Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Brattle Cinema celebrates National Silent Movie Day on 9/29 with Buster Keaton, Paul Leni

From 'Cat and the Canary' (1927): Tully Marshall may not make it to Silent Movie Day.

Tomorrow marks the first-ever National Silent Movie Day, and to help celebrate I'll be accompanying two films at the legendary Brattle Cinema, just off Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass.

First up at 6 p.m.: Buster Keaton in 'Seven Chances' (1925), a crackerjack comedy that's long been an audience favorite and includes one of the all-time great cinematic chases.

Then at 8 p.m., we switch into "thriller" mode with Paul Leni's 'Cat and the Canary' (1927), a tale of a haunted mansion, a beautiful young heiress, relatives with grudges, and an escaped maniac on the loose. 

Both films are great entertainment, and so are a fine way to make the most of National Silent Movie Day. For specifics on each, check the press release below. (I've just checked the Brattle's website and good seats are available, but act fast.)

The Brattle will keep the party going on Thursday, Sept. 30 with screenings of Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) and Fritz Lang's sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), although with recorded scores rather than live music. 

Still, worth checking out for the chance to see these films as intended: in a theater, with a live audience. These conditions were baked into the films: how they were structured and paced, and how they were experienced. It's something you miss when you watch them online or in your living room.

There's more on National Silent Movie Day online at this website.

Thanks to Ned Hinkle and Ivy Molan at the Brattle (that's the theater above) for continuing to make room for silent film with live music as part of the Brattle's programming. 

Get more insight into the Brattle's approach by checking out a recent a podcast earlier this month titled "Enjoy the Silence."

Even if you're nowhere near Harvard Square, get thee to a theater—any theater—celebrating National Silent Movie Day tomorrow. You'll have a lot to talk about! 

Okay, here's the press release with info about tomorrow's program:

*    *    *

Time for 'National Silent Movie Day: Buster Keaton in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

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

Brattle Theatre to celebrate first-ever 'National Silent Movie Day' on Wednesday, Sept. 29

Double helping of classic Buster Keaton comedy plus thriller 'Cat and the Canary' to screen with live music

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—To celebrate the first-ever National Silent Film Day, the Brattle Theatre is doubling down

On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the iconic moviehouse will show two rarely screened silent feature films, both with live musical accompaniment.

At 6 p.m., Buster Keaton stars in 'Seven Chances' (1925), a farce in which Buster stands to inherit a fortune if he's married—which he isn't.

At 8 p.m., the Brattle will screen 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), a spooky haunted house comedy/thriller from visionary director Paul Leni.

Live music will be created for both films by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based performer who specializes in music for silent film screenings.

Admission for each show is $14 per person / $12 students, seniors and Brattle members. Tickets are available online at www.brattlefilm.org.

Each program requires a separate ticket.

Adapted from a stage play, the story of 'Seven Chances' finds Buster learning that he'll inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot go awry. But then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who relentlessly pursue Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of a now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999), a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

Buster and would-be brides crowd a church in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

'The Cat and the Canary' stands as the original movie thriller—the first picture to feature the reading of a will in a haunted mansion complete with clutching hands, a masked killer, disappearing bodies, and secret passageways.

Silent film starlet Laura LaPlante leads the cast as a young heiress who must spend the night in the creepy old mansion, which is filled with relatives who all have motives to scare her into leaving. Meanwhile, a dangerous escaped lunatic is loose on the grounds. Can she and the others make it through the night?

Created for Universal Pictures by German filmmaker Paul Leni, 'The Cat and the Canary' proved popular enough to inspire several remakes, including one starring Bob Hope. It was also the forbearer of all the great Universal horror classics of the 1930s and '40s.

The two films are being shown on Wednesday, Sept. 29 to celebrate National Silent Film Day. The day was created earlier this year by a group of silent film archivists and scholars.

The date was established to encourage the exhibition and appreciation of the vast amount of cinema produced prior to 1929, before the advent of synchronized soundtracks and dialogue.

"Silent film wasn't just a primitive ancestor of today's motion pictures," said Rapsis, the accompanist. "At its peak, it was a whole different art form that required filmmakers to tell stories visually."

Films were also created from the ground up to be shown under certain specific conditions: in a theater with a large screen, with live music, and with an audience—the larger, the better.

Martha Maddox and Laura LaPlante share a cheerful moment from 'Cat and the Canary' (1927).

"These films weren't intended to be shown at home with just you and your dog watching," Rapsis said. "But when you put them on the big screen, then add live music and an audience, and movies from that era really come to life."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound.

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand or made up on the spot. 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.

"It's surprising to people today, but during the silent era there was generally no 'official' score to a film," Rapsis said. "What I do is in the tradition of the era's theater organists, creating music live on the fly as the film is shown."

"It's a bit of a high-wire act, but the immediacy of live improvised accompaniment is a big part of the unique experience of silent film," Rapsis said.

The Brattle continues silent film programming on Thursday, Sept. 30 with Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) at 6 p.m. and the sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927) at 8 p.m., both with recorded music scores.

'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m., followed by 'The Cat and the Canary' at 8 p.m., at the historic Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St. in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Both films will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis.

Admission for each film is $14 per person / $12 students, seniors, and Brattle members. Separate admission required for each show. For tickets and more information, call the theater at (617) 876-6837 or visit www.brattlefilm.org.

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