Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A silent film comedy program on Christmas Day,
plus a Kilimanjaro orchestral score update

Stan and Ollie peddle holiday cheer in tree form.

This Christmas, don't let Santa monopolize all the 'ho ho ho.'

Get in a few chortles yourself by attending a special Christmas Day screening of silent film comedies at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

I'll even wear one of my Christmas ties. So if the movies don't make you laugh, maybe my wardrobe choices will.

This all begs the question: how did we end up with a silent film show on Christmas day?

Well, it's all about the timing. For a monthly series, it helps to keep the screenings on the same day of the week and in the same week of each month.

So, as an example: at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library, screenings are always on the first Tuesday of the month.

That way, people get in the habit of knowing when films are running without having to check any listings.

Once in awhile, this backfires. For instance: at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre, shows are the last Sunday afternoon of each month.

So each May, I run into Memorial Day weekend, which leads to low attendance no matter what film we run, as people are out of town, etc.

And this year, the last Sunday of December is Christmas Day itself: Sunday, Dec. 25.

What to do?

Well, we figured enough people will need a break by Christmas afternoon to justify going ahead with the screening as a kind of public service.

And so we are. On Christmas afternoon at 4:30 p.m., I invite you to a program of crackerjack silent comedy accompanied by live music.

Featured attraction is Harry Langdon's breakthrough comedy, 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

With a story by a very young Frank Capra, and with a very young Joan Crawford as Harry's love interest (really!), Harry's first-ever feature-length film has a lot to recommend it.

Original promotional material for 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

Like any solid silent comedy, it's full of great visual gags that remain funny today, 90 years after 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' was released.

But the film also benefits from the antics and idiosyncrasies of Harry's weird man-child character, and also a narrative that displays the Capra-esque touch in embryonic form.

Best of all, much of the movie takes place outdoors, in the wide open spaces. So 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' has the feel of so much of Buster Keaton's best work: a sense of limitless possibilities being discovered and explored for the first time.

Watching these movies, I sometimes get a sense that filmmakers of the silent era, and especially the comedians, must have gone about their business feeling like what a kid feels like on Christmas morning.

There, tied it together! Now you have no excuse to stay home.

But just to be certain, I'm throwing in a surefire Christmas comedy starring two gentlemen named Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Given the immense pressure of the holiday season, it might be refreshing to see how their own dealings with the Yuletide spirit result in anything but peace on earth.

So after all the presents are opened, give yourself the gift of laughter, even if it's directed at my tie.

More details about our holiday program at the Town Hall Theatre are in the press release below.

Don't have my own Kilimanjaro pics handy, so here's one from National Geographic.

Also, I can report that my Kilimanjaro score for orchestra is pretty much complete.

This past weekend I wrapped up the third movement and sent it off. I'll be generating parts now and getting them to the musicians of the New Hampshire Philharmonic for an expected run-through at a rehearsal this Sunday.

I do still need to reshape a couple of things about the first movement, but that should be done soon. If all works out, the group might play all four movements at their upcoming concert on Sunday, Jan. 22.

More details to come. But very exciting to be working with such a talented group and their music director, Mark Latham.

As we get closer, I'll mount a full-court press to get people to attend. For now, save the date: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H.

For tickets and more information about the Philharmonic, visit www.nhphil.org.

* * *

Original promotional poster for 'Tramp Tramp Tramp'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film comedy 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' on Sunday, Dec. 25 at Town Hall Theatre

With live music: Harry Langdon, Joan Crawford star in cross-country comedy created by a young Frank Capra; plus Laurel & Hardy

WILTON, N.H.—This Christmas Day, receive the gift of laughter with a program of vintage silent film comedy screened with live musical accompaniment at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

The screening, on Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m., will be highlighted by classic slapstick from Laurel and Hardy, the most popular movie comedy team of all time.

Featured attraction is 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a full-length comedy starring Harry Langdon and written by a very young Frank Capra, who would later direct the classic Christmas film 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

Joan Crawford, at the very beginning of her career, co-stars with Langdon, a comedian whose popularity rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin for a brief period in the 1920s.

The family-friendly program will be presented at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., in Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

In 'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' Langdon plays a young man determined to rescue the family shoe business from a much larger manufacturer.

To win money, he enters a cross-country walking race, but things get complicated when be develops a hopeless crash on the daughter of the rival factory's owner, whom he only knows through her picture on billboards.

Can Harry beat the odds, win the race, get the girl, and save the family business?

'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' filmed outdoors and on location, takes viewers on a cross-country journey that pits Harry again convicts, police officers, and even Mother Nature.

Can you spot the clown? Harry's cross-country journey takes some unexpected twists.

Langdon, a vaudeville performer and late-comer to silent film comedy, rocketed to sudden stardom in the late 1920s on the strength of 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' and other popular movies.

His character was that of an innocent child-like man constantly bewildered by the complexity of modern life.

Unlike many comedians of the era, Langdon earned laughs not by overreacting, but instead by his extreme slowness to respond.

"It was a whole different way of doing comedy at the time, and was a breath of fresh air in the frenetic world of film comedy," said Jeff Rapsis, who will perform a live score to the movie during the screening.

Langdon's popularity fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies in the late 1920s.

As Langdon's career faded, that of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was taking off. Paired in 1927, the duo first became popular in the final years of silent film-making.

The Christmas Day program will feature one of the last silent comedy short subject made by Laurel and Hardy before their successful switchover to sound.

'Big Business ' (1929) finds the pair selling Christmas trees door-to-door in sunny California, where their interaction with potential customers leads to everything but peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at screenings around the nation. Rapsis will make his debut as an accompanist in London, England in February, 2017.

Seeing 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' at the Town Hall Theatre will give local audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—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 a movie's musical score live during the screening.

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today," he said.

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

The silent film series honors the Town Hall Theatre's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of movie-goers.

Upcoming shows in the Town Hall Theatre's silent series include:

• Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: 'Way Down East' (1920) starring Lillian Gish. One of the most popular stories of the silent era features Lillian Gish as a wronged woman who can't escape her past. Still-thrilling climax on ice floes heading towards the falls was filmed on the Connecticut River!

'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a silent film comedy starring Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission, suggested donation of $5 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

For more information about the music, visit jeffrapsis.com.

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