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). 

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.

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