Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween spookiness in Wilton, N.H. on Oct. 31

I'm really looking forward to our upcoming screening of 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) on Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31, at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. It's a terrific-looking film, one of the most watchable silents I've ever encountered, and I can't wait to see how it plays with an audience.

We do screenings in Wilton on the last Sunday of every month, and when I saw that this year, our show fell right on Halloween Day, I wanted to do something special. 'The Cat and the Canary' promises to fill the bill: a silent film creep show that served as the inspiration for decades of haunted house thrillers to come, with its lonely hallways, sliding panels, secret passageways, and more.

Also, I consider it both poor form and bad karma to talk too much about music in advance of a screening (because sometimes I change my mind in the process, even during the show) but in this case, I've worked up some good stuff that I hope will help 'The Cat and the Canary' be as effective as possible in a theater. Our shorts include a couple of Halloween-themed films, including one starring our pals Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. Hope to see you there!

For more info, here's the press release that just went out. It's a little late due to time constraints lately, but we're still hoping to scare up a big crowd on Halloween. There might even be candy! Trick or treat!


'Cat and Canary' (1927) to play Wilton (N.H.) with live music on Sunday, Oct. 31

Haunted house silent film thriller to be shown at sundown on Halloween

WILTON, N.H.—'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), a haunted house thriller from Hollywood’s silent film era, will be screened with live music on Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The Halloween screening is free and open to the public, with donations accepted to defray costs.

'The Cat and the Canary' stands as the original movie thriller—the first picture to take audiences to the reading of a will in a haunted mansion that features clutching hands, a masked killer, disappearing bodies, and secret passageways.

Silent film starlet Laura LaPlante leads the cast as a young heiress who must spend the night in the creepy old mansion filled with relatives who all have motives to frighten her out of her wits. Meanwhile, a dangerous escaped lunatic is loose on the grounds. Can she and the others make it through the night?

Created for Universal Pictures by German filmmaker Paul Leni and based on a hit stage play, 'The Cat and the Canary' proved popular enough to inspire several remakes, including one starring Bob Hope. It was also the forbearer of all the great Universal horror classics of the 1930s and '40s.

The Wilton screening will use a fully restored print that shows the film as audiences would have originally experienced it. 'The Cat and the Canary' will be accompanied by live music by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in silent film scoring. Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Silent film is all about the audience experience, and this one should be a perfect Halloween crowd-pleaser," Rapsis said. "It has something for everyone—spooky scenes, some good comedy, and it's all fine for the whole family."

Critics praise the original 'Cat and the Canary' for its wild visual design and cutting edge cinematography. Film reviewer Michael Phillips singled out the film for using "a fluidly moving camera and elaborate, expressionist sets and lighting to achieve some of the most memorable shots in silent film, from the amazing tracking shots down the curtain-lined main hallway to the dramatic zooms and pans that accompany the film's shocks."

Leonard Maltin called the original 'Cat and the Canary' a "delightful silent classic, the forerunner of all "old dark house" mysteries.

The program also includes vintage short subjects. One screening only on Sunday, Oct. 31 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.

The Wilton Town Hall Theatre's silent film series gives movie-goers the chance to experience silent films the way they were intended to be seen: in best quality prints on the big screen with live music, and with an audience. See for yourself the pictures that made audiences to first fall in love with the movies!

Admission to 'The Cat and the Canary' is free, with donations accepted to defray costs. For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456. For more info on the music, visit

Friday, October 22, 2010

The vampire still packs 'em in!

A slightly belated note about our recent double feature of 'Nosferatu' (1922) and 'The Golem' (1920), which took place this past Monday (four days ago) at the Palace Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H.

First, I was delighted with the relatively heavy turnout for this program. Something like well over 100 people attended, easily the highest number for any Palace screening in the three years we've been showing silents there.

One reason, perhaps, is that word is getting around. Another is that we got lucky with some good publicity in the local media. But mostly, I think 'Nosferatu' itself carried the day. With sunsets coming earlier each evening and Halloween looming at month's end, people were in the mood for a vampire flick, so this caught them just right.

