Tuesday, October 30, 2018

To scream or not to scream? Find out:
Attend 'Phantom' on 10/31 in Keene, N.H.

Lon Chaney as the Phantom: A face worth reacting to.

It's a movie-going experience worth screaming about.

Really! It's the original silent version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), which we're running on Halloween night (Wednesday, Oct. 31) at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

Details in the press release below. But what about that screaming?

For the first third of the picture, the title character (played by Lon Chaney) sports a smooth mask that conceals his face.

Why? Well, we find out when the mask suddenly gets removed, revealing his true visage.

The mask-removal scene is an early masterpiece of timing and suspense, I think. The way it's edited, and of course Chaney's hideous make-up job, led Universal to warn theaters that doctors should be stationed at all screening to attend to those prone to fainting.

What an experience that must have been to early movie-goers! And it's hard for us to appreciate these days, nearly a century later, because—well, we've just seen it all.

But there IS a way to recapture some of that early shock that 'Phantom' gave audiences. And it's to employ the audience itself.

When I accompany 'Phantom' screenings around Halloween, I tell the crowd that they have a role to play.

When the Phantom is unmasked, their job is to scream. Loud!

And they do—sometimes for quite awhile. And the screaming, with the music rising up underneath and Lon Chaney glowering at the camera, creates a kind of emotional tidal wave that I think captures a something of the magic that early cinema offered its audiences.

I wouldn't do this at any other time of the year. (But then does 'Phantom' ever get shown other than at Halloween?) But around Halloween, it seems to help the film connect with people, many of whom are unfamiliar with silent film.

Plus it's pretty cool to actually hear a lot of people scream all at once. How often do you get a chance to experience that?

So think asking people to purposefully scream at the unmasking isn't turning the 'Phantom' into a gimmicky novelty or diminishing the film's impact.

I look at it like the sequence in 'Peter Pan' (1924) in which the audience is encouraged to applaud to restore Tinkerbell to life. It can really add to the experience, and encourage people to explore what else vintage cinema has to offer.

Trick or treat! And if you're anywhere near Keene, N.H., lend your voice to our chorus of screams by attending 'The Phantom of the Opera' on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. Details below.

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An original poster for 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Colonial Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 31

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney in the title role

KEENE, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a spooky silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the silent big screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $6.50 per person.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and frequently accompanies films throughout the state. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.

The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.

Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).

The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine DaaƩ, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Mummy (1932).

The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. General admission $6.50 per person. For tickets and information, visit www.thecolonial.org or call (603) 352-2033.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Great Popcorn Spill of 2018, plus Chaney's 'Hunchback' Sunday, 10/28 in Wilton, N.H.

A legendary local disaster is the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. Seriously! Click on the link and you'll see. (But come back!)

Well, to that catastrophe we can now as the Great Popcorn Spill of 2018. Again, seriously! (But no link as of yet.)

This happened on Friday, Oct. 26 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass., a close-in suburb of Boston.

I know because not only did I witness this disaster, I actually caused it.

What happened was I was at the keyboard below the stage, playing spooky warm-up music for one of the Regent's trademark original shows. That night, it was a tribute to iconic illusionist Harry Houdini, who died on Halloween in 1926, hence the timing.

The show included 'Terror Island' (1920), one of Houdini's starring silent pictures, with me on hand to do music, preceded by two local magicians who would recreate some of Houdini's astonishing feats live on stage.

It being a Regent spectacular, I wasn't surprised that the event was reserved seating. But as I sat there spinning spooky music prior to the show, I was surprised when a couple came in and had seats right behind me.

I mean right behind me. Like there was no room for their legs with the keyboard and me taking up all the space.

But we shifted things around a bit and they were fine with it, they said. So I continued until showtime, when Leland Stein of the Regent came down to cue me to stop so he could welcome everyone and get things started.

So I stopped, playing a cheesy fanfare to give Leland at least the status of a game show host.

People applauded (because I stopped, I assumed) but then Leland encouraged further applause for the accompanist, which ensued.

Okay, I thought, preparing to artfully swing around on the piano bench and acknowledge the warm welcome. Here we go...

