Saturday, January 16, 2021

Calling all kids! 'Peter Pan' (1924) with live music on Sunday, 1/24 at Wilton's Town Hall Theatre

Original promotional art for 'Peter Pan' (1924). 

Next up: the original silent film version of 'Peter Pan' (1924), which we're showing with live music on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

I'm big on this one for people (especially families with kids) who aren't regular silent film fans because it makes a great impression. In fact, I vividly recall the first time I experienced it. 

It was in March 2000, and the first time I attended the Kansas Silent Film Festival. I was there to see (and hear) the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra perform, and used a Delta flight pass to journey out there.

'Peter Pan' was the first film they accompanied. Like most people, I had no idea there was a silent film version, and it turned out to be a revelation. From the moment Nana the family St. Bernard came to life in the opening scene, I was a believer.

I've gone back to Kansas every year since, eventually joining their stable of accompanists once I started doing music for silent film screenings. 

So, in an update from the present, I'm sad to report that just yesterday we learned that this year's Kansas festival has been cancelled due to coronavirus. 

Some online presentations might be staged this year to tide us over. But we'll need to wait until February of 2022 for the next Kansas Silent Film Festival, which by default will now become the 25th "annual."

However, our screening of 'Peter Pan' next Sunday is a go. (That's Betty Bronson in the lead role: she was handpicked by author J.M. Barrie to play the part.) 

Our ability to show films during an ongoing pandemic is thanks largely to the Town Hall Theatre's ability to comply with all Covid-19 public health recommendations to keep patrons safe. It's mostly common sense: masks on until seated, social distancing, frequent cleaning and hand sanitizing. 

We've been doing silent films with live music since the theater reopened last July, with no problems so far.

In fact, we've just completed a week-long series, 'The Storytellers,' which included screenings of five big features five days in a row. That's a lot of music, but I enjoy the occasional multi-day marathon as it enables me to get deeply in the accompaniment zone. 

For some reason, after maybe the third day of a run of continuous shows, I begin to be capable of things that I can't explain. Music seems to flow directly from the keyboard—there's a fluency that's otherwise not present. Maybe it's fatigue-induced.

Well, with no screenings this coming week, I should be well rested for 'Peter Pan' on Sunday, Jan. 24. Also, I'm pleased to report that Jordan Rich of WBZ-AM 1030, the all-news radio station in Boston, recently recorded a "New England Weekend" segment promoting our screening. 

You can listen to it here: New England Weekend

For more information and details, check out the press release below. Hope to see all you kids (and kids at heart) who won't grow up on Sunday, Jan. 24 at the Town Hall Theater!

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For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • 

Silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 24

Original big-screen adaptation of magical fantasy classic to be shown with live musical score

WILTON, N.H.—It was the film that introduced movie-goers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates.

It was the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan,' a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film was a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.

Movie fans can see for themselves when the first 'Peter Pan' (1924) is screened on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

Admission is free; 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, including reduced seating capacity.

Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent 'Peter Pan' maintains its freshness and charm nearly a century after its original release.

In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland.

There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan's sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may return home.

Though the Peter Pan story is well-known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also merchandising that includes a ubiquitous brand of peanut butter), the tale was new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s.

In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the first-ever screen adaptation, though he retained control over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.

After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrence, who invented the now-iconic villainous pirate persona that would become a Hollywood legend.

The film's highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film's memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight.

'Peter Pan' also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook's nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.

After the film's release, no copies of the original 'Peter Pan' were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended.

The show also includes Chapter 2 of "Officer 444" (1926), a weekly serial in which Officer 444 pursues "The Frog," a criminal mastermind with plans to take over the world. Subsequent chapters will be shown at future Town Hall Theatre silent film screenings.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 100 performances per year, and has created music for more than 300 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

'Peter Pan' is the latest in the Town Hall Theatre's series of silent films with live music.

The series gives movie-goers a chance to rediscover the experience of silent cinema presented as it was intended: on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all the original elements together, the films of early Hollywood still come to life," said Rapsis. "These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

Upcoming programs include:

• Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, 2 p.m.: "The Freshman" (1925). In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, Harold Lloyd's blockbuster hit comedy about a college boy who dreams of success on the gridiron. One of Lloyd's all-time best!

• Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, 2 p.m.: "Seventh Heaven" (1927) Celebrate Valentine's Day with Frank Borzage's legendary tale of romance on the eve of World War I. Leading lady Janet Gaynor won the very first Academy Award for Best Actress for his work in this moving, emotional tribute to the timeless power of love.

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 24 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 to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

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

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