Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday, April 4: Bringing Buster Keaton
to the Blazing Star Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H.

Buster examines his world in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), on the program tonight with 'The General' (1927) at the Blazing Star Grange #71 Hall in Danbury, N.H.

Check out this e-mail I received today:
Hey Jeff:

Don't know if you know this, but my name is Carl Hultberg and my grandfather, Rudi Blesh was Buster's authorized biographer.

I live in Danbury and work at the transfer station. I have a biography of my grandfather out now about my grandfather, Rudi (and me).

I'm going to try to make the show tonight. So I hope to see you there.

-Carl Hultberg
Danbury NH 03230
Wow! You never know who's out there!

The Blesh biography, written with Buster's cooperation, was one of the earliest books about silent film I encountered.

In the early 1970s, the Nashua (N.H.) Public Library had a copy, and I must have renewed it more than a dozen times, keeping it home as part of an impromptu reference library I accumulated at the time.

And now, all these years later, to hear from the biographer's grandson, who lives in rural New Hampshire about an hour's drive north of here. Fantastic!

The "show" tonight he refers to, by the way, is a program of Buster Keaton films I'm presenting at an usual venue—the Blazing Star Grange #71 Hall in, yes, Danbury, N.H.

If Danbury sounds like a small New Hampshire town, then you heard right.

And like many small towns in rural parts of our start, the local Grange chapter is still active.

A seasonal view of tonight's venue. Yeah, we still have a lot of snow up here.

The Grange? It's kind of an agri-centric community education and fellowship society that emerged as a national movement in the 19th century.

Many local Grange groups fell by the wayside long ago—ironically, in part because of competing pastimes such as movie-going.

But a few continue to soldier on, including the "Blazing Star" chapter in Danbury, which has evolved into an advocate for locally grown food.

Members also hold a series of winter markets, support sustainable development, and also curate a unique collection of vintage stage curtains that have been in use at the local Grange Hall for nearly a century.

On example from the collection of antique painted stage scenery and curtains cared for by the Blazing Star Grange #71 of Danbury, N.H.

Find out more about the Blazing Star Grange #71 at And you can also see online photos of the vintage stage curtain collection.

Tonight's program is a double bill of two Keaton features, plus possibly a chat with the grandson of Keaton's biographer. Really looking forward to it, as well as possibly meeting the grandson of Keaton's official biographer. (Hey—when you're this far removed from Hollywood, you take what you can get.)

For more info about tonight's screening, check out the press release below. See you there!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'The General' with live music at Blazing Star Grange on Saturday, April 4

Buster Keaton's comic masterpiece set during U.S. Civil War to be screened at historic Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H.

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

See for yourself with a screening of 'The General' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, at the Blazing Star Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H. on Saturday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. The show is open to the public with suggested $5 donation.

The program, which also includes Keaton's feature 'Sherlock, Jr.' (1924), will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

'The General,' set during the U.S. Civil War, tells the story of a southern locomotive engineer (Keaton) whose engine (named 'The General') is hijacked by Northern spies with his girlfriend onboard. Keaton, stealing another train, races north in pursuit behind enemy lines. Can he rescue his girl? And can he steal his locomotive and make it back to warn of a coming Northern attack?

Critics have called 'The General' Keaton's masterpiece, praising its authentic period detail, ambitious action and battle sequences, and its overall integration of story, drama, and comedy. It's also regarded as one of Hollywood's great train films, with much of the action occurring on or around moving steam locomotives.

Civil War-era railroad engineer Buster on the film's namesake locomotive, 'The General'

Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who has accompanied shows at venues across New England, said Keaton's films were not made to be shown on television or viewed at home. In reviving them, the Blazing Star Grange will give the public a chance to experience silent film as it was 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 improvises the score on the spot as the films screens. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

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

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton 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 never thought of himself as an artist, but merely as an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

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.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

Critics review 'The General':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—Walter Kerr

"An almost perfect entertainment!"
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"What makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster's directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance."
—Time Out (London)

Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1926) will be shown on Saturday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Blazing Star Grange Hall, 15 North Road, Danbury, N.H. The program is open to the public. Suggested donation $5. For more info, visit; for more info on the music, visit

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

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