Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thoughts on accompanying 4 films in 4 days;
Harry Langdon in Ogunquit on Thursday, 9/17

An original promo sheet for 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Usually I preview upcoming shows here. But with four films in the past four days, that process kind of got away from me, so nothing got posted. Apologies!

So let me say up front: the next silent film program I'm accompanying will be a Harry Langdon's 'The Strong Man' (1926) on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

If you'd like more info, the full press release is tacked to the end of this post.

But now let me recap the what I've been up to since last Thursday before it gets buried by the days ahead.

From 'Hangman's House.: The Emerald Isle or the Weimar Republic?

Thursday, Sept. 10: 'Hangman's House' (1928) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.: Attendance was down in this entry of our monthly series, probably because it was NFL kick-off night featuring Tom Brady's return to the New England Patriots, which is very big news in this part of the planet.

Still, John Ford's last silent film held the screen with its Murnau-inspired visuals, with the action set in a part of Ireland subject to heavy ground fog, apparently. Great to see John Wayne show up as an over-excited villager busting down a fence during a horse race.

'The Cameraman': a film about film itself.

Friday, Sept. 11: 'The Cameraman' (1928) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.: This one fell together quite effectively, I thought. Above average attendance for Red River, and a film that the audience found hilarious right from the beginning, when Buster Keaton finds his face in the lovely Marceline Day's hair.

I know 'The Cameraman' pretty well now, and so knew to keep the music as light as possible for as long as possible. Only when Keaton tries photographing the chaotic Tong War can you open up, but then you have to bring it right back down again. Thrilled to hear laughter even during the loudest sections of the war. Success!

The silent Tarzan: supply your own jungle yell if you like.

Saturday, Sept. 12: 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927) at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon, Vt.: A wealth of pre-show publicity in the local media coupled with a rainy evening led to a record-busting attendance of about 125 people. Nice!

James Bridges as Tarzan got a good reaction, but people seemed more excited by our warm-up feature, 'The Sign of the Claw' (1926), the only surviving feature of second-tier German shepherd star Peter the Great. Hooting and hollering on this one started early, when Peter pulled a hapless toddler from the path of a heavy truck.

From 'The Leaping Fish': the label says it all.

Sunday, Sept. 13: 'The Matrimaniac' (1916) and other films starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass.: More rain helped boost attendance at this program of rarely screened early Fairbanks pictures, which also included 'The Missing Millionaire' (1917) and 'The Mystery of the Leaping Fish' (1916).

For 'Matrimaniac,' the only full-length feature, reaction was muted, I thought—possibly the effect of having to run the 35mm print at 24 fps, clearly too fast. Looking forward to the Somerville getting the ability to run variable speed when needed on its 35mm Norelcos.

'Millionaire,' a later film that used the same footage from 'Matrimaniac' to tell a completely different story to capitalize on Fairbanks' popularity, was a real treat. Seeing the two movies one after another reminded me of a Michael Frayn farce—or a bit like Keaton's 'Spite Marriage' (1929), where we see scene played completely straight, then see it again as Buster ruins it in increasingly creative ways.

And what can you say about 'Leaping Fish' and its gleeful depiction of drug use? Throughout the film, my accompaniment was augmented by the sound of jaws hitting the floor.

So it was a good four-day run with a variety of films in some vastly different settings.

But I like doing these mini-marathons because by the end, I feel like I have a fluency at the keyboard that allows me to go places I usually can't.

Somehow, the momentum carries me. Either that, or I'm so disoriented I just don't know what the hell I'm doing anymore.

Could be a combination of both!

Okay, here's the press release for the Langdon program later this week. Hope you can make it!

* * *

Harry Langdon in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

See Frank Capra's first-ever film at Leavitt Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 17

Harry Langdon's classic silent comedy 'The Strong Man,' directed by a very young Capra, to be shown with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine — Silent film with live music returns to the big screen at the Leavitt Theatre in September with a showing of an uproarious comedy starring Harry Langdon.

The screening, on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m., will feature Langdon's classic picture 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Helming 'The Strong Man' was young first-time director Frank Capra, who would later go on to create such Hollywood classics as 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946).

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Admission is $10 per person.

'The Strong Man' tells the story of a World War I soldier (Langdon) who, following his discharge, finds work as assistant to a circus strong man. As the act travels the United States, Langdon continually searches for a girl he corresponded with while stationed overseas in the military.

The search leads to a town controlled by Prohibition-era gangsters, which forces Harry to test the limits of his own inner strength even as he looks for his dream girl. Can Happy triumph over the bad guys? And is love more powerful than brute strength?

The feature-length film showcases the unique child-like personality of Langdon, who is largely forgotten today. For a brief time in the 1920s, however, he rivaled Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's top movie clown.

Langdon's popularity, which grew quickly in the last years of the silent era, fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies starting in 1929.

'The Strong Man,' a family-friendly comedy, was was selected in 2007 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Harry Langdon experiences temptation in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

In recent years, 'The Strong Man' has been recognized as a major achievement of the silent film era—a satisfying and timeless balance of emotion and comedy.

"A little tragedy and a lot of laughs can be seen in 1926's The Strong Man," wrote critic Richard von Busack in 2007. "Director Frank Capra's energy and sturdy plot sense counterpoint Langdon's wonderful strangeness."

'The Strong Man' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So the Leavitt's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nine decades.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of area residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

Upcoming shows in this year's series include:

• Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, 8 p.m.: 'The Lodger' (1927). A serial killer is on the loose in fog-bound London. Will the murderer be caught before yet another victim is claimed? Just in time for Halloween, suspenseful British thriller directed by a very young Alfred Hitchcock. The program is subtitled 'Chiller Theater' due to the theater's lack of central heating.

'The Strong Man' (1926) will be screened with live music on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theater, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission $10. For more information, call (207) 646-3123 or visit

For info on the music, visit

Frank Capra's 'The Strong Man' will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theater, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission $10. For more information, call (207) 646-3123 or visit

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