nemesis between the evil Queen Brangomar (Dorothy Cumming) and a witch named Hex (Alice Washburn).

• Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: "Go West" (1925) starring Buster Keaton; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. We conclude our 'Birth of the Western' series with Buster's ranch comedy about the stone-faced comedian and his enduring romance with—a cow! Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must prove himself worthy once again. Monthly series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

• Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Celebrating Billy B Van"; Historical Society of Cheshire County; 246 Main St., Keene, N.H.; (603) 352-1895 ; www.HSCCNH.org. The Newport Historical Society brings to life Billy B. Van: “The Sunshine Peddler”. This multi-media (~60 min.) presentation brings to life a book of the same name by Jayna Hooper. The presentation celebrates Billy B. Van, his many outstanding accomplishments and his contributions to American culture that still bear fruit today. It includes slides of his many products, his music, quotes in character, and a 1920 silent film named the “Plucky Hoodoo,” starring Billy B. Van and filmed in the Georges Mills, N.H. area. From a vaudeville and Broadway performer to author, dairy farmer, soap maker, radio personality, motivational speaker Billy left sunshine in his wake during the darkest days of The Great Depression. Free admission.

• Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Go West" (1925) starring Buster Keaton; Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; http://www.leavittheatre.com. Buster's ranch comedy about the stone-faced comedian and his enduring romance with—a cow! Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must prove himself worthy once again. See great silent films with live music in a summer-only theater opened in 1923 and barely changed since. Admission $10 per person.

• Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, 7 p.m. "Buster Keaton Double Feature"; Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass; (781) 646-4849. Join us for a pair of Buster Keaton's best comedies. In 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), Keaton plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of being a detective. In 'Three Ages' (1923), Keaton spoofs historical dramas by seeking true love in three differing epochs. Great physical comedy plus Buster's deadpan attitude will have you laughing out loud. Silent film with live music in a treasured neighborhood theater and performance space.

• Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, 2 p.m.: "Get Your Man" (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.; http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. Long-lost Clara Bow feature only recently rescued and restored by the Library of Congress. Bow is Nancy Worthington, a liberated (of course) American in Paris who meets cute with French nobleman Robert Albin (Rogers) while on vacation by herself. Robert and Nancy fall hard for each other, but an arranged, politically motivated marriage stands in their way. Nancy scams her way onto the family estate, and complications ensue. Silent film shown in 35mm on the big screen with live music. Part of a monthly series at the Somerville Theatre, a wonderful 100-year-old moviehouse committed to keeping alive the experience of 35mm film. Featuring outstandingly exacting work of legendary projectionist David Kornfeld. For more info, call the theater box office at (617) 625-5700. Admission $15 per person.

• Friday, Sept. 1 through Monday, Sept. 4, 2017: The Western New York Movie Expo and Memorabilia Show, Hilton Garden Inn, 4201 Genesee St., Cheektowaga, N.Y.; (716) 565-0040 Four-day successor to Cinefest, annual vintage film festival in Syracuse, N.Y. that ended in 2015. Silent features with live music include: "Burn ‘em Up Barnes" (1921) starring Johnny Hines; "Hot Water" (1924) starring Harold Lloyd; "The Juggernaut" (1915) starring Anita Stewart and Earle Williams; "Little Orphant Annie" (1918) starring Colleen Moore; a Kodascope print of "The Lost World" (1925) starring Wallace Beery and Bessie Love; "The Navigator" (1924) starring Buster Keaton; "Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman" (1917) starring John Barrymore; and "Zaza" starring Gloria Swanson. Plus many short subjects, including the restored full-length "Battle of the Century" pie fight with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

• Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, 6 p.m.: "The Shield of Honor" (1927) starring Neil Hamilton; Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.; (603) 624-6550; Manchester Public Library. Long before he played Commissioner Gordon in the iconic 1960s 'Batman' TV show, Neil Hamilton was a leading man, saving the day and getting the girl in a steady stream of films throughout the silent era. This vintage crime drama is a good example of his output. Monthly series of rarely screened silent films presented with live music in 1913 auditorium. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Thursday, September 7, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" (1926) directed by Lotte Reiniger; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; http://www.flyingmonkeynh.com/. Taken from 'The Arabian Nights,' the first full-length animated feature tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse, sending him off to a series of wondrous and romantic adventures. A masterful example of silhouette-style animation and a true breakthrough in cinematic story-telling. Part of a monthly silent film series at a newly restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

• Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 2 p.m.: "Sherlock Holmes" (1916) starring William Gillette; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.; http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. Recently discovered in France after being lost for nearly a century, see this original 1916 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories as performed by William Gillette, the actor who created the role on stage. Silent film shown in 35mm on the big screen with live music. Part of a monthly series at the Somerville Theatre, a wonderful 100-year-old moviehouse committed to keeping alive the experience of 35mm film. Featuring outstandingly exacting work of legendary projectionist David Kornfeld. For more info, call the theater box office at (617) 625-5700. Admission $15 per person.

• Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, 7 p.m.: "The Little American" (1917) starring Mary Pickford, directed by Cecil B. DeMille; Historical Society of Cheshire County; 246 Main St., Keene, N.H.; (603) 352-1895 ; www.HSCCNH.org. Current events drama in which American woman (Pickford) is in love with both a German and a French soldier during World War I. Production began only a week after the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and the movie was released in July, making it one of the first to reflect on the attitude of American involvement at the time. Part of the Historical Society's look at U.S. involvement in World War I. Free admission.

• Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, 8 p.m.: "Tol'able David" (1921) starring Richard Barthelmess; The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 648-6022; http://capitoltheatreusa.com/. A farm family is poor but content until unsavory distant relatives unexpectedly arrive while on the lam from the law. Compelling story, plus filmed on location in back country Virginia, making for an amazing time capsule into America's vanished rural past. Admission $12, $10 student/senior. Silent film with live music at a terrific locally owned neighborhood cinema!

• Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, 7 p.m.: Harry Houdini Silent Film Double Feature!; Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Main Street/Route 7, Brandon, Vt.; http://www.brandontownhall.org. Rare surviving films from the great illusionist's brief movie career. In 'Terror Island' (1920) Houdini stars as a swashbuckling inventor who steers his high-tech submarine to a forbidden tropical isle to rescue the woman he loves; in 'The Man From Beyond' (1922), Houdini plays a man frozen 100 years in the Arctic who returns to civilization to reclaim his reincarnated love. Join us for a series of silent films and live music in a wonderfully restored town hall in Brandon Vt. that features great acoustics. Admission free, donations accepted, with proceeds to help continuing preservation work.

• Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, Silent film screening, part of Vintage Dance Weekend in Hartford, Conn. Details TBA.

• Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, 8 p.m.: "Speedy" (1928) starring Harold Lloyd; the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, 310 Genesee St., Utica, N.Y.; (315)797-0000; www.mwpai.org. Admission charge to be announced. Harold's final silent feature is a tribute to New York City, baseball, and the idea that nice guys can indeed finish first. Complete with an extended cameo from none other than Babe Ruth! Part of the Institute's summer exhibition Roaring into the Future: New York, 1925-35. More details to come.

• Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: "Harry Houdini Silent Film Double Feature"; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Rare surviving films from the great illusionist's brief movie career. In 'Terror Island' (1920) Houdini stars as a swashbuckling inventor who steers his high-tech submarine to a forbidden tropical isle to rescue the woman he loves; in 'The Man From Beyond' (1922), Houdini plays a man frozen 100 years in the Arctic who returns to civilization to reclaim his reincarnated love. Monthly series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

• Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, "The Buster Keaton Celebration"; Bowlus Fine Arts Center in beautiful downtown Iola, Kansas. Two days of Keaton-focused panels, films, and fellowship not far from Keaton's rural Kansas birthplace. Rumor has it this might be the last Keaton Celebration ever! For more info, check out their Web site.