Wednesday, May 10, 2017

From the big city (Boston) to small town New England: Four days, four shows, three states

Gibson Gowland in 'Greed' (1924), to be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, May 14 at the Somerville Theatre. Now there's something to make for a memorable Mother's Day!

Heading into a busy performing stretch, with shows every day from Thursday, May 11 through Sunday, May 14.

And it's quite a variety of programs and locations, too.

Films range from one of the biggest (the sprawling WW! aviation drama 'Wings') to comedy short subjects, while the venues go from big city movie palaces (the Somerville Theatre) to rural town halls.

Here's what's on the silent film accompaniment to-do list. Hope you can join in for some or all!

• Thursday, May 11, 7:30 p.m.: "The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1926) starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Coleman, Vilma Banky; The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 648-6022; Admission $12, $10 student/senior.

The skinny: Epic Western about the settling and irrigation of California's Imperial Valley, once a wasteland but now an agricultural paradise. Shot on location by director Henry King in Nevada's Black Rock desert, one of the first films to take audiences to the wide open spaces of the great American West. With a young Gary Cooper playing a key role. Silent film with live music at a terrific locally owned neighborhood cinema!

• Friday, May 12, 2017, 6 p.m.: "Wings" (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen; Webster, N.H., Webster Public Library/Town Hall, 947 Battle St., Webster N.H. Sweeping drama about fighter pilots in World War I; one of the great achievements of the silent cinema, winner of "Best Picture" at the first-ever Academy Awards.

The inside track: Compelling story, great performances, battle scenes filmed on an immense scale, and in-air aviation sequences that remain thrilling even today. Presented by the Webster (N.H.) Public Library and the Webster (N.H.) Historical Society as part of a program to commemorate the U.S. entry in World War I. Free admission, all welcome to attend.

• Saturday, May 13, 2017, 7 p.m.: Silent 'Our Gang' Festival; Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Main Street/Route 7, Brandon, Vt.;

The straight dope: Long before Alfalfa and Spanky, an earlier version of "The Little Rascals" had a long run during the silent film era. Take a trip back to the early years of "Our Gang" with some of their most popular comedies. Join us for a series of silent films and live music in a wonderfully restored town hall in Brandon Vt. that features great acoustics. Admission free, donations accepted, with proceeds to help continuing preservation work.

• Sunday, May 14, 2017, 2 p.m.: "Greed" (1924) in 35mm, directed by Erich von Stroheim; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.;

The deal: Sudden fortune won from a lottery creates such destructive force that it ruins the lives of the three people involved. Legendary director Erich Von Stroheim's great masterpiece brought silent film drama to new heights of intensity. Rare chance to see this film in 35mm on the big screen with live music. Part of a monthly series at the Somerville Theatre, a wonderful 100-year-old moviehouse committed to keeping alive the experience of 35mm film. Featuring outstandingly exacting work of legendary projectionist David Kornfeld. For more info, call the theater box office at (617) 625-5700. Admission $15 per person.

Okay! Each one of these programs has its merits.

On Thursday, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' is a little-known but terrific Henry King picture that holds up well and really surprises audiences.

On Friday, 'Wings' will be shown as part of a World War I commemoration in the Town Hall/Public Library of Webster, N.H. Big film in a small town!

On Saturday, the 'Our Gang: The Early Years' program will kick off this year's silent film program up in Brandon, Vt. Guaranteed laughs!

On Sunday, a chance to see Von Stroheim's 'Greed' in 35mm at the Somerville Theatre! What more can I add?

But first things first. On Thursday, I'll go down to Boston early for a radio interview that afternoon with Radio BDC, the Boston Globe's streaming audio service and "Internet radio station." I'm there at 3 p.m. and not sure if what we'll do will air live or later, but you'll find it at

And because Thursday night is 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' at the Capitol in Arlington, here's more info via the press release. I'll do the same for the others as we wade through the weekend.

* * *

An original poster for 'The Winning of Barbara Worth.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rip-roaring epic silent Western at Arlington's Capitol Theatre on Thursday, May 11

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), ground-breaking outdoor drama starring Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman, to be screened with live music

ARLINGTON, Mass.—A film that helped create Hollywood's love affair with the American West will continue this season's silent film series at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a silent drama starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, and Vilma Banky, will be shown on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.

Admission is $12 adults, $10 kids and seniors. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

Directed by Henry King, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' chronicles the epic story of pioneer settlers who dreamed of irrigating California's parched Imperial Valley in the early 20th century. Filmed on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert, the movie is noted for its extensive use of vast open spaces and wild scenery.

The story centers on a rivalry for the affections of Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), adopted daughter of a powerful rancher. A local cowboy (Gary Cooper) finds himself competing with a newly arrived engineer (Ronald Colman), who has come to the rural valley to work on plans to harness the Colorado River for irrigation.

Will the local ranchhand prevail over the city slicker engineer? Can citizens of the parched region prevail over nature and transform their lands into an agricultural paradise? Will rumors of shortcuts taken in constructing a massive dam lead to disaster?

All these questions combine to create a film that showed Hollywood and movie-goers the power of a drama set in the rural American west.

Hey! That's not the same guy in the poster above!

The film is also noted for its camerawork by Greg Toland, who would later go on to do principal photography for 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.

For 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he composes beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' continues a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Capitol. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.

“There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

Upcoming shows in the Capitol's 2017 silent film series include:

• Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m.: "The Kid" (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan. Chaplin's landmark comedy/drama about a tramp who raises an infant against all odds.

• Thursday, July 6, 7:30 p.m.: "The Lost World" (1925) starring Wallace Beery, Bessie Love. First-ever movie adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary tale of British explorers who discover pre-historic creatures still thriving atop a remote South American plateau.

• Thursday, Aug. 3, 7:30 p.m.: "Grandma's Boy" (1922) starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis. A cowardly young man must learn to conquer his fears before dealing with a larger menace to his community.

Gary Cooper, Vilma Banky, and Ronald Colman star in 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' to be shown on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass. Admission $12 adults, $10 kids and seniors.

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