Monday, June 3, 2019

Meeting a Gloria Swanson superfan,
and other tales from silent film music world

Who says fame is fleeting?

After yesterday's screening of 'Zaza' (1923), a costume melodrama starring Gloria Swanson, I was approached by a young woman with an unusual tattoo.

Covering a good portion of her left forearm was the image of, yes, Gloria Swanson. The bearer described her as an "inspirational figure, partly due to her proto-feminist roles in films such as 'Sadie Thomson' (1928) and also because of her enlightened ideas about diet and nutrition.

Frankly, I didn't absorb much of what she said, as I was too busy staring at her enormous tattoo. Let's see it again:

What a coup for Gloria! Nearly a century after the peak of her stardom, and now almost a half-century since her cameo in 'Airport 1975,' she lives on among the young, in tattoo form and otherwise.

And the Somerville did its part to pay homage to Gloria's enduring stardom. Check out this "top billing" on showtimes and listings posted in the theater's front window:

So all in all, it wasn't a bad weekend for 1920s celebrities, at least in my world.

Last Thursday at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, our opening night screening of 'Speedway' (1929) saw people cheering William Haines and Ernest Torrance, big stars of the era but who have all but disappeared from the public consciousness, or conscience, or something like that.

Mrs. Cullinan of Great Brook Middle School, Antrim, N.H. addresses her charges.

And last Friday, an old town hall auditorium packed with 150 middle school students cheered Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in his breakthrough role, the title character in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). (I think it helped that they'd performed a stage version of the tale, so they already knew how the story went.

Well, looking forward: the summer calendar is filling up with last-minute screenings. So if you're looking for a dose of silent film with live music, even at the last minute, there's a show near you!

Up next: Harold is hanging from that clock again, this time at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where we're showing 'Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m.

Press release below with all the info. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Harold Lloyd!

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'Safety Last' on Thursday, June 13 at Leavitt Theatre

Thrill comedy climaxed by Harold Lloyd's iconic building climb; with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—It's an image so powerful, people who've never seen the movie still instantly recognize it.

The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a huge clock, from the climax of his silent comedy 'Safety Last,' (1923), has emerged as a symbol of the "anything goes" spirit of early Hollywood and the magic of the movies.

See how Harold gets into his high-altitude predicament in a screening of 'Safety Last,' one of Lloyd's most popular comedies, on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $10 per person.

The screening will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

The story of 'Safety Last' follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business and send for his small town sweetheart. His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea—hire a human fly to climb the building's exterior.

However, when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on. The result is an extended sequence blending comedy and terror that holds viewers spellbound.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is regarded as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Lloyd's character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s. While Chaplin and Keaton were always favored by the critics, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

The Leavitt opened in 1923 as a seasonal movie house that catered to tourists and visitors to the Maine coast. It has remained open continuously since then; under the longtime stewardship of the Clayton family, today it offers an eclectic mix of first-run movies and classic films, live entertainment, a lounge area with full bar, and a dinner menu.

The Leavitt Theatre's silent film/live music series gives today's audiences the chance to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who practices the nearly lost art of silent film accompaniment.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound.

"Seeing 'Safety Last' with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound," Rapsis said. "Harold's iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released."

Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' (2011), which includes clips from 'Safety Last.'

After "Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m.: 'The Last Command' (1928) starring Emil Jannings. Intense drama about a former high-ranking officer in Czarist Russia now reduced to playing extra in 1920s Hollywood. His performance helped Jannings win 'Best Actor' at the first-ever Academy Awards.

• Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). In honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Fritz Lang's epic sci-fi adventure film about mankind's first-ever journey to the moon. See the German space program that never was! (Note Wednesday night screening date.)

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Thursday, Aug. 29, 7 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. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

See Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating.

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