Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Press release: Upcoming show in Brandon, Vt.

Here's the text of a press release that just went out on a show coming up in Brandon, Vt. Really looking forward to this one!


Silent film 'Grandma's Boy' (1922)
in Brandon, Vt. on Saturday, Aug. 14

Brandon Town Hall to host classic silent comedy
on the big screen with live music

BRANDON, Vt.—The silent film era returns to the big screen at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. this summer with the screening of a classic silent comedy and short subjects, all accompanied by live music.

Showtime is Saturday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to this family-friendly event; admission is by free will donation. Proceeds will benefit the ongoing restoration of Brandon Town Hall.

Featured will be a full-length comedy, 'Grandma's Boy,' starring Harold Lloyd, a popular 1920s film star. Comedy short subjects will include 'Neighbors' (1920) starring Buster Keaton and 'Mighty Like a Moose' (1926) starring Charley Chase.

Live music will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in scoring silent films and accompanies screenings throughout New England. 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 accompaniment.

'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,' which helped established Lloyd as a major star. In revival, 'Grandma's Boy' continues to delight movie-goers and serves as a great introduction to the magic of silent film. It also provides a marvelous window into small town American life a century ago.

Despite his megastar status in the 1920s, Lloyd is largely unknown to today's audiences.

"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 in 2003, audiences are rediscovering his timeless genius. The DVD 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 power," 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.

The silent film program will showcase the rejuvenated Brandon Town Hall Community Center, which reopened in 2008 after extensive renovations and has since hosted a variety of events.

Restoration work continues by the Friends of the Brandon Town Hall, a non-profit organization leading the effort. The group hopes to return the hall to its role as the civic and cultural center of Brandon by 2011, when Brandon will celebrate the hall's 150th anniversary and the town's 250th anniversary.

"Brandon Town Hall is an excellent venue for the silent film experience, with first-class projection facilities installed last year and wonderful acoustics," said Rapsis, who accompanied the silent film 'When Lincoln Paid' (1913) last June at the town hall as part of the recent "Marching Through Brandon" celebration.

'Grandma's Boy' will be shown on Saturday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall Community Center, Main Street, Route 7, Brandon, Vt. Free admission, donations accepted. For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org.

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For more info, contact:
Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com
Images attached.
More high-resolution digital images available upon request.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Report on Fatty Arbuckle Sunday, July 25

We had a good house for a program of Fatty Arbuckle material at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, July 25. We program comedy for the summer, which seems appropriate for the season, and also because it's when audiences tend to contract (I think due to the nice weather), so it's the time to bring out the big popular films to keep attendance from falling completely flat.

But Fatty still packs them in, as you can see from this shot I took just before the screening began. I think we had well over half the house filled, and maybe as much as 3/4. Nice turnout for a tribute to Roscoe's achievements.

We programmed the screening on the assumption that pretty much everyone would not have seen any Fatty Arbuckle comedies, so I was surprised when a show of hands prior to the program showed a healthy proportion had. Even so, it was a challenge to figure out how best to show Fatty's range to folks who may not have been familiar with him or silent film comedy in general.

So I chose to start out with the restored 'Love' 1919, which holds together very well in terms of sticking to a coherent plot line but still features heaping doses of Arbuckle's kind of comedy. And the print quality is superb, and that really makes a difference in modern audience appreciation of silent film, so it was a great way to introduce Arbuckle. It got a good reaction, too.

Next was 'The Bell Boy' (1917), one of the better Arbuckle/Keaton two-reelers in terms of gags and build-up, though the bank robbery sequence seems a bit random. But still, the horsecar that opens the film winds up causing a spectacular finish, so it has an eerie logic that transcends the random slapstick of so many of the Keystones. Also, the hotel/town milieu was a complete change of scene from the rural setting of 'Love,' which was a plus, as was the interesting World War I-era anti-German references. Good audience reaction on this one, too.

If we had time for a Keystone, I would have chosen either 'The Waiters Ball' (for more great knockabout slapstick) or 'Fatty and Mabel Adrift' to show Roscoe's growing abilities as an actor/filmmaker, but you can't overdo it with these kinds of programs: three films in two hours is plenty for the non-hardcore. In the end, I decided to screen 'Leap Year' (1921), the unreleased Arbuckle feature, as it showed still another side of his abilities and hinted at what Arbuckle might have perhaps done more of had he had the chance. And the fact that 'Leap Year' was suppressed due to the scandal made it of interest, too.

