Monday, May 14, 2018

Mother's Day and Steamboat Bill Jr; new piece for flute/piano, plus 'The Black Pirate' on 5/17

What about Mom? Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

Nice turnout yesterday for our Mother's Day screening of 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), the opening title in this year's "Silents, Please!" series at the Somerville Theatre.

I have to say, it was a curious choice for the occasion: a film about a riverboat captain and his son, with no wife/mother ever mentioned.

And the captain's business rival has a daughter, but there's no wife/mother figure present in that family either.

Maybe it's the absence of a maternal influence that's the point. Everything would have been fine but for the two male dolts and their testosterone-driven rivalry, which caused everyone's problems.

But by showing what can happen when no mother is present, perhaps 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' is actually a more fitting tribute than I first thought.

Bolstering this argument is something I had forgotten: one of the film's early gags involves a special Mother's Day promotion for carnations.

I won't give away the gag, but the promotion must have been hugely successful, as every man arriving on an out-of-town train is wearing one!

And it's interesting: after the screening, comments included several attendees who thought we chose 'Steamboat' specifically because of the Mother's Day reference. Wow!

But now from steamboats to pirate ships: on Thursday, May 17, I'm doing live music for 'The Black Pirate' (1926) starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Showtime is 8 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass., which runs a monthly silent film series. More information in the press release below.

Before that happens, I'll have the privilege of hearing a read-through of a piece for flute and piano I wrote out this weekend.

It's at the Wednesday at the Manchester (N.H.) Community Music School, where flutist Aubrie Dionne and pianist Elizabeth Blood will tackle the six-minute piece.

I want to thank composer Romeo Melloni for asking me to contribute music to his monthly forum at the school.

If you're interested in what it sounds like, here's a link: Flute and Piano Duo

And below is all the info about 'The Black Pirate.' See you there, me 'arties!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926) at Capitol Theatre on Thursday, May 17

Adventure flick stars Douglas Fairbanks, Hollywood’s original action hero; shown with live musical accompaniment

ARLINGTON, Mass.—He was the Indiana Jones of his day, thrilling early filmgoers with amazing stunts and feats of heroic derring-do. He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr., one of Hollywood’s first megastars, and his timeless charisma can be seen again on Thursday, May 17 at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

Featured attraction for this month's silent film screening is ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926), an epic swashbuckling tale of the high seas that proved one of Fairbanks’ most popular blockbusters. The forerunner of all pirate movies, it was also one of the first Hollywood films to be released in color.

Showtime for 'The Black Pirate' is Thursday, May 17 at 8 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass. Admission is $12 adults, $10 kids and seniors.

The screening, the latest in the Capitol's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Fairbanks, originally a stage actor, broke into films in the industry's early years. By 1920, starring roles in a romantic comedies established Fairbanks as a popular leading man. He then turned to historic adventure films, including ‘The Mark of Zorro’ (1920) and ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1921), which cemented his reputation for on-screen athleticism, heroism, and romance.

In 1920, Fairbanks’ marriage to fellow megastar Mary Pickford was one of the era’s biggest media events and resulted in Hollywood’s first celebrity power couple. They combined their last names to call their estate “Pickfair,” and massive crowds turned out everywhere during the couple’s European honeymoon.

At the peak of his popularity, pictures starring Fairbanks set the standard for Hollywood action adventure films, including such titles as ‘Robin Hood’ (1922), ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (1924), and ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926), all of which were major box office successes.

When the silent film era ended in 1929, an aging Fairbanks found he was less enthusiastic about the effort required to make movies and retired from the screen. He died in 1939 at age 56 after suffering a heart attack; his now-famous lasts words were, “I’ve never felt better.”

The Fairbanks feature is the latest in a series of monthly silent film screenings at the Capitol Theatre. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by assembling the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best: superior films in best available prints; projection on the big screen; live musical accompaniment; and a live audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you 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.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

Upcoming titles in the Capitol's silent film series include:

• Thursday, June 14, 8 p.m.: 'The Iron Horse' (1924). Young director John Ford's breakthrough film tells the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad through the untamed West.

• Thursday, July 5, 8 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, Fran├žois Villon

• Thursday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m.: 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman. Talmadge in top form playing two very different sisters in this effervescent battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy.

• Thursday, Sept. 13, 8 p.m.: 'The Last Laugh' (1924). In this ground-breaking character study from director F. W. Murnau, Emil Jannings delivers a tour-de-force performance as a doorman in a swanky Berlin hotel.

• Thursday, Oct 18, 8 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923). Just in time for Halloween: Lon Chaney stars as Quasimodo in this sprawling silent film adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic story.

‘The Black Pirate’ (1926) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. will be shown with live music on Thursday, May 17 at 8 p.m. Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass. Admission is $12 adults, $10 kids and seniors. For more info, call (781) 648-6022 or visit

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