Monday, September 9, 2019

Back on the silent film circuit: 'College,' 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' and a carousel dedication

Close-up of the "Looff Carousel" at Slater Park in Pawtucket, R.I.

Labor Day weekend was a quiet time on the silent film calendar, but things heat up again this week.

On Wednesday night, it's off to 'College' via Buster Keaton's 1927 film of that title. The comedy starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey up in Plymouth, N.H. More details in the press release pasted in below.

And then down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Friday for an outdoor screening preceded by the re-dedication of a restored carousel.

Really! The "Looff Carousel" in Slater Park is being honored on Friday, Sept. 13 from 6 to 7 p.m., prior to an outdoor screening of Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

The rededication is part of this year's Pawtucket Arts Fest. (And so am I!) Here's a little background:
Built by pioneer craftsman Charles I.D. Looff in 1894 the carousel was relocated to Slater Park in 1910. The carousel features a functioning North Tonawanda Military band organ, as well as 44 standing horses, 6 menagerie animals (1 camel, 3 dogs, 1 giraffe, 1 lion), and 2 chariots. The 125-year-old carousel was restored in 1978 and again in 2019. Please join Mayor Don Grebien and Parks and Rec. Director John Blais as we reopen this incredible historic carousel to the public.
This seems to be some kind of carousel. It even has its own Wikipedia entry!

And with apologies to all the great composers, there's nothing that compares to the sound of an authentic carousel.

Can't wait to hear it, and maybe take a ride or two before settling in at the keyboard for 'Steamboat.' (Hoping to claim the giraffe!)

The screening, a presentation by the Pawtucket Film Festival, starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. See you there!

And bring a jacket: early forecasts call for evening temps around 60 degrees.

* * *

An original poster promoting Keaton's 'College.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton comedy 'College' with live music on Wednesday, 9/11 at Flying Monkey

Celebrate back-to-school season in Plymouth, N.H. with screening of timeless classic send-up of campus life

PLYMOUTH, 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, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a graduation-time screening of 'College' (1927), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

'College' follows the story of a hopeless university bookworm (Keaton) forced to become a star athlete to win the attention of his dream girl. Can Buster complete the transformation in time to woo her from his rival? And along the way, can he also rescue the campus from sports-related shame?

Keaton the bookworm-turned-athlete in 'College.'

The film was released in 1927, at the crest of a national fascination with college life. In addition to being a great Keaton comedy, 'College' offers vintage glimpses into what higher education was like nearly a century ago.

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 'College.'

Keaton gets roughed up in 'College.'

In reviving Keaton's 'College,' the Flying Monkey aims 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 'College' 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.

Rapsis encouraged people unfamiliar with silent film to give 'College' a try.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films still do connect with cinema-goers. They retain a tremendous power to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

Upcoming silent film programs at the Flying Monkey include:

• Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923); 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!

• Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Wind' (1928) starring Lillian Gish; a frail young woman from the east moves in with her cousin in the west, where she causes tension within the family and is slowly driven mad. Towering, intense performance by Lillian Gish in one of MGM's last major silent dramas.

Buster Keaton's 'College' (1927) will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; tickets are available online at or at the door. For more information, call the theater at (603) 536-2551.

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