Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is smaller better? Find out with Buster Keaton
at a local N.H. Grange Hall on Friday, April 28

Original promotional material for 'The Cameraman.'

When introducing movies, I often point out that silent films were made to be enjoyed by a large audience.

Pacing, story organization, narrative arc—all of it was geared from the ground up for a big crowd to respond to.

Even if the turnout is just eight people, I usually point out that's still more people than can fit in my living room. And off we go!

But I have to say: some of my most memorable silent film experiences have not been with dependent on heavy turnout.

And now I realize there's another key variable in the formula: the size of the room.

I've seen it happen many times now: turnout might be, say, 40 people for a screening in a small town.

But if the venue is small enough to create a "standing room only" feeling, there's an energy present that equals what happens in a truly large and packed theater.

There's a good chance to see this dynamic in action with a program coming up on Friday, April 28.

It's a double-feature of Buster Keaton comedies at Antrim (N.H.) Grange #98. Showtime if 7 p.m.

'Sherlock Jr' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown, in part to honor the recent 100th anniversary of Buster's first appearance on a movie screen.

But the main objective is to just laugh. And if it's anything like screenings I've done in other Grange Halls and small rural venues, we'll be doing a lot of that.

Also, for years 'The Cameraman' was MGM's comedy training film. If anyone at the studio was going to work on a comedy, he or she had to watch 'The Cameraman,' regarded by studio bosses as the perfect comedy.

So just the other day, I watched 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963). And I'll be darned if it isn't full of Keaton references I'd never picked up before, including some from 'The Cameraman.'

Example: when Sid Caesar and Edie Adams are trapped in the cellar of a hardware store, at one point Caesar stands on a raised platform that collapses to the ground, sending him sprawling.

It's exactly what Buster did during the Tong War sequence in The Cameraman, although on a grander scale.

Someone ought to compile all the Keaton references in 'Mad World,' in which Keaton himself has a cameo. (Ironically, Keaton's role was originally more prominent, but got cut during editing.)

More info about 'Sherlock' and 'Cameraman' in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Buster Keaton and co-star in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton double feature at Antrim Grange #98 on Friday, April 28

Classic silent film comedy masterpieces to be screened with live musical accompaniment

ANTRIM, 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.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at the Antrim Grange #98, 253 Clinton Road, Antrim.

The films will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

The public is welcome to attend. Suggested donation for this family-friendly event is $5 per person to help defray expenses.

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father. Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman. His efforts result in spectacular failure, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many 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. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation.

Rapsis improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

The Antrim Grange #98 will present Buster Keaton in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at Antrim Grange #98, 253 Clinton Road, Antrim. The public is welcome to attend this family-friendly event, which features live musical accompaniment for both films. Suggested donation is $5 per person to defray expenses.

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