Friday, May 19, 2017

Up in Mascoma Valley, it's 'Comedy Tonight': a Buster Keaton double feature with live music

Buster Keaton in 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924).

Yes, it's Comedy Tonight up at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, but not the song from 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'

It's a pair of silent film comedies starring that most silent of silent film comedies, Buster Keaton.

First up is 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), and then it's 'The Cameraman' (1928). I like this pairing because both films are about film itself.

The fun starts at 7 p.m. More information in the press release below.

And let me record things I learned from doing live music last night (Thursday, May 18) for the MGM drama 'Speedway' (1929) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

The movie was shot on location at the actual Indy 500 track as it existed in 1929, so it's of great interest to auto racing and antique car enthusiasts.

• Actress Anita Page, who lived to be 98 years old (she died in 2008), was the last known surviving attendee of the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

• Page also holds the record for the most-delayed comeback. She quit films back in 1936, but then when in her 90s returned to take roles in direct-to-DVD horror films such as 'Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood' (2000) and 'The Crawling Brain' (2002).

• Lacking radios, pit crews and drivers on the track communicated by means of large chalkboards with room for just one or two words. Hence absurdly abbreviated commands such as FASTER. Really?

• Attending last night's screening was Mr. Robert W. Valpey, a soft-spoken gentleman who happens to own a Studebaker Family Team Car that came within a few laps of winning the 1931 Indy 500 before it skidded and wasn't able to continue.

But the car went onto glory, winning the Pike's Peak Challenge that same year and enjoying a solid career at the Indy 500 and other high-profile venues. Long retired from active racing, the car has been maintained ever since. Valpey keeps it in New Hampshire, and recent local appearances have included the Mount Washington Auto Road.

I asked him what it ran on, thinking he would say leaded gas. He said it was originally a mix of gasoline and benzine, but he now uses aircraft fuel.

You never know what to expect at a silent film screening. In this case, I now have an invitation to sit behind the wheel of a former champion race car. Brmmmmm brrrrmmmmmm.

But first, there's Comedy Tonight up at Mascoma Valley Regional High School:

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton double feature at Mascoma High School on Friday, May 19

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

CANAAN, 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, in the new auditorium of Mascoma Valley Regional High School, 27 Royal Road, Canaan, N.H. on Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m.

The show is free and open to the public; donations will be accepted.

The program will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

The silent film show is a great chance for the public to check out the high school building, which recently underwent a $21.5 million renovation and expansion project.

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?

Buster and Marceline Day in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

'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."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, 27 Royal Road, Canaan, N.H. on Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and the program is open to the public. Donations gratefully accepted.

No comments:

Post a Comment