Sunday, June 4, 2017

We're off to see the Wizard, but...
not the one with Judy Garland in it

Original promotional material for the silent film version of 'The Wizard of Oz.'

Some say it's enough to drive one to drink. So I'm glad we're showing it in a brewery.

It's the silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925), which I'm accompanying tonight (Sunday, June 4) at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

There's a press release below with more info on the film, which is nothing like the familiar 1939 MGM musical version starring Judy Garland.

Instead, the silent 'Wizard' was produced as a vehicle for comedian Larry Semon, who used the Oz characters to create a smorgasbord of slapstick.

The result was a picture that for years has been known as one of the silent era's great misfires. Its studio, Chadwick Pictures, ran into financial troubles the year it was released, and was unable to distribute prints to many locations. It fared poorly at the box office, and among the few who attended, it disappointed Oz fans due to scant resemblance to the stories by author L. Frank Baum.

Today, an interesting thing about the film is the reaction of people when they learn there is a silent 'Wizard of Oz.'

It's that same look of baffled puzzlement you get when you mention the silent films of W.C. Fields: How is that even possible?

But then you have to remember that so many stories got their first big-screen treatment during the silent era.

Among the more well known: 'Ben Hur' (1925) and 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925), both remade several times since.

Other examples abound. A lesser known one is the silent 'Peter Pan' (1924), created with input from author J.M. Barrie himself, and which still holds up well.

Heck, there were even performers in the silent era with the same names of later stars.

How about the silent Harrison Ford? (That's him on the right.) Or the silent James Mason, anyone?

But as so often happens, not every original screen adaptation hit the mark.

In the case of Semon's 'Wizard of Oz,' the film has come down to us with a reputation as a disappointment. And how could anything really compare to the magical musical version that Hollywood produced not much later?

But I included the silent 'Oz' in a recent program in Wilton, N.H., and was surprised to find it greeted by continuous hearty laughter and even applause. People really enjoyed it!

Maybe it's taken nine decades for the silent 'Oz' to find an audience. I don't know.

But I've decided to start trying it out in other venues, including the Aeronaut this evening.

We'll see if it provokes anything like the same reaction. And if it doesn't, there's always beer.

* * *

Larry Semon directed, and plays the Scarecrow, in 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rare silent film version of 'Wizard of Oz' at Aeronaut Brewing Co. on Sunday, June 4

Feature-length Oz epic released in 1925 includes comedian Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man; to be screened with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — You won't find Judy Garland in this version of Oz, or much of anything else that's familiar. That's because it's the forgotten 1925 silent film version of the famous tale.

Long overshadowed by the immensely popular 1939 remake, the rarely seen silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925) will be screened one time only on Sunday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass.

The program, which will include an earlier short Oz film also based on stories and characters of author L. Frank Baum, will be accompanied by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

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

The silent version, released by long-forgotten Chadwick Pictures, was intended as a vehicle for slapstick comedian Larry Semon, who directed the picture and played the role of the scarecrow.

Dorothy is played by Dorothy Dwan, Semon's wife. Also in the cast is Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. Prior to his teaming with comedian Stan Laurel later in the 1920s, Hardy often played Semon's comic foil.

Larry Semon, Dorothy Dwan, and Oliver Hardy in 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925).

The silent 'Wizard of Oz' bears little resemblance to the highly polished MGM musical released just 14 years later. However, due to the enduring worldwide popularity of Baum's 'Oz' characters and stories, the silent 'Wizard of Oz' remains an object of great curiosity among fans.

The film departs radically from the novel upon which it is based, introducing new characters and exploits. Along with a completely different plot, the film is all set in a world that is only barely recognizable as the Land of Oz from the books. The film focuses mainly upon Semon's character, who is analogous to Ray Bolger's Scarecrow character in the 1939 version.

The major departure from the book and film is that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion are not actually characters, but are in fact disguises donned by three farm hands who find themselves swept into Oz by a tornado. Dorothy is here played by Dorothy Dwan — Semon's wife — as a young woman. In a drastic departure from the original book, the Tin Man (played by Oliver Hardy) is Semon's rival for Dorothy's affections.

Legend has it that Semon's version of 'Wizard' was so poorly received, Chadwick Studios was forced to file for bankruptcy while the picture was in theaters. In truth, the picture was a modest success, and Chadwick continued to release films through 1928, when the studio shut down prior to the industry's switch to synchronized sound.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating music that bridges the gap between an older film and the expectations of today's audiences. Using a digital synthesizer that recreates the texture of a full orchestra, he improvises scores in real time as a movie unfolds, so that the music for no two screenings is the same.

"It's kind of a high wire act, but it helps create an emotional energy that's part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "It's easier to be in tune with the emotional line of the movie and the audience's reaction when I'm able to follow what's on screen, rather than be buried in sheet music," he said.

Because silent films were designed to be shown to large audiences in theaters with live music, the best way to experience them is to recreate the conditions in which they were first shown, Rapsis said.

"Films such as 'The Wizard of Oz' were created to be shown on the big screen to large audiences as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, silent films come to life in the way their makers intended. Not only are they entertaining, but they give today's audiences a chance to understand what caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

Dorothy Dwan and Larry Semon, real-life husband and wife, in 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925).

The silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925) and other Oz-related silent films will be shown on Sunday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info about Aeronaut Brewing, visit For more information about the music, visit

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