With two films, it was a long program: more than three hours, and we included a brief intermission between the two. 'Nosferatu' went fine, but I think I was too ambitious right from the start and so probably overdid things (special effects, weird sounds) a little too early. Probably should have waited until Hutter was at the castle to start up with the really weird stuff. But 'The Golem' was immensely satisfying.

I'd only looked at the film once (and a lot of that was in FF mode) and so knew how it went generally, though I didn't have any complicated plan. However, the music had a spontaneity that seemed to bring out the best in this picture: not only its spooky parts, but also a lot of humor. Some of the humor might not have been intentional by the film's German makers, but it did help the film, er, come to life. (No pun intended.)

Also helping was a serendipitous "plodding" melody I came up with that evolved into a main theme for the picture. It's actually a small snatch of a larger melody from Bach's "Little Fugue" in G minor, but it came into its own here as a perfect musical representation of steps being taken, either to build the leading man of clay or bring to life or to accompany him marching around the ghetto. Nice!

I also had another melody that I put in a mode with a flatted second so it would sound vaguely Jewish. However, any interest in creating a characteristic sound world for this film was diminished by the filmmaker's depiction of Jews as occultists led by Rabbis who wear pointy sorcerers hats and communicate with the underworld. Sheesh! Still, a remarkable film, and one that (with hindsight) contains many seeds, I think, of the anti-semitism that was to bloom so ferociously in Germany in not too many years hence.

The crowd had MANY new faces, and reaction was palpable when we previewed upcoming films in the series: 'Birth of a Nation' (1915) on Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 (yes, that's Martin Luther King Day) and 'Metropolis' (1927), among others. One thing that helped was a marvelous "coming attractions" slide show created by Dave Stevenson that gave attendees a glimpse of scenes from films to come, and which we ran prior to Monday night's frightfest. Let's hope we keep the crowds coming and that the Palace remains open to showing films there in a way that celebrates early cinema on, well, a palatial scale.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get scared in 16mm on Saturday, Oct. 16

We just arranged for an afternoon of vintage film screenings (including some silents) at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library, 405 Pine St., in beautiful downtown Manchester. My colleague Dave Stevenson is unlocking his vault of 16mm prints as part of a meeting of the local "tent" of the Sons of the Desert, the Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society. (By the way, Manchester is hosting their international convention in 2012, which we're all excited about. More about that in months to come.)

The screenings on Saturday, Oct. 16, which have a Halloween flavor to them, are in the library's classic downstairs auditorium. They're free and open to the public and will run from 1:30 to 5 p.m. All films will be shown from 16mm prints.

Dave has put together a quick schedule, which I'm copying and pasting below. I'll do live music for the silents. Hope to see you there. Oh, and the chapter's business meeting will take place afterwards at Lala's Hungarian Restaurant not far away on Elm Street. Hope to see you there, too!

The program will consist of memorable cartoons and comedy shorts featuring Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Betty Boop and two stars from this area: Walter Long, who was born in Milford, NH, and Thelma Todd who hailed from Lawrence, Massachusetts. The films will be shown in beautiful 16mm prints on a real projector. Both silent and sound movies will be shown. Silent titles will be screened with keyboard accompaniment by local composer Jeff Rapsis. A fun time is guaranteed for all.

Film Program:

BIMBO'S INITIATION (Fleischer-Paramount; 7-24-1931); Dir. by Dave Fleischer. Betty Boop Series. Bimbo the dog is initiated into a secret society in a sadistic 'fun house'; then Betty Boop (with dog's ears) takes a hand. 10 min.; Sound; B&W.

DO DETECTIVES THINK? (Roach-Pathé; 11-20-1927); Dir. by Fred Guiol. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Noah Young, Viola Richard and Frank Brownlee. An escaped convict is out to kill Judge Foozle (Finlayson) who sentenced him to hang. Two inept detectives (Laurel and Hardy) are hired to guard the judge and his wife. 20 min.; Silent with live accompaniment; B&W.

