Sunday, July 25, 2021

Coming up this weekend: Perfect weather for a Yakima Canutt double feature in Wilton, N.H.

'The Iron Rider' (1927), one of a pair of Yakima Canutt pictures we'll show with live music (by me) this afternoon at the Town Hall Theatre of Wilton, N.H.

We're blessed rainy weather this Sunday: perfect weather to take in a double feature starring everyone's favorite early cinema cowboy hero, Yakima Canutt!

Yakima Canutt!? 

Yes! It's pronounced YAK-i-mah Kah-NOOT. 

His given first name was "Enos," so appropriating the name of the Yakima Valley of his home state of Washington was probably a good idea, even if he'd never gone into the movies.

But he did, and we'll see two of his starring pictures, with live music by me on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, Wilton, N.H. 

So park that speedboat out of the rain today, then hop on your horse and canter on over to the thee-a-tar for a double dose of Yak! 

More info in the press release below, including a round-up of Yak's considerable off-screen contributions to Hollywood right up until the 1980s.

First, though, I had occasion to visit the Big Apple this past Thursday and found myself attending a screening of Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923) at the Museum of Modern Art.

Hearing live accompaniment by my colleague Ben Model was a treat. (How nice to enjoy a picture without worrying about the music!) And a pleasant surprise was to find fellow vintage film enthusiasts Karl Mischler and Rob Arkus in attendance. 

Rb Arkus, Ben Model, me, and Karl Mischler.

One unusual thing about New York in the summer of 2021: the Museum of Modern Art is the first venue I've attended that required proof of vaccination to enter.

But the real surprise was finding enormous billboards atop buildings along 8th Avenue promoting my home state of New Hampshire as a vacation destination. Wow!

Never thought I'd see idyllic images of the Granite State in the same view as the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Strange times indeed!

Also, this was my first visit to the new Moynhihan Train Hall, newly opened this year as part of the Penn Station complex. 

If there is an afterlife, and heaven exists, my version of it would probably look something like the original Penn Station, which was demolished in the 1960s and which I never saw except in pictures like this:

Well, here's the Moynihan Train Hall, which opened this past January in what used to be the mail sorting room of the James Farley U.S. Post Office, across the street from the original station:

It's a vast improvement over the existing Penn Station, most of which remains squished under Madison Square Garden. 

I don't know if the new Moynihan Train Hall is enough to make me think I've died and gone to heaven, but it did cause me to die of embarrassment.

How? Because going home, I somehow boarded the wrong Acela train and wound up heading toward Washington, D.C. instead of Boston!

I was able to get out at Newark and return to Penn Station to catch the next train to Beantown. So no big deal, other than the extra $5.25 I had to shell out to New Jersey Transit to get back to the starting line.

You'd think clear track assignments and boarding announcements would be basic things in $1.6 billion train station development. 

But they're not—departing trains aren't displayed at the gate until the last minute, and lines snake all around the concourse when it's time to board. Staff make no announcements down on the platforms or in the train prior to departure.

Not quite paradise just yet!

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Yakima Canutt during the prime of his silent film starring career.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Meet Yakima Canutt, Hollywood's pioneering master of horsemanship and stunting

Summer series of rare silent Westerns with live music continues with double feature on Sunday, July 25 at Town Hall Theatre

WILTON, N.H.—He's the most influential cowboy you've never heard of.

He's Yakima Canutt, a silent era Western star who later went on to a behind-the-scenes career working on some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters.

Canutt, famous for his equine skills and stunting ability, will be featured in a pair of action-packed early features in the next installment Town Hall Theatre's series on the origins of the Hollywood Western.

'Branded a Bandit' (1924) and 'The Iron Rider' (1927), both starring Canutt, will be shown on Sunday, July 25 at 2 p.m.

The screening is free and open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film programming.

The program will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

"In this series of early Westerns, many of these films are nearly 100 years old, and so they're not far removed from the 'Old West' depicted in them," Rapsis said.

In 'Branded a Bandit,' Canutt (pronounced "kah-NOOT") is accused of murdering a miner whose family he was trying to aid; in 'The Iron Rider,' Canutt cheated in a poker game, and later learns the card sharks are wanted men, prompting a pursuit for justice.

In 'Branded a Bandit,' Canutt broke his nose in a 12-foot fall from a cliff. The picture was delayed several weeks, and when it resumed, all of Canutt's close-ups were shot from the side. A plastic surgeon reset the nose, which prompted Canutt to remark that the fall actually improved his looks.

But Canutt's starring pictures were only a small part of a long and influential Hollywood career.

Born in 1895 in rural Washington state, Canutt started out as a rodeo cowboy and then became a stuntman in silent westerns. Canutt later doubled for such stars as Clark Gable and John Wayne.

Canutt, whose given first name was Enos, later adopted the nickname "Yakima" after the Yakima River Valley in Washington.

Canutt was known for his proficiency in dangerous activities such as jumping off the top of a cliff on horseback, leaping from a stagecoach onto its runaway team, being "shot" off a horse at full gallop and other such potentially life-threatening activities.

During the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, Canutt became expert at staging massive events involving livestock, such as cattle stampedes and covered-wagon races, as well as Indians-vs.-cavalry battles on a grand scale.

Canutt's most noteworthy achievement as a second-unit director came in his staging and direction of the chariot-race sequence in William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959) which, from initial planning to final execution, took two years.

Films on which Canutt served as second unit director include 'Stagecoach' (1939), 'Ivanhoe' (1952), 'Old Yeller' (1957), 'The Swiss Family Robinson' (1960), 'El Cid' (1961), 'The Fall of the Roman Empire' (1964), and 'Rio Lobo' (1970).

Canutt was awarded a special Oscar in 1966 for his contributions to film. He died in 1986 at age 90, widely regarded as the most respected stuntman of all time.

