Monday, September 16, 2013

Notes from 'Tempest,' 'The Cameraman,'
'The Last Command,' and Lloyd / Keaton

Talk about synchronicity! Last week, several monthly gigs pig-piled into the span of a few days, providing quite a workout. A few notes to keep the memories fresh, starting with 'The Freshman.':

Sunday, Sept. 8: 'The Freshman' (1925) starring Harold Lloyd, at the Somerville Theatre, Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.: Great crowd despite street fair limited access to theater. Did harried interview with Lisa Mullin of National Public Radio during set-up; will be curious to hear what she comes up with! Fun intro by Annette D'Agostino Lloyd, who asked newbies to raise their hands and at least half the crowd did so.

Score was okay but not a triumph. I thought a childhood friend was in the audience, and that somehow threw me and made me more self-conscious than I usually am. (And turned out he wasn't!) But got to use my new call bell (Ding!) during the Fall Frolic scene, and also a referee's whistle as added effect. Limited the whistle to just opening titles and then only three or four times during the climactic game; no less an authority than vintage film expert Richard Finegan offered praise for my restraint.

Tuesday, Sept. 10: 'Tempest' (1928) starring John Barrymore, at the Manchester City Library, Manchester, N.H.: We continue to get good crowds at these monthly library screenings, now being done without the help of my high school helper Matt, who went off to college this fall. Damn that higher education!

First time doing 'Tempest,' an extravagent "historical" drama (the Russian Revolution was still underway, arguably, when the film was made) which I found surprisingly adept and polished. Our audience agreed, drinking in the visual feast set out by cameraman Charles Rosher and designer Wiliam Cameron Menzies. Great scenes include the opening framing device using miniatures and a travelling camera; Barrymore looking through the bottom of a glass; and Barrymore having visions while locked in prison. A real gem that I'm sure to do again.

Wednesday, Sept. 11: 'The Cameraman' (1928) starring Buster Keaton, at Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass.: Opening night of the 2013-14 season of silents at the Rogers Center for the Arts drew a surprisingly big turnout: maybe about 80 folks, or twice what I would have expected. Lots of newbies roared at Buster's antics in his first film for MGM.

But the experience also contained a first for me. A little more than half-way through the film, I had to go. I mean I really had to go, as in go right now, to the bathroom. And there was clearly no way I was going to be able to tough it out, especially with the Tong War sequence still to come. On screen, Buster was just getting the tip that would send him the Tong War. I weighed my options, which weren't plentiful, and then made my move.

Pushing away from the keyboard, I muttered "Folks, I'll be back in just a second." And then, as Buster silently collided with Jocko the Monkey, I sprinted up the aisle to the men's room off the lobby. There! And I sprinted back just in time to pick things up when the monkey revives.

That had never happened before, I hope it never happens again. It felt awful, like I had abandoned the audience and Buster as well, breaking the silent movie spell and disrupting the experience. But as awful as it felt, I'm sure it would have felt even worse to...well, let's not go there. :)

Thursday, Sept. 12: 'The Last Command' (1928) starring Emil Jannings, at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.: Modest turnout for this powerhouse film, which I'm doing in New York in November and wanted to brush up on. Score didn't quite jell due to lack of prep, and also I was starting to feel performance fatigue. Still, people enjoyed it, with the ending coming across as particularly powerful.

However, this is a movie with a lot of subcurrents, both in the story and visually, as in how cigarettes and smoking are used to illustrate positions of power and subserviance. Done properly, music can help bring these things out for an audience not used to watching a film for that kind of stuff. And I have to say, I didn't quite hit all the moments, so it's a testament to the power of this movie that it still help up and made quite an impact.

Saturday, Sept. 14: 'Dr. Jack' (1922) starring Harold Lloyd and 'Seven Chances' (1925) starring Buster Keaton at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.: Ended the week with a terrific comedy double-feature that drew our largest crowd ever (119 people) to Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. This was partly due to an article in the Rutland (Vt.) Herald and other great press we received.

The Herald piece (posted at right) is notable because the reporter actually quoted me about my "big-ass keyboard," something I usually think of as an offhand remark. Well, now it's officially in print. Maybe Korg will build their next marketing campaign on it.

Shades of Somerville: Lots of Harold newbies who responded to Lloyd like a geyser. I introduced 'Dr. Jack' as "another perspective on the timeless conundrum of healthcare" and that seemed to set things up just about right. Right from the start, one big laugh after another! The Keaton film, by contrast, seemed to produce fewer laughs, at least at first.

A very thorough and thoughtful account of the evening was posted by a student at Middlebury (Vt.) College who writes about vintage cinema on her Nitrate Diva blog. She has a lot to say and says (or writes) it all very well. She introduced herself after Saturday night's screenings and it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance. I look forward to following her blog!

Now I get a few days to recover before another busy stretch this weekend...

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