Sunday, February 9, 2020

A child's laughter = proof of immortality; also, 'The Navigator' on 2/12 in Plymouth, N.H.

Harry Langdon, overgrown child, in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Harry Langdon's character was essentially that of an overgrown child.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that four young kids right behind me responded so strongly to 'The Strong Man' (1926), which we screened last night at the Campton (N.H.) Historical Society.

Really! Harry had them right from the start. I think they were hooked at the early scene where Harry knocks over the Ellis Island benches.

And if it wasn't that, it was definitely the scene where Harry brings his unexpected lady friend up a staircase rear-end first.

There was one girl in particular who could not stop her genuine giggling — you know, the kind that can't be faked.

And that got everyone going. And after that, Harry could do no wrong!

This was for an audience who'd never heard of Langdon prior to the film's opening credits. And yet Harry was able to reach across the years and establish a bond with a child born in the second term of the Obama presidency.

Could you ask for better proof of the enduring appeal of the silent comedy greats?

Coming up next: a screening of Buster Keaton's equally timeless classic 'The Navigator' (1924) on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. More info and details are included in the press release I've tacked on at the end of this post.

And now back to the news from Campton, N.H. Last night's pot luck supper was one for the ages. I can't name half the dishes I sampled, but it was all just right on an evening where the temperature at sundown was 9 degrees and falling. Hunger is evidently not a problem in rural N.H.

Alas, attendance at this year's annual silent film screening was down due to everyone in town suffering from a nasty mid-winter cold that's been making the rounds. (I had it all through January, so I sympathize!) And not a single presidential candidate showed up!

Even so, the laughter filled the historical society's meeting and exhibit room, which once served as the community's town hall.

To introduce Langdon, and to show people why his slow pace was such a breath of fresh air, I decided to program something beforehand to show 1920s comedy at its most frenetic.

I chose the ending of 'Play Safe' (1927), a Monty Banks feature, which is a surprisingly hair-raising chase and rescue on a runaway railroad train.

Banks is even more obscure than Langdon today. So audiences simply aren't unprepared for the scale and ambition displayed in this sequence, which takes one's breath away.

A full "snow" moon rising at dusk over snow-bound Campton, N.H. Click to enlarge.

But I think it provided the perfect set-up for Langdon, as it highlighted clearly why he stood out at the time. Slower, smaller, more subtle — off the top of my head, I described it as "comedy in a jewelry store," which isn't a bad way of putting it.

Well, whether or not this way of introducing Langdon made a difference, last night's screening showed that audiences can and will respond to his best work.

Why is that a question? Because years ago, in his book 'The Silent Clowns,' author Walter Kerr described running Keaton's 'The General' to appreciative audiences, but Langdon was greeted with utter silence. So I've always felt that Langdon would be a tough sell.

Well, maybe not. Maybe all he needs is a little perspective. And come to think of it, don't we all?

Okay, below is all the info about Keaton's 'The Navigator.' Hope to see you there!

* * *

Buster Keaton prepares to dive deep in 'The Navigator' (1924).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Classic seafaring silent comedy ‘The Navigator’ (1924) in Plymouth on Wednesday, Feb. 12

Buster Keaton's nautical masterpiece to be screened with live music at Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center

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.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The Navigator' (1924), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

'The Navigator' is a comedy that follows the adventures of wealthy nitwit Rollo Treadway (Keaton) and his pampered girlfriend, who find themselves adrift alone on a massive ocean liner. Forced to fend for themselves without servants, the pair attempt to cope with day-to-day life, creating classic comedy in the process.

But when the ship runs aground on a remote island inhabited by cannibals, is Buster's resourcefulness enough to save the day?

Filmed at sea on a real ocean liner that Keaton treated as the largest prop in comedy history, 'The Navigator' has been hailed as one of the most original and distinctive movies to come out of silent film's golden era of comedy.

The film is highlighted by underwater scenes, with Keaton in an oversized antique diving suit, that were revolutionary at the time.

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 'The Navigator.'

The nautical-themed program also includes a Keaton's short comedy, 'The Boat,' as a warm-up to 'The Navigator.'

Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who accompanies shows at venues across New England, said Keaton's films weren't intended to be shown on television or viewed at home.

In reviving 'The Navigator,' the Flying Monkey hopes to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in high quality 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. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'The Navigator' 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.

'The Navigator' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at the Flying Monkey. Upcoming programs include:

• Wednesday, March 11, 2020: 'Wild Horse Mesa' (1925). Adaptation of Zane Grey novel about a bankrupt rancher who tries trapping wild horses using barbed wire, with unforeseen consequences.

• Thursday, April 9, 2020: 'Ben Hur' (1925). In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; one of the great early Bibical epics, just in time for Easter!

• Thursday, May 7, 2020: 'Why Worry?' (1923). Rich hypochondriac Harold Lloyd gets more than he bargained for on a recuperative visit to a banana republic undergoing revolution.

• Thursday, June 18, 2020: Harry Houdini Double Feature. Rare surviving films from the great illusionist's brief movie career: 'Terror Island' (1920) and 'The Man From Beyond' (1922).

'The Navigator' (1924) starring Buster Keaton will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Feb. 12 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; for more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit

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