Upcoming titles in the Town Hall's summer series of silent Westerns include:

Sunday, Aug. 8 at 2 p.m.: The first Westerns directed by a young John Ford, these two films feature popular cowboy star Harry Carey as 'Cheyenne Harry,' the outlaw with a heart of gold. In 'Straight Shooting' (1917), Carey plays a hired gun of cattle rustlers; in 'Hell Bent' (1918), Carey rescues a virtuous woman from banditos. A rare chance to see early Ford learning his craft.

Sunday, Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.: Set in western Canada, 'Mantrap' (1926) tells the story of a New York divorce lawyer on a camping vacation to get away from it all, but gets more than he bargained for with Clara Bow, then fast on her way to becoming Hollywood's 'It' girl. Directed by Victor Fleming, who would go on to helm 'Gone With the Wind' (1939) and 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939).

Sunday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.: Our look at silent-era Westerns concludes with the genre's lighter side. In 'Womanhandled' (1925), Richard Dix tries to win his girlfriend by taking up the rugged cowboy life, only to find it not so rugged. In 'Go West' (1925), Buster Keaton sends up the legends of the West with his timeless brand of visual comedy; includes perhaps the most unlikely love story in any mainstream 1920s Hollywood film.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will create musical scores for each film live during its screening, in the manner of theater organists during the height of silent cinema.

"For most silent films, there was never any sheet music and no official score," Rapsis said. "So creating original music on the spot to help the film's impact is all part of the experience."

"That's one of the special qualities of silent cinema," Rapsis said. "Although the films themselves are often over a century old, each screening is a unique experience — a combination of the movie, the music, and the audience reaction."

'Branded a Bandit' (1924) and 'The Iron Rider' (1926), two early westerns starring Yakima Canutt, will be screened on Sunday, July 25 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more information, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Friday, July 16, 2021

A thrilling start at the Rex Theatre; bringing Monty Banks to Vermont on Saturday, 7/17

Pre-show remarks at the inaugural silent film program at the Rex Theatre. I look like I'm hosting a beauty pageant. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Last night's inaugural silent film program at the newly renovated Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester was quite the thing. 

The restored theater prove to be a marvelous venue for silent film with live music. And our first outing attracted an audience of well over a hundred people!

Our double bill of Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Our Hospitality' (1923) met with laughter right at the start, and it never let up. 

 I've done 'Sherlock' dozens of times, and I've never heard such a vocal response to the film's first 10 minutes. And that was nothing compared to the reaction when Buster attempts to "follow his man closely."

For this, I undercut my "Buster detective theme" with a descending bass, played as lightly but as crisply as possible. The result: serious-sounding music that I think worked really well with Buster's comedy.

Most gratifying moment: when Buster casually catches the cigarette that Ward Crane tosses over his shoulder, taking a puff and discarding it, all while never breaking stride, people actually shrieked with delight. 

Oh my god, this is why I do this!

Thanks to everyone at the Rex Theatre for finding a place for silent film with live music on the venue's calendar. We have three more shows scheduled through next year, and if the success of our initial outing is any indication, we're in for a heckuva ride!

Next up: we journey up to Brandon, Vt., where Saturday night brings a "Planes and Trains and Monty Banks" program. Looking forward to the opportunity to uncork some rarely screened vintage comedy in one of my favorite silent film venues.

More details in the press release below. If you're in the area, please join us. And if you're not in the area, there's still time to take the train or the plane, in keeping with the spirit of the program.

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Promotional art for 'Flying Luck' (1927) starring Monty Banks.

 
TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Planes and Trains and Monty Banks' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, July 17

Rediscover forgotten silent film comedian Monty Banks; two vintage movies screened with live music

BRANDON, Vt. — His real name was "Mario Bianchi," but on screen he was "Monty Banks."

But both names are now forgotten, and so are most of the films he starred in during the golden age of silent film comedy.

Rediscover the unique comic style of Monty Banks with a screening of two of his surviving films on Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

On the bill: an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927) featuring a hair-raising rescue aboard an out-of-control train; and the feature film 'Flying Luck' (1927), an aviation comedy inspired by Lindbergh's successful solo flight across the Atlantic earlier that year.

Both films will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

The screening is sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

Monty Banks was a short, stocky but somehow debonair Italian-born comic actor, later also writer and director.

Banks has faded into obscurity in part because most of his starring films are lost or unavailable.

The two films being shown at Brandon Town Hall are among the best surviving examples of his work.

A lobby card for 'Flying Luck' starring Monty Banks.

In featured attraction 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator Monty is so inspired by Lindbergh's solo Atlantic flight that he joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, where it's one comical disaster after another.

Co-starring with Banks in 'Flying Luck' is young actress Jean Arthur, who would later appear in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'Shane' (1953).

The feature will be preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), which includes a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train barreling through the California countryside.

"Monty Banks was once a popular star, but that was a long time ago," said Rapsis, who will create live improvised musical accompaniment for both pictures.

"So it's a real treat to screen these films and rediscover a gifted performer and visual comedian with a style uniquely his own."

Emigrating from Italy to the U.S. in 1914, Banks first appeared on stage in musical comedy and cabaret. By 1917 he was working as a dancer in New York's Dominguez Cafe.

After this he turned to films, acting and doing stunt work at Keystone, Universal and other studios.

Banks appeared in many short comedies until the mid-1920s, when he formed his own production company to make feature films.

Although successful, Banks never achieved the popularity of silent comedy superstars Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd.

In the late 1920s, he moved to England; after the transition to talkies, he stopped acting in films and instead concentrated on directing.

Later in life, Banks donated money to build several children's hospitals in his native Italy, which are still operational.

Upcoming programs in the Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

The feature-length 'Flying Luck' (1927) and an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), both starring Monty Banks, will be shown on Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

This week: starting a new silent film series with comedy at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H.

From 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924): Buster examines the world he lives in.

Let's hear it for obsolete pop culture!

Yes, silent cinema is making a comeback in New Hampshire's largest city. 

This week marks the start of silent film screenings with live music at the Rex Theatre, a recently restored performance venue in downtown Manchester, N.H.

