Saturday, January 25, 2020

Whistle while you work: accompanying 'Girl Shy' (1924) on Sunday, 1/26 in Wilton, N.H.

Original poster for Harold Lloyd's 'Girl Shy' (1924).

Tomorrow it's off to Wilton, N.H., where I'll accompany Harold Lloyd's great comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924) at the Town Hall Theatre. Showtime is Sunday, Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m.

More details are in the press release tacked on below.

For this film, I have to make sure I bring one more instrument in addition to my digital keyboard: a referee's whistle.

Why? Because a running gag in 'Girl Shy' involves blowing whistles of different types, and as versatile as the synthesizer is, nothing sounds more like a whistle being blown than an actual whistle being blown.

Of course not all whistles are alike. In Josef von Sternberg's 'Underworld' (1927), which I accompanied this past Thursday, a jail break is illustrated by close-up shots of a steam whistle being blown. For that, I didn't bring the referee's whistle because it's an entirely sound — one that the synth in fact can reproduce quite well.

Other films that require the referee whistle are Lloyd's football epic 'The Freshman' (1925) with its extensive gridiron scenes; Fritz Lang's 'Woman on the Moon' (1929) with its close-ups of a whistle being blown to restore order during an lecture hall uproar; and F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924), in which a whistle plays a major role in the doorman character played by Emil Jannings.

The referee whistle is especially important in 'Last Laugh,' which has a dreamy sequence in which an inebriated Jannings keeps blowing the whistle again and again inside his apartment. A true referee's whistle allows you to generate a wide variety of expressive whistles, which are essential to this scene working, I've found.

I once couldn't find my actual referee's whistle, so bought a cheap plastic replacement on the way to a screening of 'The Last Laugh.' Turns out it could only generate one tone and at one volume, with virtually no ability to alter the intensity, pitch, or anything about the sound.

So the whistle was a one-note wonder, literally. And it was totally unsuitable for bringing out what Murnau and Jannings were going for, I think.

I later found my metal referee's whistle, and it now holds a place of honor in my equipment box. I'll bring it to 'Girl Shy,' and I hope to see you there, too!

* * *

Harold and friend engage in a little kinky fun in 'Girl Shy.' (1924).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

First-ever rom-com! Harold Lloyd comedy 'Girl Shy' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, 1/26

Live music to accompany uproarious silent film classic; to be shown on big screen

WILTON, N.H.—It's a candidate for Hollywood's first-ever "rom-com": a silent film comedy that inadvertently pioneered an enduring cinematic genre.

It's 'Girl Shy,' a frenetic, kinetic, get-me-to-the-church-on-time Harold Lloyd silent comedy classic, to be screened on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free and open to all; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

'Girl Shy' (1924) stars Harold Lloyd as a timid young man from a small town who pens a book about imaginary female conquests. Trouble begins when bashful Harold falls in love for real, and then must rescue his beloved from marrying the wrong man in the big city.

Harold's dilemma prompts a climactic race to the altar that stands as one of the great chases in all of cinema. The sequence was so successful that MGM used it as a model for the famous chariot race in the original silent film version of 'Ben Hur' (1925).

Lloyd and admirers in 'Girl Shy.' (1924).

The film is bursting with visual comedy typical of the silent era, but the romantic story line was strong enough to act as a counterweight, creating a new hybrid genre now known as the romantic comedy, or "rom-com."

Co-starring in 'Girl Shy' is actress Jobyna Ralston, who often played Lloyd's leading lady, including in later Lloyd masterpieces 'The Freshman' (1925) and 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

'Girl Shy,' directed by Lloyd's colleagues Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, was among the 10 top-grossing films of 1924.

Harold Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, stands today as one of the three masters of silent comedy. Throughout the 1920s, Lloyd's films enjoyed immense popularity, ranking regularly among the highest-grossing of the era.

Though Lloyd's reputation later faded due to unavailability of his movies, the recent re-release of most of his major films on DVD and other media has spurred a reawakening of interest in his work and has led to more screenings of his work in theaters, where it was designed to be shown.

"Seeing a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with live music and an audience is one of the great experiences of the cinema of any era," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician and the Town Hall Theatre's resident accompanist.

Rapsis emphasized the value of seeing early cinema as it was originally intended to be shown.

"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. If you can put those conditions together again, you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'Girl Shy' starring Harold Lloyd will be screened with live music on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses.

For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

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