Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Ranching and boxing and Buster, oh my! Accompanying a Keaton double bill Friday, 12/11

Look out, 2021 is on the horizon! Buster Keaton and Kathleen Myers in 'Go West' (1925), which I'm accompanying on Friday, Dec. 11 in Plymouth, N.H.

Only a handful of shows this month as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

One this weekend has nothing to do with Christmas, but everything to do with our need for a laugh.

It's a double feature of two rarely screened Buster Keaton features: 'Go West' (1925) and 'Battling Butler' (1926).

Although the pandemic continues apace, the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center provides a safe environment: one large enough for audience members to practice social distancing and still enjoy the cinema experience.

For more about the program, check out the press release pasted in below.

After that, it's 'Beggars of Life' (1928) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Dec. 27, and that's it for 2020.

What will 2021 bring? Darned if I know. But I intend to keep plugging away at silent film accompaniment, learning the craft and developing my own scoring voice and vocabulary.

A lot of screenings are already booked, and I expect more as the next few months unfold, especially if the pandemic starts to subside. 

I would like to put more time and energy into writing things down. I'm carrying around a backlog of ideas and projects, and it's starting to be too much to keep lugging around.

Plus it might be the year I finally write out the answers to the most commonly asked questions about what I do and why I do it. 

But for now, there are films in need of music, including the two Busters this weekend. Hope to see you there!

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Buster Keaton is shown the ropes in 'Battling Butler' (1926), part of a double feature on Friday, Dec. 11.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton silent comedy double feature at Flying Monkey Moviehouse on Friday, Dec. 11

Cowboy comedy 'Go West' and boxing tale 'Battling Butler' to be screened with live musical accompaniment in Covid-safe theater

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 two of Keaton's classic features, 'Go West' and 'Battling Butler,' on Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth.

Admission is $10 per person, general seating.

The family-friendly films will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

At the Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

"Films from the silent era were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," Rapsis said.

In 'Go West' (1925), Buster heads out to ranch country, where the stone-faced comedian encounters romance with—a cow! Can he save his love from a trip to the livestock yards? Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must once again prove himself worthy to all those who doubt him.

'Go West' was an unusual film for Keaton. With its portrayal of a down-and-out wanderer who becomes a reluctant hero, 'Go West' could have been a vehicle for Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.

The film was praised by critics and did well at the box office.

Co-starring in 'Go West' is a sad-faced cow named Brown Eyes, with whom Keaton worked extensively prior to the filming. Brown Eyes received a credit in the movie, and even got a salary for her acting — $13 a week.

Keaton's female co-star is actress Kathleen Myers. Joe Keaton, the comedian's father and a popular vaudeville performer, appears briefly in a barbershop scene.

Much of 'Go West' was shot on location in Kingman, Ariz., during the summer of 1925, in temperatures approaching 120 degrees.

'Battling Butler' (1926) tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O'Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"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.

Rapsis 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."

Many 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."

But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

Keaton shows off his physique as a gloved warrior in the boxing ring.

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.

Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era's leading talents.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era with no special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

Buster Keaton's 'Go West' and ‘Battling Butler’ will be shown on Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more information, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

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