And we kick things off with comedy: on Thursday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m., I'll accompany Buster Keaton's detective-in-the-movies fantasy 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) followed by the period comedy 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

Subsequent screenings include such classics as 'Nosferatu' (1922), Harold Lloyd's get-to-the-church-on-time comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924), and the epic silent version of 'Ben Hur' (1925).

But Keaton will be in the house (or on the screen) to kick things off. If you're in the area, come check it out. These days, we can use all the laughs we can get.

Here's a press release with more information. See you Thursday night!

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Buster and equine friend in 'Our Hospitality' (1923). 

MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton double feature with live music at Rex Theatre on Thursday, July 15

Venue launches silent film series with two vintage masterpieces starring iconic visual comedian

MANCHESTER, 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.

Acclaimed for their originality and timeless visual humor, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Our Hospitality' (1923) and 'Sherlock Jr. (1924), two classic Keaton comedies, on Thursday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The double feature, which launches a series of silent film programs at the Rex, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10 per person, general admission. Tickets are available online at www.palacetheatre.org or at the door.

An original poster for 'Our Hospitality' (1923).

'Our Hospitality,' a period comedy set in the 1830s, tells the story of a young man (Keaton) raised in New York City but unknowingly at the center of a long-running backwoods family feud.

Highlights of the picture include Keaton's extended journey on a vintage train of the era, as well as a climatic river rescue scene.

The film stars Keaton's then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, as his on-screen love interest; their first child, newborn James Talmadge Keaton, makes a cameo appearance, playing Buster as an infant. Keaton's father also plays a role in the film.

Buster at work in the projection booth in 'Sherlock Jr.'

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?

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 'Our Hospitality' and 'Sherlock Jr.,' the two titles to open the silent film series at the Rex.

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be," 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."

The Rex Theatre is launching the series to give local audiences a chance to experience the best of early Hollywood the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"These films weren't intended to be shown on a laptop," Rapsis said. "It's worth putting the whole experience together, because you can still see why audiences first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

Later screenings include:

• Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, 7:30 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau. Just in time for Halloween: 'Nosferatu,' the original vampire film. This loose German adaptation of the 'Dracula' story just gets weirder and creepier as the years go by.

• Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, 7:30 p.m.: 'Girl Shy' (1924) starring Harold Lloyd. Celebrate Valentine's Day with the original rom-com, a Harold Lloyd gem starring one of the masters of silent comedy and featuring an unforgettable race-to-the-church finish.

• Thursday, April 21, 2022, 7:30 p.m.: 'Ben Hur' (1925) starring Ramon Novarro and a cast of thousands. In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; inspired by encounters with Jesus, he lives to seek justice. One of the great religious epics of Hollywood's silent film era, including a legendary chariot race that's lost none of its power to thrill.

A double feature of two classic Buster Keaton films, 'Our Hospitality' (1923) and 'Sherlock Jr. (1924) will be shown on Thursday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H. General admission is $10 per person.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.palacetheatre.org or call (603) 668-5588.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Finding Harold south of the border, then back home for 'The General' tonight in Plymouth, NH

How much is that brass sousaphone in the window? I was sorely tempted, but it would have exceeded my carry-on limit. Also, in air travel, tubas are classified as lethal weapons.

I'm back from 10 days south of the border: Mexico! (One of the very few places we could go where it wouldn't going to be a huge hassle to get back home.) 

We spent most of the time in Oaxaca (pronounced "Wah HAH ka") in the uplands of southern Mexico, where this time of year it's cool and wet, with frequent rains. Kind of a nice surprise!

Also surprising: although this trip had nothing to do with silent film, we found intimations of Harold Lloyd all around us. 

For one thing, we stayed at the "Hotel Parador," which I thought was the same name as the fictional south-of-the-border country Harold visits in 'Why Worry?' 

(I was wrong: Harold visits Paradiso, substituted for the original location of Mexico when that nation raised objections to its on-screen depiction.) 

But then Harold was present at the ruins of Monte Alban, an enormous set of mountaintop ruins outside (and above) Oaxaca that date back 2,500 years and are on a scale of the legendary Inca city Machu Picchu. 

Well, not exactly Harold, but Alfonso Caso, "discoverer" of Monte Alban, whose bronze relief at the entrance to the ruins sports a very Lloyd-like pair of glasses:

 Look like Harold? You decide...

And then there was this Harold-like visage adorning one of Oaxaca's many food carts:

So upon getting home earlier this week, I was primed to accompany 'Safety Last' (1923), Harold's great building-climbing comedy, at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening took place last night, and I'm pleased to report it all came together very effectively. I've done this film often enough so that during the climbing climax, I know pretty much all of Harold's "almost lose his grip" moments.

There are four or five of these — times when Harold makes a false grab or misses a handhold and stops cold for a moment before continuing on. 

It's really effective, I've found, to punctuate these moments by interrupting whatever sustained harmony or ostinato I've got going with a quick dissonance — nothing big, just a sharp stab, and then silence before picking up the building-climb music, which inexorably must continue, just as Harold must keep climbing.

But it needs to come right on the button to be effective. Last night I think I got every one of them!

From Harold's 1920s masterpiece, tonight we turn the clock back to Buster Keaton's Civil War-era masterpiece, 'The General' (1926), which I'm accompanying at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center. 

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. If you're in the area, please join us! Rain, thunderstorms...great weather to take in a movie! More details on the press release below.

*  *  *

 

MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton's 'The General' with live music at Flying Monkey on Thursday, July 8

Civil War railroading comedy/adventure film lauded as stone-faced comic moviemaker's masterpiece

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 and timeless visual humor, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The General' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Thursday, July 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The screening, the latest in the Flying Monkey'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 $10 per person general admission. Tickets are available online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com or at the door.

The show will allow audiences to experience 'The General' the way Keaton originally intended it to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.


'The General,' set during the U.S. Civil War, tells the story of a southern locomotive engineer (Keaton) whose engine (named 'The General') is hijacked by Northern spies with his girlfriend onboard.