...and BAM! My right hand sailed straight into a gargantuan tub of popcorn being held (not very tightly) by the poor guy behind me.

Before either of us could react, an absolute ERUPTION of popcorn exploded in all directions.

It covered the guy and his companion. It covered the seat and the floor. Drifts of it buried my sustain pedal under the keyboard. Not a single kernel was left in the bucket.

And the guy just sat there, expressionless, while I began making profuse apologies, and also tried not to laugh in his face.

He really did say nothing, even as I swung off the bench and slunk below Leland, squishing popcorn underfoot, to make my way up the aisle the concession counter in the lobby.

I came back with a replacement popcorn for the guy, who still displayed no emotion or reaction, and then began kicking drifts of spilled popcorn out from under my keyboard.

At intermission I approach the couple to offer a full apology. Finally the guy responded, but not in the way I expected.

Quietly and amiably, he said: "I thought it was funny."

Whew! I thought he was quietly summoning a curse on me, but instead he found the Great Popcorn Spill of 2018 entertaining. Duly noted. For future reference: if a film doesn't seem to be connecting with an audience, try throwing food at them. (Before they start throwing it at me.)

So I'm now in the Halloween Home Stretch, having played 'Faust' (1926) last night at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, and prepping for Lon Chaney's 'Hunchback' (1923) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

After that, all that remains (remains!) is 'Phantom' at the Colonial Theatre in Keene on Halloween itself. Then I can put away the cape and fake teeth for another year.

I'm actually quite excited about 'Phantom' because it's the first of two big shows at the Colonial, which opened as a silent film theater in 1924. And the Colonial's original opening night will be recreated in January with a screening of Chaney's 'Hunchback,' the first film to play there.

More on all that in weeks to come. For now, here's the press release about this afternoon's screening of 'Hunchback' in Wilton. It's a rainy afternoon here...good weather for movie-going!

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Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) is offered a drink.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Chaney as Quasimodo in 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' on Sunday, Oct. 28 at Town Hall Theatre

Just in time for Halloween: Classic silent version starring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo to be presented with live music

WILTON, N.H.—It was a spectacular combination: Lon Chaney, the actor known as the "Man of 1,000 Faces," and Universal's big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's sprawling tale of the tortured Quasimodo.

The result was the classic silent film version of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923), which will be shown just in time for Halloween at Wilton's Town Hall Theatre

Silent film with live music returns to the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, with the thriller 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:30 p.m.

The special Halloween program will be presented with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person requested to help cover expenses.

The film is based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, and is notable for the grand sets that recall 15th century Paris as well as for Chaney's performance and make-up as the tortured hunchback Quasimodo.

The film elevated Chaney, already a well-known character actor, to full star status in Hollywood, and also helped set a standard for many later horror films, including Chaney's 'The Phantom of the Opera' in 1925.

While Quasimodo is but one of many interconnecting characters in the original Hugo novel, he dominates the narrative of this expensive Universal production.

In the story, Jehan (Brandon Hurst), the evil brother of the archdeacon, lusts after a Gypsy named Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller) and commands the hunchback Quasimodo (Chaney) to capture her.

Military captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry) also loves Esmeralda and rescues her, but the Gypsy is not unsympathetic to Quasimodo's condition, and an unlikely bond forms between them.

After vengeful Jehan frames Esmeralda for the attempted murder of Phoebus, Quasimodo's feelings are put to the test in a spectacular climax set in and around the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

As the hunchbacked bellringer Quasimodo, Chaney adorned himself with a special device that made his cheeks jut out grotesquely; a contact lens that blanked out one of his eyes; and, most painfully, a huge rubber hump covered with coarse animal fur and weighing anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds.

Chaney deeply identified with Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer at Notre Dame Cathedral who was deafened by his work. Chaney was raised by deaf parents and did a lot of his communication with mom and dad through pantomime.

“The idea of doing the picture was an old one of mine and I had studied Quasimodo until I knew him like a brother, knew every ghoulish impulse of his heart and all the inarticulate miseries of his soul,” Chaney told an interviewer with Movie Weekly magazine in 1923.