THE LIVE GHOST (Roach-MGM; 12-8-1934); Dir. by Charley Rogers. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Walter Long, Charlie Hall, Arthur Housman and Mae Busch. A gruff sea captain is having trouble manning his ship because of rumors it's haunted. He inveigles Stanley and Oliver into helping him shanghai a crew from the sailors at a dockside bar. Once aboard, the captain warns them that whoever says the word "ghost" will get his head twisted from north to south. At sea, one of the drunken sailors falls into a trough of whitewash, terrorizing Stanley and Oliver into blurting out "ghost" in front of the enraged captain. 20 min.; Sound; B&W.

THE SCARECROW (Metro Pictures; 12-22-1920); Dir. by Eddie Cline and Buster Keaton. Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely, Al St. John, Joe Keaton and Luke the Dog. Farmhands Keaton and Roberts share a cottage full of mechanical devices for making life easy. They are rivals for the farmer's daughter. Keaton , disguised as a scarecrow, causes troubles for his rival and the farmer. When Keaton stoops to tie his shoe, the girl accepts what she thinks is his kneeling proposal. 20 min.; Silent with live accompaniment; B&W.

SEAL SKINS (Roach-MGM; 2-6-1932); Dir. by Morey Lightfoot and Gil Pratt. Cast: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Billy Gilbert, Charlie Hall and Leo Willis. An old dark house comedy in which the Girls are chasing a stolen "seal" and a big story for the local news. 20 min.; Sound; B&W.


PETER PAN HANDLED (Standard-F.B.O.; 4-26-1925); Dir. by Walter Lantz. Dinky-Doodle series. A turn on the Peter Pan tale with a combination of live action and animation. 10 min.; Silent with live accompaniment; B&W.

PUBLIC GHOST Nº 1 (Roach-MGM; 12-14-1935); Dir. by Harold Law. Cast: Charley Chase, Joyce Compton, Edwin Maxwell, Clarence Wilson and Harry Bowen. Charley Chase is an inventor who is hired to haunt a house. 20 min.; Sound; B&W.

LIBERTY (Roach-MGM; 1-26-1929); Dir. by Leo McCarey and Stan Laurel. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Sam Lufkin, Tom Kennedy and Harry Bernard. Two escaped convicts (Laurel & Hardy) change clothes in the getaway car, but wind up wearing each other's pants. The rest of the film involves their trying to exchange pants, in alleys, in cabs and finally high above the street on the girders of a construction site. 20 min.; Silent with live accompaniment; B&W.

HOT MONEY (Roach-MGM; 11-16-1935); Dir. by James W. Horne. Cast: Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, James Burke and Fred Kelsey. A thief on the run dumps some hot money in Thelma and Patsy's lap. Shortly thereafter, his untimely demise turns the story into a murder mystery. 20 min.; Sound; B&W.

TECHNO-CRAZY (Educational-Fox; 3-12-1933); Dir. by Charles Lamont. Cast: Monte Collins, Billy Bevan, Eleanor Hunt and John T. Murray. A weird tale of technological utopia, Bolshevism and love set in the demented mind of Monte Collins. 20 min.; Sound; B&W.


For further info please contact:
Dave Stevenson e-mail:

A pair of nice-looking ads

Here's a look at a couple of print ads that have been running in HippoPress, our local arts newspaper, to promote two upcoming screenings.

The first promotes a double-feature screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) and 'The Golem' (1920) that we're doing at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. on Monday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. Visually, it's quite striking. We've been running it for the last few weeks and I hope it'll help boost turnout a bit. I love playing for films at the Palace, but we can only do screenings on Monday nights (they're busy at other times) so attendance has been an issue. We'll see.

This next one is a very sharp-looking ad for a screening of 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), which we're showing at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 31 (hey, that's Halloween!) at 4:30 p.m. I credit myself for the line "In Silent Film, No One Can Hear You Scream," but the ad itself was put together by the crack production team (okay, unfortunate word choice) at HippoPress. I think it's very effective and I'm quite lucky to have such support in our local screenings in the southern New Hampshire area.