Keaton, commandeering another train, races north in pursuit behind enemy lines. Can he rescue his girl? And can he recapture his locomotive and make it back to warn of a coming Northern attack?

Critics call 'The General' Keaton's masterpiece, praising its authentic period detail, ambitious action and battle sequences, and its overall integration of story, drama, and comedy.

It's also regarded as one of Hollywood's great railroad films, with much of the action occurring on or around moving steam locomotives.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'The General' live as the film is shown.

"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompaniment.

With the Flying Monkey's screening of 'The General,' audiences will get a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—in a high quality print, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

Rapsis performs on a digital keyboard that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

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.

Critics review 'The General':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—Walter Kerr

"An almost perfect entertainment!"
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"What makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster's directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance."
—Time Out (London)

Upcoming titles in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Ben Hur' (1925) starring Ramon Novarro. In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; inspired by encounters with Jesus, he lives to seek justice. One of the great religious epics of Hollywood's silent film era, including a legendary chariot race that's lost none of its power to thrill.

• Thursday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m.: 'The Shakedown' (1929). Recently restored boxing drama about a low-rent prizefighter who finds reasons outside the ring to find success inside it. Recently restored; directed by William Wyler, who would go on to a storied Hollywood career that included directing the 1959 remake of 'Ben Hur.'

‘The General’ (1926) starring Buster Keaton will be shown with live music on Thursday, July 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Tickets $10 per person general admission, available online or at the door. For more info, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Harold says...time to take a break! Plus: I'm interviewed on Nitrateville podcast

Harold reminds us it's time to take a break!

Okay, after a busy nearly post-pandemic June, I'm hitting the "pause" button on silent film accompaniment until after the July 4th weekend.

I'll return for the second half of 2021 with 'Safety Last' (1923), Harold Lloyd's great building climbing comedy, on Wednesday, July 7 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Well: 7/7 at 7 p.m.  If I was a gambling man...

For now: check out the most recent Nitrateville Podcast, in which host Mike Gebert interviewed me about silent film accompaniment. To my surprise, I sounded reasonably coherent!

Also on the program: Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and academic Lisa Stein Haven. Enjoy, and best wishes for a happy 4th!


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Going to the dogs: Rin Tin Tin's 'Clash of the Wolves' in Ogunquit on Wednesday, June 23

An original lobby card promoting 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925).

Woof! 

That's about all I have time to say about 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925), which is screening this week at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine with live music by me.

Come see it! Showtime is Wednesday, June 23 at 7 p.m. Lots more info about this crackerjack Rin Tin Tin adventure in the press release below. 

But I do need to report that reaction was surprisingly strong to a pair of obscure Westerns that I accompanied on Sunday, June 20 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

'Salomy Jane' (1914) and 'The Old Oregon Trail' (1928), two titles for which I'd never played before, were both received enthusiastically by an unexpectedly large on audience. 

Our summer series of silent Westerns in Wilton continues on Sunday, July 11 with 'The Covered Wagon' (1923), a Paramount blockbuster that became the top-grossing film of 1923.

I've been saying that these Westerns are so old, they show the actual old West. So it shouldn't be surprising to learn that in making 'The Covered Wagon,' Paramount used actual surviving covered wagons that made the original migrations in the 1840s.

So do the math. The film, made in 1923, depicted life from 80 years earlier. That's the same as a film today set in the era of World War II. 

Or look at it this way: 'The Covered Wagon' is closer to the time of its 1840s setting than it is to the far-off future of the 2020s. 

But what's a century between friends?

Okay, here's the info about Rin Tin Tin. See you at the movies!

*  *  *


TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rin Tin Tin leaps back into action Wednesday, June 23 at Leavitt Theatre


Legendary dog star races to the rescue in 'Clash of the Wolves' silent adventure film, presented with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine — He couldn't speak. But that was no handicap for a star during the silent film era.

He was Rin Tin Tin, the legendary German Shepherd dog whose popularity rivaled that of any human performer when the movies were brand new.

See for yourself on Wednesday, June 23 at 7 p.m., when the Leavitt Theatre screens a vintage Rin Tin Tin silent adventure film with live music.

In 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925), Rin Tin Tin plays a wild wolf who befriends a prospector; together they hunt down a criminal intent on jumping the prospector's claim and stealing his girl.

'Clash of the Wolves' will be shown at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit. Admission $12 per person; tickets available at the door.

The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and performer who specializes in scoring silent film.

Rin Tin Tin films were produced by then-struggling Warner Brothers and proved immensely popular around the world, with audiences marveling at the then-new German Shepherd breed's feats of derring-do as he out-smarted his human co-stars.

At the time, studio executives referred to Rin Tin Tin "the mortgage lifter" because the dog's pictures helped rescue the ailing studio from bankruptcy.

Rin Tin Tin was so popular, he was named "Best Actor" at the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929 until ceremony officials decided on a re-vote in favor of human performer Emil Jannings.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nearly a century.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

To improvise a live musical score for 'Clash of the Wolves,' silent film musician Jeff Rapsis will use a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra.

"The Rin Tin Tin films are great pictures for audience reaction, even today," Rapsis said. "They're full of fast-paced action, great stunts, and above all they really move!"

"If you're new to the art form of silent film, seeing the Rin Tin Tin pictures in a theater with live music is a terrific way to get acquainted with the enduring power of this kind of movie-making," Rapsis said.

Rin Tin Tin remained popular throughout the silent film era and until his death in 1932, which made headlines around the globe. But his progeny went on to star in later films and TV shows, keeping the name before the public for generations.

Rin Tin Tin's descendants are still bred, continuing the bloodline to the present day. The ongoing Rin Tin Tin phenomenon inspired a recent book, "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean.

Upcoming titles in the Leavitt's silent film series include:

• Wednesday, July 7, 7 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923) starring Harold Lloyd. The iconic image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is only one small piece of a remarkable thrill comedy from 1923  that has lost none of its power over audiences. See it for yourself on the big screen!