“Quasimodo and I lived together—we became one. At least so it has since seemed to me. When I played him, I forgot my own identity completely and for the time being lived and suffered with the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The film was a major box office hit for Universal Studios, and Chaney's performance continues to win accolades even today.

"An awe-inspiring achievement, featuring magnificent sets (built on the Universal backlot), the proverbial cast of thousands (the crowd scenes are mesmerizing) and an opportunity to catch Lon Chaney at his most commanding," wrote critic Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing in 2014.

Screening this classic version of 'Hunchback' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country.

"By showing the films as they were intended, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney, will be screened with live music on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is requested to help defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Taking a different approach to Halloween:
this year, no plan or pattern whatsoever!

Let's see. Tomorrow it's Frankenstein. Friday it's Houdini. On Saturday, it's Satan. And Sunday, a Hunchback.

With an appointment calendar like that, Halloween can't be far off. And sure enough, the big day itself arrives Wednesday next week, when I have a date with the Phantom of the Opera.

It's the busiest time of the year for silent film accompaniment. The calendar is packed with screenings for boys and ghouls in search of an other-worldly experience.

Hence I'm keeping appointments with everyone from the Vampire Nosferatu to Mephistopheles, a.k.a. Satan.

This variety is a change for me. For previous Halloweens, I've generally picked one film to concentrate on accompanying, and then taken it around to all the various venues looking for a silent film spook fix.

Also, I tried to focus on films that aren't shown as often as the two biggies: Murnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922) and Lon Chaney's 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

So one year it was Alfred Hitchcock's early silent thriller 'The Lodger' (1927). Another year it was 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), Paul Leni's Gothic haunted house picture. And another year it was Barrymore's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (1920).

By concentrating on one film for Halloween and taking it on tour, so to speak, I could really get to know the picture, and so burnish the improv-based accompaniment to a high gloss.

Well, not this year. This time around, it's a different title for nearly every screening. The only repeats: two Phantoms and two Hunchbacks. Otherwise, it's one-offs throughout the season.

Which I don't mind. It's a different kind of challenge to create music for a variety of films, one after another. And I've always felt that for me, the key to doing it well was doing it a lot.

That's what happened last week, which included a four-day stretch of shows in three different states. On Thursday in Massachusetts, it was 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' followed by 'Wings' (a non-Halloween title!) on Friday up in Maine. Then on Saturday, it was the German thriller 'Der Golem' (1921) over in Vermont then on Sunday 'The Phantom of the Opera' down in Massachusetts again.

And I have to say, but by the time I sat down at the keyboard on Sunday night at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass., I felt I was playing with a fluency and ease that simply wasn't present when I started the four-day run.

So doing it a lot, and mixing up the titles to challenge myself, really seems to work for me.

Does it work for you? Find out by attending one of the upcoming Halloween screenings on my calendar:

• Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, 7 p.m.: "Frankenstein program" at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 646-4849. A triple feature of Frankenstein films, including the early (and short) silent Thomas Edison version. Tickets $8 per person. For more info: www.regenttheatre.com.

• Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, 8 p.m. "Harry Houdini Celebration"; Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 646-4849. Celebrate the birthday of Harry Houdini, legendary illusionist and escape artist, with an evening that combines live performance with a silent film starring Houdini himself as a James Bond-like action/adventure hero. Silent film with live music in a treasured neighborhood theater and performance space. Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at door. For more info: www.regenttheatre.com.

• Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, 7 p.m.: "Faust" (1926) directed by F.W. Murnau, starring Emil Jannings; Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; http://www.leavittheatre.com. Join us for another season of vintage cinema at the historic Leavitt Theatre. Emil Jannings stars in F.W. Murnau's terrifying version of the classic tale. A visual tour de force, full of creepy characters and frightening images. See great silent films with live music in a summer-only theater opened in 1923 and barely changed since. Admission $10 per person.

• Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, 4:30 p.m.: "Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) starring Lon Chaney; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Just in time for Halloween! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris. A moving and timeless drama filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax! Monthly series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

• Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, 7 p.m.: "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney; Colonial Theatre, 95 Main Street, Keene, N.H.; (603) 352-2033; www.thecolonial.org. Celebrate Halloween with one of the all-time classics. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Silent film with live music in a theater that originally opened as a silent movie house in 1924. Tickets: $6.50 per person, general admission.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The bells, bells, bells, bells, bells...
Accompanying 'Nosferatu' in Natick, Mass.

