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.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

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 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 or call (603) 536-2551. For more about the music, visit

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