• Wednesday, July 21, 7 p.m.: 'Peter Pan' (1924). Celebrate summer with the original silent film adaptation from 1924 of J.M. Barrie's immortal tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up. Join the Darling children as they follow Peter to Never Land to do battle with the evil Captain Hook.

• Wednesday, Aug. 4, 7 p.m.: 'Seven Chances' (1925) starring Buster Keaton. Buster is about to be saved from bankruptcy by an unexpected inheritance of $7 million—but only if he gets married by 7 p.m. that very day. Can Buster somehow find the girl of his dreams while being pursued by an army of women?

• Wednesday, Aug. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller from 1928. An older man takes his young wife to Java where he plans to invest in tea plantations. Aboard ship, a young man (and member of the island's royal family) resolves to make her acquaintance.

• Saturday, Oct. 30, 7 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau. Just in time for Halloween: the original vampire film, this loose adaptation of the 'Dracula' story just gets weirder and creepier as the years go by. Released in 1922, and complete with timely references to plagues and pandemics

Clash of the Wolves' (1925) starring Rin Tin Tin will be shown with live music on Wednesday, June 23 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit. Admission $12 per person; tickets available at the door.

For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com.




Friday, June 11, 2021

Emerging from the pandemic: 'Girl Shy' starring Harold Lloyd on Saturday, 6/19 in Brandon, Vt.

Harold Lloyd is shy around girls in the aptly named 'Girl Shy' (1924).

Coming up next: can Harold Lloyd make it to the church on time? 

Find out by joining us for 'Girl Shy' (1924), his spectacular race-to-the-finish romantic comedy, screening (with live music by me) on Saturday, June 19 in Brandon, Vt. More details in the press release below.

Update from the present: this past week saw no less than three post-pandemic milestones. 

Last Saturday saw the return of silent films to Brandon with a screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) originally scheduled for May 2020 to honor the film's centenary but postponed until now. 

Then on Sunday, we launched a summertime series of silent Westerns at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., which was also dark last year at this time due to the pandemic.

The double feature included a real rarity, 'The Lady of the Dugout' (1918), an Al Jennings "I used to be an outlaw" drama that more than held the screen.

Then we ran William S. Hart's 'Hell's Hinges' (also 1918), which left everyone stunned. People can't believe how intense an early feature can be, but 'Hinges'  is all of that and more. 

And then Wednesday marked the restart of silent films at the historic Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where we ran Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) to an appreciative crowd. 

(Also on Wednesday, I had a nice phone conversation with Mike Gebert of www.nitrateville.com, which will be turned into an upcoming podcast. Thanks Mike, and stay tuned!)

All three of the screenings had the snap and crackle of silent films that were really connecting with a contemporary audience. You can tell.

Maybe there's a real hunger for any kind of shared experience now that the pandemic is subsiding. 

Well, for whatever reason, all three programs were successful. Perhaps it was most gratifying to hear audience comments after 'Hell's Hinges,' which served as a good reminder of how strong a film's impact can be to first-time viewers. 

I think it's important to keep this in mind: even though a film may be a century old and I've seen it many times, it's still brand new to most people today. 

Well, if you haven't seen Harold Lloyd's 'Girl Shy' (1924), then you're in for a treat. Get thee to Brandon, Vt. next Saturday. And it looks good for us getting an audience, as the screening was featured in this week's 'Seven Days,' the weekly arts paper based in Burlington.

To wet your whistle, here's the press release with more info:

*   *   *

Harold Lloyd and friends, both human and furry, in 'Girl Shy' (1924).

MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

First-ever rom-com! Harold Lloyd comedy 'Girl Shy' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, 6/19

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

BRANDON, Vt.—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 Saturday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

A live musical score for the movie will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist. The screening is sponsored by local residents Peter and Louise Kelley, and Harold and Jean Somerset.

'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).

The film is bursting with visual comedy typical of the silent era, but the romantic storyline 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 moviehouses, 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'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.

It's the 10th year of the Brandon's popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

Upcoming programs include:

• Saturday, July 17, 7 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy and who emigrated to America to become a popular 1920s Hollywood star; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

'Girl Shy' starring Harold Lloyd will be screened with live music on Saturday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

Harold plays rough in the silent romantic comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924).
 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Back in Brandon, Vt. (finally!) with 'Zorro' on Saturday, June 5—and with new seats!

An original promotional poster for 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). Can you tell who's the star?

Cue music. One year later...

This weekend not only marks the return of Zorro to the big screen, but the return of silent films with live music at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Yes, we're running the pioneering 1920 action/adventure flick 'The Mark of Zorro' (with music by me) on Saturday, June 5 at Brandon Town Hall. 

Showtime is 7 p.m. More info is available in the press release pasted in below. 

The film was supposed to be the opening night attraction of last year's silent film series, when our intention was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Zorro's original release.

But a year ago, the pandemic had caused the world to come down with a prolonged case of "silent filmus interruptus," so the screening (and the entire 2020 season) never happened.

Well, now we'll try again. And the return of silent film to Brandon Town Hall is not only a welcome development, it's apparently big news.

Check out this feature on the town's silent film series that aired recently on WCAX-TV out of Burlington, Vt.

One newsworthy aspect of this year's season that didn't make the TV segment is...new chairs!

Yes, the Town Hall is sporting nice new seats for this season, which I'm sure are at least a little more comfortable that the metal folder chairs used previously.

Thanks to everyone at the town hall for all the efforts to keep things going during the past year's prolonged intermission. It'll be great to be back. 

Although Covid-19 is loosening its grip, precautions will still be taken to minimize the risk of those still vulnerable. 

I know they're setting up the new seats in small groups instead of rows to help people keep their distance. Not sure about other things but just want people to be aware.

Here's the press release for 'The Mark of Zorro,' and hope to see you for a full season of silent cinema in Brandon, Vt.!