Audience reaction was somewhat muted, which wasn't a surprise, but I was pleased to hear things perking up when things get a little crazy in the last two reels. For the music, I used several themes—a syncopated ragtime-style main tune that tended to follow Arbuckle and his various moods, a bumptious but stern melody that grew out of the father's attitude at the start of the film and then came to be employed when anyone registered some kind of disapproval, and also a busy descending melody that lent itself to continuous repetition and surprising modulations, and so got spun out to underscore a lot of the farce situations. It was all played on a modified harpsichord setting to lend a slight air of upper crust to the proceedings, and I have to say I was pretty pleased with how it came together.

A final note: The current release playing on the same screen is 'Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,' which caused the theater's door marquee to be graced with a pair of names that I haven't seen together before.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Films for 2010-11 in Wilton, Manchester

Just posted preliminary schedules of screenings for the 2010-11 series at the Wilton Town Hall in Wilton, N.H. and the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Highlights include an Easter screening of "Ben Hur" (1925) in Wilton and a Martin Luther King Day screening of "Birth of a Nation" (1915) in Manchester.

Check out the details on this blog's "upcoming screenings" page. And while I'm at it, many thanks to Dennis Markaverich of the Wilton Town Hall Theatre and Peter Ramsey of the Palace Theatre for giving silent film places to be brought to life the way it was intended to be experienced!

Overall, it's an exciting line-up of timeless classics and some lesser-known films that deserve their chance on the screen. Screenings in Wilton take place on the last Sunday of every month at 4:30 p.m., while those at the Palace are Monday nights at 7 p.m. The Wilton screenings are free (with donations accepted), while the Palace screenings are $8 per person.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two states, two venues!

I'm pleased to announce screenings in not one but two wonderful new/old venues for silent films. New to me, but old in the sense of being wonderful historic places with extensive pedigrees: one a classic town hall auditorium in Vermont with great acoustics, the other a vintage and virtually unrenovated 1923 summer moviehouse in a Maine seaside resort.

The Vermont locale is the Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt., a picturesque small town about a half-hour north of Rutland, Vt. The place has a history: prior to the Civil War, Brandon was a center of the abolitionist movement and a key point on the Underground Railroad, which helped escaped slaves reach safety in Canada. It was also the birthplace of 19th century U.S. statesman Stephen Douglas, nicknamed the "Little Giant" due to his short stature, and who went on to debate Abraham Lincoln. All this prompts an annual celebration of the town's Civil War ties, which is why I found myself there in June to play music for a screening of the recently rediscovered 1913 Francis Ford film 'When Lincoln Paid.'

The hall was a winner, with great acoustics and a new digital rear-projection system set up to screen films for the public. And the audience was very responsive to the film, leading to several conversations about follow-up screenings. So, lo and behold, we'll be doing a short series of screenings there in August, September, and possibly October. (The building is unheated so it depends on the weather.) The programs are heavy on the big comedies, which are a good way to get new audiences used to the silent film experience, I think. We're showing Lloyd's 'Grandma's Boy' (1922) on Saturday, Aug. 14 and then Keaton's 'College' (1927) on Saturday, Sept. 18. For details, check out my schedule page.

The Maine location is the amazing Leavitt Theater, which opened in 1923 as a single screen moviehouse right on Route 1 in Ogunquit and remains virtually unchanged. Entering this 636-seat theater is like stepping back in time: many of the seats are original, complete with wire loops underneath them for gentlemen to stow their fedoras! Owner Peter Clayton, who has been steward of the summer-only moviehouse since the 1970s, keeps the place going with a mix of first-run films; the one recent major concession to progress was removing the old carbon arc projectors (in use until just a few years ago; he said he had to get the rods from India!) and replacing them with a modern system.

A place such as this cries out for a silent film screening, and Peter has graciously allowed us to try our luck with a few matinees during the latter half of the current summer season. Coincidentally, in August the Ogunquit Playhouse just up the road is presenting the first-ever-anywhere regional theater production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" musical (with Stephanie Powers of 'Hart to Hart' in the Norma Desmond role), so you can't ask for a better environment in which show silent films as they were intended to be seen.

So we'll open on Sunday, Aug. 22 at 2 p.m. with Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) and maybe something with Gloria Swanson in it to tie in with "Sunset Boulevard." We'll do Keaton's 'College' (1927) in September and maybe one more in early October before the weather turns. (Like Brandon Town Hall, the Leavitt Theatre is unheated and un-air-conditioned. When the weather finally turns, Clayton closes up shop until the next spring.) For more details, please see the schedule page. And the Leavitt Theater is worth a lot more comments that I can get to right now, so stay tuned for more pictures and words.