Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Coming on Thursday, April 10:
Buster Keaton in 'Our Hospitality' (1923)

Buster doesn't quite fit his steed in this posed still from 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

Next up: a screening of Buster Keaton's miraculous 'Our Hospitality' (1923) on Thursday, April 10 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. Showtime is 6:30 p.m.; tickets are $10. More info in the press release below.

But wait. Why miraculous?

Yes, it's funny. Yes, it holds up well today. But how can a silent comedy film be considered miraculous?

It is, in terms of Buster's rapid growth as a filmmaker. Prior to 'Our Hospitality,' he and his team were producing superb two-reel (20-minute) comedies that are great in their own right and helped cement Buster's reputation as one of top bananas of the silent era.

But a two-reel comedy is one thing, and a full-length feature quite another.

In a short comedy, it can be anything for a laugh, which is a direction Buster often takes in his two-reelers.

But a feature film requires story, character, setting, and so many other elements for it to hold an audience's attention. It's a whole different kettle of fish, or can of film, if you will.

And the miracle is that Buster was able to make the leap so effortlessly from knockabout comedies and all at once to the fully-formed feature film world of 'Our Hospitality,' with its vastly expanded demands and requirements and ways of laying out a story and engaging an audience.

I think it's one of the great transformations in cinema history, and maybe art in general. In just a few years, Keaton went from Fatty Arbuckle's pupil to a highly personal comic style of his own. And then, after just a few years on his own, he catapulted himself into the rankers of the era's great makers of full-length films — starting with 'Our Hospitality.'

There's so much more to say about this film, but there's a time and a place. For now, if you'd like to get into 'Our Hospitality' more, let me point you to a great essay on the picture by Jim Emerson, with plenty of links to follow.

If you just want more details about this week's screening, here's the text of the press release. Hope to see you in Plymouth!

Keaton gets musical with then-wife and co-star Natalie Talmadge in 'Our Hospitality.'

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Our Hospitality' silent film comedy
Thursday, April 10 at Flying Monkey

Classic Buster Keaton feature-length comedy to be screened on the big screen with live music

PLYMOUTH, 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, and admired for their realistic stories and authentic location shots, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Our Hospitality' (1923), one of Keaton's landmark features, at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center on Thursday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m. The program, the latest in the theater's silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

In reviving the Keaton comedy, the Flying Monkey aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality 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 improvise scores on the spot for each film. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life. They featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'Our Hospitality,' a period comedy set in the 1830s, tells the story of a young man (Keaton) raised in New York City but unknowingly at the center of a long-running backwoods family feud. Highlights of the picture include Keaton's extended journey on a vintage train of the era, as well as a dramatic river rescue scene that climaxes the film. The film stars Keaton's then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, as his on-screen love interest; their first child, newborn James Talmadge Keaton, makes a cameo appearance, playing Buster as an infant. Keaton's father also plays a role in the film.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard him 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." While making films, Keaton didn't think he was an artist, but merely an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

Engineer Joe Keaton (Buster's father) mans the primitive locomotive in 'Our Hospitality.'

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. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

An entirely intuitive performer, Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated with them. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era's leading talents. A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

In 1923, Keaton made the leap into full-length films with 'Our Hospitality,' which proved popular enough for him to continue making features for the rest of the silent era. Although not all of Keaton's films were box office successes, critics later expressed astonishment at the sudden leap Keaton made from short comedies to the complex story and technical demands required for full-length features.

The Flying Monkey usually shows silent films on the second Thursday of each month. Other upcoming films in the Flying Monkey's silent series include:

• Thursday, May 8, 6:30 p.m.: 'Intolerance' (1916). D.W. Griffith's early blockbuster about man's inhumanity to man weaves together four stories spanning four eras of civilization. Filmed an a vast scale, setting a new standard for Hollywood extravagance.

• Thursday, June 12, 6:30 p.m.: "Metropolis" (1927). German director Fritz Lang's amazing epic about a futuristic society where an educated elite enjoys life in a glittering city, all supported by colonies of workers forced to live deep underground. A film that set new standards for visual design and changed movies forever!

‘Our Hospitality’ will be shown on Thursday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more information, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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