*  *  *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (left) makes with the swordplay in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). 

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Brandon Town Hall silent film series reboots with 'Zorro' on Saturday, June 5 

Swashbuckling adventure classic starring Douglas Fairbanks to be screened with live music

BRANDON, Vt.— It was the original swashbuckling blockbuster—the film that first brought 'Zorro' to the big screen, and also turned actor Douglas Fairbanks into Hollywood's first-ever action hero.

'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will once again fill the silver screen, accompanied by live music, on Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center on Main Street in Brandon, Vt.

The screening — the first in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series — will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Admission is free and open to the public. Donations are gladly accepted, with all proceeds to support ongoing town hall renovations.

The Brandon Town Hall will follow all Covid-19 safety recommendations. Face coverings will be required, social distancing will be followed, and capacity limits will be observed.

For more details on safety precautions, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

'The Mark of Zorro,' a major hit when first released, tells the story of young Don Diego Vega, the son of a wealthy ranch owner in Spanish California of the early 19th century.

Witnessing the mistreatment of the poor by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego assumes the identity of "Señor Zorro," a masked figure of great cunning and skill, and vows to bring justice to the region.
 
The film stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who until 'Zorro' had focused on playing traditional all-American leading roles in romantic comedies.

The success of 'Zorro' launched Fairbanks on a series of historical adventure films that went on to rank among the most popular spectacles of the silent era, including 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) and 'Robin Hood' (1922).

The original 'Zorro' film was so popular it inspired one of Hollywood's first big-budget sequels, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), also starring Fairbanks.

Critics have praised 'The Mark of Zorro' for its tight story, fast pace, and exciting action sequences, which include many stunts performed by Fairbanks himself. Steven D. Greydanus of the Decent Films Guide wrote that the silent Zorro "...contains some of the most jaw-dropping stunts I’ve ever seen this side of Jackie Chan."

Film writer Leonard Maltin described 'Zorro' as a "silent classic with Fairbanks as the masked hero...perhaps Doug's best film...nonstop fun!"

This genre-defining swashbuckler was the first movie version of the Zorro legend. The story has since been remade and adapted many times, most recently in 1998 as 'The Mask of Zorro' starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

'The Mark of Zorro' was the first film released by the newly formed United Artists studio, formed in 1920 by Fairbanks with fellow silent film superstars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and director D.W. Griffith.

The silent version of 'Zorro' also played a key role in the formation of the DC Comics Batman character; in the original 1939 story, a young Bruce Wayne sees 'Zorro' on the same night that his parents are later murdered, which leads him to adopt Zorro's mask and cape as a basis for his own transformation into 'Batman.'

The screening of 'Zorro' is sponsored by local residents Gary and Nancy Meffe.

The screening will be accompanied by improvisation-based musical score created live by New Hampshire silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis achieves a traditional "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

Originally set to open in May, this year's silent film series is now starting June for the 2021 season after being cancelled entirely last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The May start was pushed back one month out of an abundance of caution regarding Covid-19, said Dennis Marden of Brandon Town Hall.

The opening presentation of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) has been moved to Saturday, June 5, while the June screening of Harold Lloyd's classic comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924) is now on Saturday, June 19.

It's the 10th year of the town hall's popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

"It's a real treat to return to Brandon for another season of great silent film," said accompanist Rapsis. "If you've never seen one of these movies in a theater, take a chance and check it out. You might be surprised."

Other films in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, June 19, 7 p.m.: 'Girl Shy' (1924) starring Harold Lloyd. Celebrate spring with the original rom-com, a Harold Lloyd gem starring one of the masters of silent comedy and featuring an unforgettable race-to-the-church finish; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Harold and Jean Somerset.

• Saturday, July 17, 7 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy and who emigrated to America to become a popular 1920s Hollywood star; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

See Douglas Fairbanks in the groundbreaking action/adventure 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920), to be shown on Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit www.brandontownhall.com. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Up next: Rin Tin Tin in Plymouth, N.H. on Thursday 6/3, plus pandemic thank you notes

Rin Tin Tin shares a moment on the set with frequent human co-star June Marlowe.

Next up: we go to the dogs with canine superstar Rin Tin Tin in 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925). It's a rip-roaring (and tail-wagging) adventure flick screening with live music by me on Thursday, June 3 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. More details in the press release below.

And as we cruise through this year's Memorial Day weekend (marked by dank, rainy weather in New England), a look at the calendar shows it's the last weekend for me until September that does not include some kind of silent film screening with live music.

To me, that's the surest sign that the Covid-19 pandemic is finally lifting. All of my usual summer series are back up and running in 2021, and there's even a new series starting at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H. 

That's quite a change from this time last year, when ALL screenings were cancelled due to you-know-what. And it's been slim pickings ever since, with screenings later resuming only in the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H., and at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

I'm indebted to these three venues for staying open and trying to run some programming, even at a time when first-run movies and live music acts just weren't realistic options. But they all soldiered on with silent film/live music programs, which did bring in audiences during the pandemic.

At the Town Hall Theatre, owner/operator Dennis Markaverich actually increased the silent film schedule during the pandemic, more than doubling the number of screenings during a typical month. This led to a spate of adventurous programming, including Fritz Lang's two-part 1922 epic 'Dr. Mabuse Der Spieler' last fall and a two-day marathon screening of all 15 chapters of 'The Woman in Grey,' a multi-part serial from 1920.

Dennis also indulged me with a week-long series of silent comedy programs last summer, an aviation film festival last fall, a week of obscure silent features in January, and a three-day recreation of the Kansas Silent Film Festival in February. So it's been a year to remember, for all the right reasons. Thank you, Dennis!

Now I'm looking forward to getting back to accompanying silent films in a wider range of venues this summer, including the Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall (starting Saturday, June 5 with 'The Mark of Zorro'), the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine (starting Wednesday, June 9 with Chaplin's 'The Kid'), and — new this summer! — the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H. with Buster Keaton on Thursday, July 15.

