Friday, June 10, 2016

This weekend, it's Mozart and Beethoven
...I mean, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton and his co-star in 'The General' (1926), showing on Friday, June 10 at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

Back to basics this weekend with two well-known classics: Keaton's 'The General' on Friday night in Concord, N.H., and then Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) in Somerville, Mass.

More details below in press releases I've attached to this post.

But accompanying these titles reminds me: I have this theory that the silent films that have come down to us will at some point attain the same cultural status as other forms of fine art: sculpture, paintings, theatre, literature.

All of these forms are interesting to us today in part because of their timeless beauty, but also because of what they say about the cultures that produced them.

Motion pictures made during the silent era aren't any different. Presented properly, they maintain their ability to entertain and inspire audiences. And they say tons about the culture that produced them, sometimes intentionally but often by accident.

They're just not old enough to be seen as "fine art" just yet, I think. In time, that will happen—as long as we preserve the films and keep showing them.

Mozart and Beethoven = Chaplin and Keaton?

So in that sense, I sometimes think of how Chaplin is kind of like the Mozart of silent film comedy—a miraculous wunderkind whose 'Tramp' character allowed him to create material in his own distinctive comic language.

Although a lot of hard work went on behind the scenes, what Chaplin brought to the screen always seemed graceful and effortless.

So, much as Mozart took the existing harmonic language and structure of music of his time and vastly enlarged its possibilities, so did Chaplin with cinema.

Keaton, on the other head, is more like Beethoven. Each was an innovator who worked largely on instinct to build large structures. And each pushed their art to new levels of expression.

It's an interesting way to look at silent film comedy. Taking it further, I guess that means Harold Lloyd would be Josef Haydn?

And does that mean an obscure performer such as Johnny Hines would be...say, Friedrich Kalkbrenner?

But the comparison starts to break down, I think, when you consider Mack Sennett, legendary slapstick comedy pioneer and father of Keystone Studios. He'd have to Johann Sebastian Back, and I somehow don't think Sennett and Bach operated on quite the same level.

Chaplin, Keaton, and...Sennett?

And now that I think of it, I've already compared Raymond Griffith's 'Paths to Paradise' (1925) with the Venus de Milo due to its missing final reel.

Well, whatever your tastes in film or music, I hope you'll join us for screenings of Keaton's 'The General' on Friday and Chaplin's 'The Kid' on Sunday. More info below!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'The General' at Red River on Friday, June 10

Buster Keaton's comic Civil War masterpiece set to be screened with live music

CONCORD, 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 timeless visual humor, 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 Red River Theatre, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, June 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person.

The program 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 call '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.

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 screening 'The General,' Red River will give the public a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—in a high quality print, 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 a film 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 keyboard 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."

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.

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

'The General' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at Red River. Upcoming programs include:

• Friday, July 15: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926) starring John Gilbert in a big MGM historical swashbuckling adventure thought lost for decades until a print was found recently in France.

• Friday, Aug. 12: 'The Yankee Clipper' (1927) starring William Boyd. Period drama set in the 19th century; two clipper ships race from China to Boston to compete for a lucrative tea contract.

• Friday, Sept. 16: 'Spies' (1928). Director Fritz Lang followed his futuristic saga 'Metropolis' with this pioneering espionage thriller that created the template for all future James Bond movies.

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)

'The General' (1926) will be shown at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, June 10 at 7 p.m. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit


Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) to screen for Father's Day at Aeronaut Brewing Co.

Landmark silent film comedy/drama to be presented with live music on Sunday, June 12

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—Silent film with live music returns to the Aeronaut Brewery with a screening of Charlie Chaplin's classic comedy/drama 'The Kid' (1921) on Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m.

The special pre-Father's Day program, which also includes several Chaplin short comedies, with be presented with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a composer who specializes in creating live silent film accompaniment.

Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

The program of silent film with live music is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance.

Chaplin was already the world's most popular comedian and filmmaker when he produced 'The Kid,' his first feature-length project.

The movie, with its daring mix of intense drama and slapstick comedy, proved an instant sensation and marked one of the high points of Chaplin's long career.

Chaplin and Coogan in 'The Kid.'

'The Kid' follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who attempts to raise an orphaned boy on his own. It includes several classic scenes, and is highlighted by a sequence in which Chaplin battles authorities attempting to return the child to an orphanage.

Co-starring with Chaplin in 'The Kid' was five-year-old Jackie Coogan, who turned in what many critics rank as the best child performance of the entire silent film era. Chaplin himself worked closely with the young Coogan for more than a year to develop the youngster's acting abilities.

Coogan went on to a long career that much later included the role of "Uncle Fester" (left) in the popular 1960s Addams Family television show.

The Chaplin program continues the series of silent films presented with live music at the Aeronaut. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," Rapsis said. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

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.

'The Kid' will be preceded by shorter Chaplin comedies made earlier in his career that helped establish his worldwide popularity.

Upcoming programs of silent film with live music at the Aeronaut include:

• Sunday, July 17 at 8 p.m., 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Eye-popping fantasy based on stories from 1001 Arabian Nights; a film that brought cinematic story-telling and visual design to new heights.

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) will be shown on Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info, visit

For more information on the music, visit

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