Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today's lesson: How mountain climbing
and silent film accompaniment don't mix

The rocky summit of Mount Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire, about a 45-minute drive from the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

Last Sunday at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre, I accompanied the opening program in a series of silent films that star animals.

But before doing that, I hiked to the summit of Mount Monadnock as part of a friend's 50th birthday celebration.

And guess what? I discovered that there are probably better ways to prepare for accompanying a three-hour double feature than tramping up and down a 3,165-foot peak right before.

For one thing, I didn't have a chance to shower prior to the screening. So even though I changed into my "concert" outfit, I was feeling pretty grungy, covered in dry sweat, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

Yes, both Rin Tin Tin films took place in the great outdoors, but feeling (and smelling) like I was still on the trail didn't help me much with the accompaniment.

Rin Tin Tin on set with frequent silent co-star June Marlowe.

But there's more! The hike was followed by a birthday celebration featuring hand-made specialty pizzas. These were cooked in a wood-fired outdoor stove at a friend's nearby lakeside home.

I had to make an early departure from the post-hike party due to the screening, so I scarfed my share of the pizza, which was fantastic.

But then, about an hour into the screening, I couldn't help but notice that a layer of fresh oil was now being added to the other stuff coating my skin.

This didn't help. Between the dirt and the sweat and now the grease, I felt more like a stoker in a steamship's boiler room than a silent film accompanist.

But this begs the question: is there much difference anyway?

Still, I'm pleased to report that our opening "animal" program went over really well. Turnout was pretty good for a sunny Father's Day: about 80 people altogether.

A double feature of Rin Tin Tin flicks, 'The Night Cry' (1923) and 'The Night Cry' (1926), kept the audience engaged. Although the films were in rough shape, Rinty earned some cheers for his feats of derring-do in both films.

Looking ahead, the general trend will be towards obscurity. Upcoming performers include such little-known names as Thunder the Dog and Oscar the Elephant. But I hope Rin Tin Tin was enough to spark interest in what's to come.

After all, exhibitors called him "the mortgage lifter" for good reason.

Otherwise, things are a little quiet now, with just a handful of screenings until after the 4th of July holiday. The schedule roars to life after that, however, with shows in four states in the first half of July.

For now, here's the press release about our next "animal" show in Wilton, which features Rex the Wonder Horse. Hope you can join us!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre continues classic animal film series

Next program on Sunday, June 29 features
'Rex the Wonder Horse' double feature, live music

WILTON, N.H. — Rex the Wonder Horse gallops across the silver screen once again in the next installment of the Wilton Town Hall Theatre's summer series of films starring animals.

On Sunday, June 29 at 4:30 p.m., the amazing horse appears in two action-packed equine adventures. In 'Wild Beauty' (1927), Rex plays an untamed horse used by the villains (humans, of course) to foil a high-stakes derby, with unexpected results. In 'The Devil Horse' (1926), Rex aids pioneers on the Great Plains in battling a fierce tribe of Native Americans.

The double feature is free and open to the public. A donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray costs.

See for yourself this summer how animal stars helped establish the popularity of motion pictures with the Wilton Town Hall Theatre's summer-long retrospective of the great non-human performers of early cinema.

Dubbed "The All-Star Animal Summer Silent Film Extravaganza," the series runs through August and encompasses a total of 13 silent feature films with animals of all types in the lead roles.

"These animal pictures were hugely popular during the silent era, and it's easy to see why," said Dennis Markaverich, owner/operator at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. "They're full of action and adventure, and it's going to be a real thrill to see them back on the big screen this summer."

Live music for the screenings will be performed by Jeff Rapsis of Bedford, N.H., one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists.

Spotlighted in the June 29 program, Rex the Wonder Horse (also known as "King of the Horses" during his long career) was a 16 hands (64 in; 1.63 m) Morgan stallion who starred in films and film serials in the 1920s and '30s.

His trainer was Jack "Swede" Lindell, who found him in a boys' school in Golden, Colo. He discovered that Rex had the unusual behavior of trying to bite a whip when it was cracked. Lindell encouraged this and would often stand behind the camera to get a dramatic shot on film. Lindell never left Rex alone on set unless he was locked in his own trailer.

Besides well-known stars such as Rex the Wonder Horse, the series will include the work of more obscure performers such as Thunder the Dog, Strongheart (another German Shepherd), and the only surviving film featuring pachyderm Oscar the Elephant. Other pictures feature monkeys, lions, and even dinosaurs.

"At their heart, these pictures capitalized on people's love of animals to produce great entertainment," Markaverich said. "They still work, and really do come to life when shown in a theater with live music and an audience. Also, because of the passage of time, they're perhaps even more interesting today than they were when first released."

The series runs now through August. Upcoming programs include:

• Sunday, July 6, 4:30 p.m.: 'Lions & Dinosaurs Double Feature.' Two classic animal-centric features from the silent era, both inspired by British literature. 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927), an early screen adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, finds Tarzan adopting an orphaned lion cub, with unexpected results. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's epic 'The Lost World' (1925), about an expedition to a plateau still inhabited pre-historic creatures, paved the way for all dinosaur pictures to come.

• Sunday, July 20, 4:30 p.m.: 'A Dynamic Doggie Duo.' Explore the action-packed work of two popular canine stars from Hollywood's silent era. 'Phantom of the Forest' (1926) finds Thunder the Dog in California's wild Redwood country, where he thwarts a crook planning to steal oil-rich land from its owner and saves a baby from a forest fire. In 'The Return of Boston Blackie' (1927), Strongheart the German Shepherd plays sidekick to the famous jewel thief, freshly out of jail and trying to turn over a new leaf.

• Sunday, Aug. 17, 4:30 p.m.: 'A Pair of Pachyderms in Big Roles.' A double feature of films with elephants! 'Soul of the Beast' (1923) stars Oscar the Elephant, who accompanies a circus runaway fleeing a mean stepfather. In 'Chang' (1927), shot on location in rural Siam (now Thailand), a native family in the back country battles the jungle for survival. Chang was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929, the only year when that award was presented.

• Sunday, Aug. 31, 4:30 p.m.: 'A Triple Feature Finale.' His Master's Voice' (1925) finds Thunder the Dog helping human co-star George Hackathorne overcome his cowardice on the battlefield; in 'The Return of the Grey Wolf' (1923), Leader the Dog comes to the aid of his master, a fur trapper blinded in an accident; and in 'Guardians of the Wild' (1928), Rex the Wonder Horse returns to help the good guys fight the bad guys over the fate of a pristine patch of wilderness that he calls home.

The "All-Star Animal Summer Silent Film Extravaganza" continues with a double feature of movies featuring equine superstar Rex the Wonder Horse on Sunday, June 29 at 4:30 p.m at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggested to help defray expenses.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit For more info on the music, visit

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