A complete list of all silent film screenings on my calendar is available online by clicking on "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" at the top right corner of this page. Also, send me your e-mail address and you'll get a monthly round-up of upcoming programs of silent film with live music. 

With so many bookings on the calendar, I'm tempted to say it's great to be back. But quite a few venues are still not back to showing regular screenings, especially in the Boston area, where tight restrictions were lifted only this weekend. 

So it may be awhile before we get to enjoy silent films again at the Somerville Theatre, the Coolidge Corner, the Brattle, or other Beantown locales. Stay tuned!

For now, you can catch Rin Tin Tin on Thursday, June 3 at the Flying Monkey. Showtime is 6:30 p.m. and more info in the press release below. See you at the movies!

*    *    *

The opening title of 'Clash of the Wolves.'

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rin Tin Tin leaps back into action Thursday, June 3 at Flying Monkey


Legendary dog star races to the rescue in 'Clash of the Wolves' silent adventure film, presented with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.. — He couldn't speak. But that was no handicap for a star during the silent film era.

He was Rin Tin Tin, the legendary German Shepherd dog whose popularity rivaled that of any human performer when the movies were brand new.

See for yourself on Thursday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m., when the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center screens a vintage Rin Tin Tin silent adventure film with live music.

In 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925), Rin Tin Tin plays a wild wolf who befriends a prospector; together they hunt down a criminal intent on jumping the prospector's claim and stealing his girl.

'Clash of the Wolves' will be shown at the Flying Monkey, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission $10 per person, tickets available at the door or via www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and performer who specializes in scoring silent film.

An original lobby card promoting 'Clash of the Wolves.'

Rin Tin Tin films were produced by then-struggling Warner Brothers and proved immensely popular around the world, with audiences marveling at the then-new German Shepherd breed's feats of derring-do as he out-smarted his human co-stars.

At the time, studio executives referred to Rin Tin Tin "the mortgage lifter" because the dog's pictures helped rescue the ailing studio from bankruptcy.

Rin Tin Tin was so popular, he was named "Best Actor" at the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929 until ceremony officials decided on a re-vote in favor of human performer Emil Jannings.

To improvise a live musical score for 'Clash of the Wolves,' silent film musician Jeff Rapsis will use a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra.

"The Rin Tin Tin films are great pictures for audience reaction, even today," Rapsis said. "They're full of fast-paced action, great stunts, and above all they really move!"

"If you're new to the art form of silent film, seeing the Rin Tin Tin pictures in a theater with live music is a terrific way to get acquainted with the enduring power of this kind of movie-making," Rapsis said.

Rin Tin Tin remained popular throughout the silent film era and until his death in 1932, which made headlines around the globe. But his progeny went on to star in later films and TV shows, keeping the name before the public for generations.

Rin Tin Tin's descendants are still bred, continuing the bloodline to the present day. The ongoing Rin Tin Tin phenomenon inspired a recent book, "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean.

‘Clash of the Wolves' (1925) starring Rin Tin Tin will be shown with live music on Thursday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. For more info, call (603) 536-2551.

Admission $10 per person, tickets available at the door or online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com.
 
Rin Tin Tin meets with studio executives to plot his next career move.
 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

This Sunday: the exciting finale of 'Officer 444' plus 'Old Ironsides' (1926) at Town Hall Theatre

Original promotional art for 'Old Ironsides' (1926).

At the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., this Sunday marks the end of a journey.

That's because we're running the long-awaited final chapter of 'Officer 444,' a ten-part police adventure serial that we've been screening since January.

And what a long road it's been. Join us as we learn the identity of Officer 444's arch-nemesis, 'The Frog,' and find out how justice will be served. Or something like that.

I have to say: nine chapters into this tale, and it still hasn't made much sense. 

But we'll finish it up on Sunday, May 23 as the lead-in to our "pre-Memorial Day weekend" screening of 'Old Ironsides' (1926), a swashbuckling dramatization of the early years of the USS Constitution. 

And just doing some math...if the real USS Constitution (still afloat in Charlestown, Mass.) was commissioned in 1797, that means it was 129 years old when this film was released.

And right now, we're 95 years from when 'Old Ironsides' (1926) was released. So it won't be too much longer until we reach the point when this film is closer to the ship's launching than to the present day.

The fun begins at 2 p.m. More info in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

*    *    *

George O'Brien and Esther Ralston in 'Old Ironsides' (1926).

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Old Ironsides' to screen on Sunday, May 23 at Town Hall Theatre

Sea-faring epic recreates early years of USS Constitution, built to battle pirates; presented with live music

WILTON, N.H.—Relive the early days of the USS Constitution, when the ship was launched by a young nation to battle pirates off Africa's Barbary Coast.

'Old Ironsides' (1926), an epic silent adventure film, will be screened with live music on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; patrons are required to maintain social distance and wear masks until seated.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

The film tells the story of the early days of the USS Constitution, which today is the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. Launched in 1797, she was one of six original frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.

Nicknamed 'Old Ironsides,' she was originally scheduled to be broken up in 1830, the end of her normal service life. But the ship was saved that year by a poetic tribute published by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The poem supplied the story for 'Old Ironsides' nearly a century later.

Directed by James Cruze, 'Old Ironsides' is an action/adventure film that traces the story of an early USS Constitution crew member.

The crew member, a gunner, is shanghaied while ashore in Boston and forced to serve on another ship, the Esther, a commercial vessel bound for Italy.

Among those on board are a young boy running away from home, and the daughter of the ship's owner.

After crossing the Atlantic, the Esther is attacked by pirates off the coast of Algiers in the south Mediterranean Sea, with the crew and passengers taken captive.

Will the USS Constitution arrive in time to save the ship's daughter from being presented as a gift to a Sultan in Algiers?

The film, a big-budget extravaganza from Paramount Pictures, boasts an all-star silent era cast that includes Wallace Beery, George Bancroft, Charles Farrell, and Esther Ralston. Among the crew members is Boris Karloff, famous later for his starring role in 'Frankenstein' (1931).

