Monday, August 31, 2020

The end of August, a very good month;
next up, Buster Keaton double feature on 9/20

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. protects the honor of Marguerite De La Motte in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

This past weekend's double feature of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), marked the end of a surprisingly busy month of silent film screenings. 

Altogether, August brought a total of 11 screenings, which is about on pace with what the performance schedule looks like in non-pandemic times. That's heartening, because the calendar was pretty much empty from March through July.

The bulk of these shows were at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., which gave up on first-run films (due to low attendance) and programmed an entire week of silent comedies, which actually did quite well!

The Zorro double feature was planned a long time ago to honor the 100th anniversary of the first film's 1920 release. Showing Zorro and its sequel back-to-back turned out to be a great ending for our summer series of silent swashbucklers starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

In accompanying both films, I challenged myself to come up with different musical material for each movie. After all, they're set in different places and involve a completely different story and characters. Only when the older Zorro appears in 'Don Q' did I let myself reuse some of the music from the earlier film.

This turned out to be pretty effective. After Sunday's screening of 'Don Q,' a women I'd never met before came up to say she really enjoyed how I brought back Saturday's music for Don Q's father, the original Zorro. Wow, someone noticed!

So in August, the Town Hall Theatre was where more than half the screenings took place, mostly due to the week of silent comedies. This counter-programming got another write-up in Box Office Pro, in case you're interested.

But I also had screenings at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse up in Plymouth, N.H., which has also reopened, plus the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass., my first show south of the border since Covid-19 shut everything down earlier this year.

Things quiet back down considerably in September: just a few screenings at the end of the month, with still no action at regular venues such as the Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. or the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine or the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass., all of which remain closed.  

Even Halloween — normally the busiest time of the year for me — looks pretty bleak, with just a handful of screenings on the calendar. You'd think it would be a good year for Nosferatu (1922), with its plague references. 

I might reach out to some venues that are open but not known for running silents and see if they'll try something different. The screenings I've done recently shows people will turn out. So we'll see.

For now, thanks to everyone at the theaters who have tried to make a go of it. Even in the age of limited capacities and social distancing, we've had some good screenings that successfully recreated the silent cinema experience.

Next up: nothing until a Keaton double feature at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Sept. 20, although that could change. For now, here's the press release with all the details. Hope to see you there!

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Original promotional art for 'The Cameraman' starring Buster Keaton.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

WILTON, 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 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening, the latest in the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the most timeless; 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. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit

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