I will blink, and it will be Nov. 1.

That's what the last half of October feels like to a silent film accompanist.

Simply put, it's the busiest time of the year. And as you work your way through a calendar booked solid with screenings of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'Phantom of the Opera,' the days (and nights) begin to blur.

By the time Halloween itself rolls around, you begin to feel the way Max Schreck looks in 'Nosferatu.'

Speaking of which, that's the next one up: on Sunday, Oct. 14, I'll accompany the original vampire movie at The Center for the Arts in the Natick, Mass.

The fun (meaning "fun" as in "funeral") begins at 4 p.m. Better to run film before sundown in case any real vampires are lurking about.

The one tricky thing about doing music for 'Nosferatu' is a clock that strikes 12 to signal midnight's arrival. It happens twice, so I guess it's actually two tricky things.

It's a small clock, and has an external striking mechanism (a skeleton hitting a gong) that's clearly visible when the clock appears on camera.

However, in both cases, the clock begins striking 12 before it's seen by the audience. Rather, the characters on screen hear it first, before we in the audience get to see it.

So in both cases, you have to know when to start the chiming. And you have to pace it to match the slow, deliberate pace of striking depicted in the movie.

And in order to fit in exactly 12, you have to continue for a couple of strokes after the camera cuts away.

For this sound, I use what I call a "dingy bell," which is one of those small rounded bells mounted to hotel desks or store counters. Hit the button on the top, and it delivers a nice crisp 'Ding!'

If it all works out, and you actually do fit in exactly 12 dings, steadily and as the sense of terror grows around it, the effect is truly ominous.

So can I manage to start in time so that all 12 strokes fit in naturally? Only one way to find out!

For more info and details about 'Nosferatu,' please check out the press release below.

And don't blink, because then it'll be Nov. 1, and you'll have missed it.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' coming to Natick's Center for the Arts on Sunday, Oct. 14

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare

NATICK, Masss.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film!

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Sunday, Oct. 14 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. Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the Red River screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by," said Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of the German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' espisode.

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 14 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 www.natickarts.org or at the door.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

You always remember your first time: The comedy calm before the Halloween avalanche

A Swedish poster for Keaton's 'Seven Chances.'

So I'm doing music for Buster Keaton's great comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Wednesday night.

And it's fitting that the comedy includes an avalanche, as it will be followed by an avalanche of Halloween-themed screenings starting this weekend.

But before we can get to 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom' and 'Hunchback' and 'Faust' (all of which I'm doing before the month is out), we first must see if Buster can find a bride no later than 7 p.m.—today!

It's a first-time screening for the nice folks up in Grantham, N.H., and for this situation I've found 'Seven Chances' is a dependable and crowd-pleasing intro into the world of silent film.

One of the first rules of show biz is to always leave 'em wanting more. And I've yet to encounter an audience that, after experiencing 'Seven Chances,' wants less of Buster.

The screening is free and open to the public. So if you happen to find yourself in Grafton County, N.H. tomorrow night and are looking for something to do, please join us!

Details in the press release below...

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Buster checks the waning moments of his bachelorhood in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at Center at Eastman

Silent film presentation features classic race-to-the-finish romantic farce with live music

GRANTHAM, 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.

Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Seven Chances' (1925), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Draper Room at the Center at Eastman, 1 Clubhouse Lane, Grantham, N.H.

The program starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Adapted from a stage play, the story finds Buster learning that he'll inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot on his own go awry, but then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who relentlessly pursue Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

Here come the brides...

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of the now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999), a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

The program will open with a short Keaton comedy as a warm-up to the main feature.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some 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.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'Seven Chances.'

In reviving Keaton's 'Seven Chances,' organizers of the Music Department's concert series aim to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'Seven Chances' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Draper Room at the Center at Eastman, 1 Clubhouse Lane, Grantham, N.H.

The program starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

And now, notes on a curiosity.

This still below from 'Seven Chances'...

...reminded me of this still from 'Wings' (1927)...

Was there a thing in the 1920s for despondent poses, or what?