'Old Ironsides' was filmed at sea off the coast of California's Catalina Island, using a full-scale replica of the original ship. The movie was praised for its authenticity and commitment to historical accuracy. Only a handful of scenes used small-scale models, a rarity for the time.

In addition to its elaborate battle scenes, the film is notable for its high quotient of comedy. At the time, Hollywood was first starting to make motion pictures with stories that delivered all-around entertainment. Cruze was among the directors becoming adept at integrating comedy, drama, romance, and action all into one spectacular audience-pleasing package.

Surprisingly, 'Old Ironsides' sank at the box office in its original release. Critics praised the film, but Jazz Age audiences failed to flock to the historic epic, which was released at the height of the Roaring 1920s.

See the sea-faring epic 'Old Ironsides' (1926) on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more information, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Show me 'The Money!' See French epic 'L'Argent' (1928) on Thursday, 5/13 in Plymouth, N.H.

Original promotional poster for the French silent film epic 'L'Argent' (1928).

Coming up next: music for 'L'Argent' (1928), one of those sprawling biggies from Europe and a film I've never tried scoring before.

Well, there's a first time for everything, and in this case it's Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center. 

More details about the film and the screening are in the press release below. But first, a few notes from yesterday's screening of the silent version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

When I put this on the schedule, I didn't realize it would be Mother's Day. And it also turned out to be one of those sparkling spring days we get here in New England before the summertime humidity settles in. 

Even so, the Town Hall Theatre was about half-full with people ready for an adventure. So it was successful from the exhibitor's point of view.

Alas, I have to say Universal's restoration and reissue of the picture turned out to be something of a botched job. 

The film looks fantastic, as excellent first-generation material survives. 

But a good chunk of the middle of the film has scenes that are clearly out of order, which really really  detracts from the experience.

And the thing is, it's not one of those cases of a film being intentionally vague, or deliberately misleading, or whatever. There are just scenes that are obviously out of order. It's that simple.

Example: We get dramatic scenes of libertine adventurer Charles Denver on 'Mysterious Island,' lost and looking insane in the jungle, with no explanation of how he got there. Then, a bit later, we see him back at sea on his well-equipped yacht, deciding to get rowed ashore. And so on.

Attention Universal: if you want input about how to fix this, I have about 60 people in southern New Hampshire who would be happy to give you notes. It can't be that hard. Did anyone bother to screen this before it got released?

I wonder if it was an issue of money. And that topic takes us to the next silent film adventure on the calendar: the ambitious 1928 French epic 'L'Argent' (meaning 'Money') from director Marcel L'Herbier.

Catch a rare chance to see this piece of cinematic history on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center up in Plymouth, N.H. 

More info below. See you there! 

P.S. Badly punning promotional catchphrase: "See 'L'Argent!' The Change Will Do You Good!"

P.P.S.: "L'Argent!' You Can Bank On It!"

P.P.P.S.: "L'Argent!' A Film Of Great Interest!"

Okay, I'll stop now.

*   *   *

Another piece of original promotional art. Is it just me or do his fingers look like some kind of unusual 1920s French neckwear?

WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film epic ‘L'Argent’ (1928) at Flying Monkey on Thursday, May 13

Innovative French blockbuster about high finance and corruption to be screened with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A rarely shown early French movie that broke new cinematic ground is returning to the big screen at the Flying Monkey.

'L'Argent' (1928), a drama about big business corruption, will run on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth.

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

"This is a rare chance to see a terrific film as it was intended to shown: not on TV at home or on a laptop, but on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said.

Admission is $10 per person, general admission. Tickets are available online at flyinghmonkeynh.org or at the door.

The Flying Monkey continues to observe all recommended Covid-19 safety protocols. Capacity is limited to allow for social distancing, and patrons are required to wear facial coverings until seated.

Loosely based on Emile Zola's 1891 novel of the same name, 'L'Argent' (French for 'Money') follows the story of an embattled bank speculator in Paris who backs a scheme for an daredevil aviator to fly across the Atlantic.

Intended to revive his flagging business empire, this desperate adventure brings about personal and financial ruin for an ever-widening circle of people.

The movie, conceived on a grand scale by director Marcel L'Herbier, originally ran 3½ hours. The version available today has been trimmed to 2½ hours. 

At the time, L'Herbier faced intense criticism for updating the Zola's classic story from the 1860s to the 1920s.

The director argued that Zola's tale spoke to timeless truths, and that updating it to the then-present day would show its universality.

The international cast includes two performers, Brigette Helm and Alfred Abel, who played key roles a year earlier in Fritz Lang's futuristic epic 'Metropolis' (1927).

'L'Argent' won acclaim for its visual design. The movie features enormous sets (some specially built, some borrowed from real life) and memorable camerawork by cinematographer Jules Kruger.

Some scenes required location shooting with large numbers of extras. The departure of the transatlantic flight was filmed at Le Bourget airport. For three days over the weekend of Pentecost L'Herbier was allowed to take over the Paris Bourse, employing 2,000 extras in the stock-exchange scenes.

Still more challenging was a night-time scene in the Place de l'Opéra which had to be specially lit and filled with people to convey the feverish excitement of waiting for news of the flight.

Upon release at the very end of the silent era, the film enjoyed some commercial success, particularly in Germany.

Its reception among critics was more mixed, as some regarded it as a visual triumph while others found scant justification in the story for the indulgence in spectacular sets and energetic camerawork.

In the 1970s, a detailed study by critic Noël Burch, who argued that L'Argent was a ground-breaking work and one of the cinema's greatest achievements, launched a re-evaluation of the film.

As a result, Marcel L'Herbier's  assessment that this was the summit of his silent career has found wider endorsement

In creating music for silent films, accompanist Jeff Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. No music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

'L'Argent' (1928) will be shown on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person general admission. Tickets are available online at flyingmonkeynh.com or at the door. For more information, call the Flying Monkey at (603) 536-2551.