Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Easter's on it's way, so is 'Ben Hur': silent epic with live music Thursday, 4/1 at Flying Monkey

I'm accompanying the great silent epic 'Ben Hur' (1925) on April Fool's Day, and that's no joke!

Just look at this poster, put together by graphic artist Lisa Landry:

So get thee up to the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. for a screening of this major hunk of cinema (and I don't mean just Ramon Novarro) seen the way it was intended — on the big screen, in a theater, with live music, and with a (socially distanced) audience.

Here's the press release with a lot more information. 

And I've corrected the spelling of "Charleton Heston," who was listed as "Charleston Heston" in the original release. 

But I'm sure he was a good dancer...

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From the original silent version of 'Ben Hur' (1925).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film epic ‘Ben Hur’ (1925) at Flying Monkey on Thursday, April 1

Prelude to Easter: Hollywood's original Biblical-era blockbuster to be screened with live music at historic venue

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—One of early Hollywood's greatest epics returns to the big screen with a showing of 'Ben Hur, A Tale of The Christ' (1925) on Thursday, April 1 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.

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

'Ben Hur,' starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, was among the first motion pictures to tell a Biblical-era story on a large scale.

The film, which helped establish MGM as a leading Hollywood studio, employed a cast of thousands and boasted action sequences including a large-scale sea battle.

The film is highlighted by a spell-binding chariot race that still leaves audiences breathless.

Set in the Holy Land at the time of Christ's birth, 'Ben Hur' tells the story of a Jewish family in Jerusalem whose fortune is confiscated by the Romans and its members jailed.

The enslaved family heir, Judah Ben Hur (played by Novarro, a leading silent-era heartthrob) is inspired by encounters with Christ to pursue justice. This leads him to a series of epic adventures in his quest to find his mother and sister and restore his family fortune.

The film is particularly appropriate for the weeks leading up to Easter, which is celebrated on Sunday, April 4. (Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday, May 2 in 2021.)

'Ben Hur,' directed by Fred Niblo, was among the most expensive films of the silent era, taking two years to make and costing between $4 million and $6 million. When released in 1925, it became a huge hit for the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.

The chariot race scene in 'Ben Hur,' with Novarro and other cast members driving teams of horses at high speed on a mammoth dirt racetrack in a gigantic replica of a Roman stadium, was among the most complicated and dangerous sequences filmed in the silent era. It remains noted for its tight editing, dramatic sweep, and sheer cinematic excitement.

The chariot race was re-created virtually shot for shot in MGM's 1959 remake, and more recently imitated in the pod race scene in 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.'

Besides Novarro in the title role, the film stars Francis X. Bushman as Messala, the Roman soldier who imprisons the Hur family; Betty Bronson as Mary, mother of Jesus; May McAvoy as Ben Hur's sister Esther; and Claire McDowell as Ben Hur's mother.

'Ben Hur' was based on the best-selling 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace, which interwove the story of Christ's life with the Ben Hur clan, a fictional Jewish merchant family.

Celebrity "extras" in the chariot race scene included stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Lionel Barrymore, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and a very young Clark Gable.

The film was remade by MGM in the 1950s in a color and wide-screen version starring Charleton Heston that garnered 11 Academy Awards. Some critics believe the original 1925 version offers superior drama and story-telling.

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.

A scene from 'Ben Hur, A Tale of the Christ.'

'Ben Hur, A Tale of The Christ' (1925) will be shown on Thursday, April 1 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.

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