Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tonight 9/23: Opening night at Rogers Center
features double bill of Buster's best pictures

Buster in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), showing tonight at the Rogers Center in North Andover, Mass.

Alas, I'm not attending this year's Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas, which takes place this weekend.

But I'm doing the next best thing: accompanying a pair of upcoming Keaton programs in my corner of the world.

First up is tonight's season-opener at the Rogers Center for the Arts on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

The program features 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Our Hospitality' (1923), two of Buster's best silents that I think show his remarkable abilities even early in his film career, when these pictures date from.

For more info on this show, and the rest of the season at the Rogers Center, check out the press release below.

And then on Sunday, Sept. 27, I'm accompanying Keaton's last silent feature, the MGM-produced "Spite Marriage" (1929) at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Showtime is 4:30 p.m.

Both programs are free and open to the public, although a suggested donation of $5 per person is requested for the Wilton show to help defray expenses.

Buster's silent features still work as well as ever, and remain audience favorites today.

But even just a little historical perspective makes them all the more interesting and amazing, I think.

What I'm thinking about is how I recall someone once described the difference among silent film's "Big Three" of comedy.

Charlie Chaplin's art was essentially rooted in the past—a kind of Victorian sensibility found in the theatrical melodramas of the 19th century. Audiences responded to the timeless and familiar qualities of this kind of story-telling.

Harold Lloyd played a character very much of the present, meaning the Roaring '20s. Audiences responded to him because his adventures were part of the shared experience of contemporary living.

And Keaton? Well, we're still trying to catch up to Buster: his outlook, his attitude, and everything else.

In that sense, I think an important aspect of Buster's work is how he used the film medium.

Watch enough silent films of all types, and you realize how advanced Keaton was for his time.

Remember, it was an era when filmmakers were just beginning to develop the basic grammar of cinema: long shots vs. close-ups, transitions, camera positions, and so much else.

Apparently on instinct alone, Buster knew how to position a camera and frame a shot and edit a sequence for maximum impact.

Timeless appeal: Buster and a sundial in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

So his films are full of techniques that later became common in motion pictures.

But that's something not immediately apparent to modern audiences, who've been marinated in visual story-telling and entertainment our whole lives.

To us, Buster's films look like: well, what films are supposed to look like. But check your calendar: we live in 2015, and Buster was working 90 years ago.

Talk about timeless!

Okay, here's info about tonight's screening and the rest of the 2015-16 season of silent film with live music at the Rogers Center in North Andover, Mass. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Buster Keaton (left) stars in 'Our Hospitality' (1923), part of the 2015-16 silent film series at the Rogers Center for the Arts.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rogers Center announces silent film series with live music for 2015-16 season

Classic comedies, dramas to be screened with live accompaniment at Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass.

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—Silent film on the big screen and with live music will return to the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass. with a series of shows scheduled for the 2015-16 season. Admission to the screenings is free and the public is welcome.

The schedule includes a double dose of comedy from one of silent era's top funnymen; a creepy thriller to be shown for Halloween; a mind-bending epic drama set in four different time periods; and the original silent version of 'Ben Hur.'

Musical accompaniment will be performed live by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis, regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

The series aims to recapture the magic of early Hollywood by presenting silent films as they were intended to be shown: in restored prints, in a theater on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put together those elements, it's surprising how much power these films still have," said Rapsis, who specializes in improvising live music for silent film screenings throughout New England and beyond. "You realize why these films caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

The series features some of the most-requested titles from the silent film era:

• Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, 7 p.m.: 'Buster Keaton Double Feature' starring Buster Keaton. Buster breeches the fourth wall big-time in the imaginative "Sherlock Jr." (1924); an old-time backwoods family feud is the focus of "Our Hospitality" (1923), Keaton's breakthrough feature film. Laugh your way through two of the funniest comedies of the silent era!

• Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 7 p.m.: 'The Lodger' (1927), directed by (a very young) Alfred Hitchcock. The search is on for the man responsible for a series of murders in fog-shrouded London. Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's career began in the silent era, when then young director first produced his brand of darkly suspenseful thrillers. Remember: in silent film, no one can hear you scream! See if if you dare!

A poster for 'Intolerance' (1916), part of the 2015-16 silent film series at the Rogers Center in North Andover, Mass.

• Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, 7 p.m.: 'Intolerance' (1916), directed by D.W. Griffith and starring (literally) a cast of thousands. 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. A movie made for the big screen, and here's your chance to see it!

• Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 7 p.m.: 'Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ' (1925) starring Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman. Just in time for Easter! In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; inspired by encounters with Jesus, he lives to seek justice. One of the great religious epics of Hollywood's silent film era, including a legendary chariot race that's lost none of its power to thrill.

All films will be screened at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films can be surprisingly sophisticated. They still retain a tremendous ability to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

The opening program in this season's silent film series at the Rogers Center will include Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Our Hospitality' (1923), to be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts, located on Walsh Way on the campus of Merrimack College, 315 Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass. Admission is free. For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355.

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