Friday, April 13, 2018

New series starts Sunday, 4/15: 'Peter Pan' (1924) at Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

Original poster art for 'Peter Pan' (1924).

Once you've finished your income tax returns, why not enjoy a silent film?

Please join me on Sunday, April 15 at 4 p.m. for 'Peter Pan' (1924), the original big-screen adaptation of the classic stage play by British author J.M. Barrie.

Presented by the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass., 'Peter Pan' is the inaugural screening of a new series of silent films with live music.

The live music is by me, played either on my digital synthesizer or the Center for the Art's absolutely superb Yamaha grand piano:

For 'Peter Pan,' I'll use the digital keyboard. So the set-up will look like it did last October, when I first performed at what's called TCAN:

Just add audience: the screening room at the Natick Center for the Arts.

It's funny: the right instrument can make such a different in how a film score comes out.

There are pianos out there that are a dream to play: the Steinway in Topeka, Kansas, for example. I use them when I can, and find I can do things on them that I didn't think was possible.

And then there are others (I won't mention any specifics here) that don't feel or sound right to me. In these cases, I try use my synth.

TCAN's Yamaha, which I tried out last fall, falls into the "oh my God I want to take this home" category of pianos. It's really that good, and well-maintained to boot!

But that's not going to happen anytime soon, so I'll have to be content using it when a piano score is called for: probably in our next title after 'Peter Pan,' which is Buster Keaton's comedy 'College' (1927) in June.

The whole building is a converted firehouse, by the way, and it's all pretty spectacular. It seems like a great space for cinema, so looking forward to 'Peter Pan' on Sunday and many more screenings to come.

And there's popcorn!

Please join us. More information in the press release below:

* * *

Betty Bronson in the original silent film version of 'Peter Pan' (1924).

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Natick (Mass.) Center for the Arts on Sunday, April 15

Original big-screen adaptation of magical fantasy classic to be shown with live musical score

NATICK, Mass.—It was the film that introduced movie-goers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates.

It was the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan,' a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film was a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.

Movie fans can see for themselves when the first 'Peter Pan' (1924) is screened on Sunday, April 15 at 4 p.m. at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, and will include a classic silent comedy short film. Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent 'Peter Pan' maintains its freshness and charm 90 years after its original release.

In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland.

There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan's sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may ever return home.

Though the Peter Pan story is well-known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also merchandising that includes a ubiquitous brand of peanut butter), the tale was virtually new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s.

In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the first-ever screen adaptation, though he retained control over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.

After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrence, who invented the now-iconic villainous pirate persona that would become a Hollywood legend.

The film's highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film's memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight.

'Peter Pan' also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook's nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.

After the film's release, no copies of the original 'Peter Pan' were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 100 performances per year, and has created music for more than 250 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

'Peter Pan' is the first in a new series of silent films with live music scheduled for this year at the TCAN Center for the Arts.

The series gives movie-goers a chance to rediscover the experience of silent cinema presented as it was intended: on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all the original elements together, the films of early Hollywood still come to life," said Rapsis, who will accompany all programs in the 2018 season. "These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

Upcoming programs include:

• Sunday, June 17 at 4 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Buster heads off to a college campus to find sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity. One of Keaton's most gag-filled comedies offers priceless visual humor and a look at the silent star's athletic prowess. Plus Buster Keaton short comedy 'Cops' (1922).

• Sunday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Eye-popping spectacle starring swashbuckling star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in top form as adventurer in ancient times who must complete a series of epic tasks to save his beloved, all set in a fantastic world of monsters, underwater caves, and flying carpets.

• Sunday, Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. 'Grandma's Boy' (1921) starring Harold Lloyd. A cowardly young man must learn to conquer his fears before dealing with a larger menace to his community. Riotous comedy that helped propel Harold Lloyd into the most popular movie comedian of the 1920s. Plus short comedy, 'There Ain't No Santa Claus' (1926) starring Charley Chase.

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Sunday, April 15 at 4 p.m. at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass. Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at or at the door. For more information about the music, visit

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