Friday, June 8, 2018

Country accompanist, city accompanist: 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' in the back woods on 6/9, then 'Chicago' at the Somerville Theatre 6/10

Buster Keaton stars in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), screening on Saturday, June 9 in Brandon, Vt.

This weekend brings silent film screenings in two rather different settings.

On Saturday, June 9, it's up to Brandon, Vt. (about 20 minutes north of Rutland, ayup) to accompany a silent film program featuring Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

And then on Sunday, June 10, it's down to Somerville, Mass. (about 20 minutes south of Woburn, yessir), where I'll do music for a screening of the silent film version of 'Chicago' (1927) at the Somerville Theatre.

The 'Steamboat Bill' screening is part of an annual silent film series at the Brandon Town Hall. I'm looking forward to it, mostly because I enjoy the audience reactions in Brandon, but also because 'Steamboat' is the first full-length silent film for which I'm writing out and orchestrating a score.

So while Saturday's accompaniment will still be improvised, I'll use themes and ideas that are a little more set in place, so to speak.

Hope to get the score finished later this year. But you don't have to wait to attend this weekend's screening, which is on Saturday, June 9 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall.

More info in the press release. And more info on 'Chicago' in a separate post to come later.

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Weather for Saturday's screening: stormy in the final reels.

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

Silent comedy 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, June 9

Buster Keaton masterpiece to be screened with live music as Town Hall's annual Silent Film series continues

BRANDON, Vt. — Silent film with live music returns to Brandon Town Hall this month with 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), a classic comedy starring Buster Keaton, one of era's top performers.

'Steamboat Bill Jr.' will be revived for one showing only at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, June 9 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and the family-friendly program is open to all; free will donations will go to ongoing building renovation and restoration work.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The series allows local movie-goers to experience silent film the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you put the experience back together, you can see why movies caused such excitement," said Dennis Marden, president of the Friends of Brandon Town Hall.

In 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' Buster plays the bumbling son of a riverboat’s rough captain. When a rival brings a newer boat to the river, the family is forced to face competition, just as Buster is forced to ride out a cyclone threatening to destroy the community.

Can Buster save the day and win the hand of his girlfriend, who happens to be daughter of his father's business rival?

The film includes the famous shot of an entire building front collapsing on Keaton, who is miraculously spared by a conveniently placed second-story window.

Buster tries on hats for his on-screen dad, Ernest Torrence, in 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.'

Keaton, who grew up performing with the family vaudeville act, was known for never smiling on camera, an important element of his comic identity. A trained acrobat who learned at an early age how to take falls, Keaton did all his own stunts on camera in the era before post-production special effects.

Critics continue to hail Keaton’s timeless comedy as well as his intuitive filmmaking genius. In 2002, Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton that “in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.”

Keaton, who never attended school, did not think of himself as an artist but as an entertainer using the new medium of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

The screening of 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

Rapsis will create the accompaniment on the spot, improvising music as the movie unfolds to enhance the action on the screen as well respond to audience reactions. He will perform the music on a digital synthesizer capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "Because most films at the time weren't released with sheet music or scores, studios depended on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

Also on the bill are two Buster Keaton short comedies. The program is sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.

Other shows in this year's Brandon silent film series include:

Saturday, June 30: 'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' (1926). Taken from 'The Arabian Nights,' the first full-length animated feature tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse, sending him off to a series of wondrous and romantic adventures. Sponsored by Pam and Steve Douglass.

Saturday, Aug. 11: 'Laurel & Hardy: A Silent Fine Mess.' The beloved comedy team got their start in silent film, and so celebrate their origins with a selection of their funniest short comedies. Get ready to laugh as Stan and Ollie made fine messes out of everything from a day in the country to a night on the town. Sponsored by the Brandon/Forestdale Lions Club.

Saturday, Sept. 8: 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916) starring William Gillette. Recently discovered in France after being lost for nearly a century, see this original 1916 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories as performed by William Gillette, the actor who created the role on stage and performed it more than 1,000 times. Sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis, in memory of Maxine Thurston; also an anonymous donor.

Saturday, Oct. 20: Chiller Theatre, 'Der Golem' (1920). In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution, but then complications ensue. Early German fantasy movie anticipates Frankenstein story. Sponsored by Jan Coolidge, Lucy and Dick Rouse, Marc & Arlyn Briere, Dorothy Leyseth and Edward Loedding.

Buster Keaton's classic comedy 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) will be screened on Saturday, June 9 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more information, visit

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