Friday, July 1, 2022

Next up: Harry Langdon in 'The Strong Man' (1926) on Wednesday, July 6 in Plymouth, N.H.

Harry Langdon stars in 'The Strong Man' (1926), screening on Wednesday, July 6.

Happy 4th of July weekend!

I'm be using the time to recover from last Wednesday's screening of 'Robin Hood' (1922) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. 

It's a fun film to create music for, but also exhausting. Not in a bad way—it's just one of those movies I find really demands the best I can bring to it, which can be draining.

I like to think I bring that attitude to any film I accompany. Once the lights go down, I should be willing to give my all to make a film work. 

It's just that some films, 'Robin Hood' among them, seem to draw more heavily on the battery, so to speak. 

So now I'm in "recharge" mode, which will get me ready to do music for a screening of Harry Langdon's 'The Strong Man' (1926) on Wednesday, July 6 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse up in Plymouth, N.H.

To help promote the show, I went to look up a post in which I compared Harry in 'The Strong Man' to Jesus, and I was surprised to find it's from more than 10 years ago!

Check it out: Harry Langdon as Jesus.

Or just check out the press release below. Either way, hope to see you up in Plymouth after the long weekend!

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Harry finds himself over a barrel in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Frank Capra's very first movie highlights Flying Monkey silent film program on Wednesday, July 6

Screening features Harry Langdon's classic comedy 'The Strong Man' shown with live music; fun family activity suitable for all ages

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — Silent film with live music returns to the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in July with a showing of an uproarious comedy starring Harry Langdon.

The screening of 'The Strong Man' on Wednesday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m., gives families a chance to enjoy a fun activity suitable for all ages.

General admission is $10 per person. The Flying Monkey is located at 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Directing 'The Strong Man' was young first-timer Frank Capra, who would later go on to create such Hollywood classics as 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946).

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 scores for silent films.

'The Strong Man' tells the story of a World War I soldier (Langdon) who, following his discharge, finds work as assistant to a circus strong man. As the act travels the country, Langdon continually searches for a girl he corresponded with while stationed overseas in the military.

The search leads to a town controlled by Prohibition-era gangsters, which forces Harry to test the limits of his own inner strength even as he looks for his dream girl. Can Harry triumph over the bad guys? And is love more powerful than brute strength?

The feature-length film showcases the unique child-like personality of Langdon, who is largely forgotten today. For a brief time in the 1920s, however, he rivaled Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's top movie clown.

Langdon's popularity, which grew quickly in the last years of the silent era, fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies starting in 1929.

Harry Langdon in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

'The Strong Man' was selected in 2007 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In recent years, 'The Strong Man' has been recognized as a major achievement of the silent film era—a satisfying and timeless balance of emotion and comedy.

"A little tragedy and a lot of laughs can be seen in 1926's The Strong Man," wrote critic Richard von Busack in 2007. "Director Frank Capra's energy and sturdy plot sense counterpoint Langdon's wonderful strangeness."

'The Strong Man' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"The Flying Monkey's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

Frank Capra's 'The Strong Man' will be screened with live music on Wednesday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.


Thursday, June 23, 2022

'Robin Hood' (1922) 100th anniversary screening Wednesday, June 29 in Ogunquit, Maine

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the title role of 'Robin Hood' (1922).

Up next on Wednesday, June 29: a 100th anniversary screening of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'Robin Hood' (1922) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Details in the press release below. But first, a report from last night's screening of Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass.

Shown via DCP provided by the Harold Lloyd Trust, to my eyes the film never looked better. Really! Every subtle background detail was rendered perfectly on the big screen in the Coolidge's main auditorium.

All the exquisitely framed views of life in small town America (in the film, Hickoryville) got me thinking: in what year, exactly, is 'The Kid Brother' set?

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd share the somewhat ambiguous atmosphere in 'The Kid Brother.'

I don't think I've ever encountered any solid information about this, and the film itself offers few clues. One thing to note: not a single automobile appears on screen. Does that mean it was in the pre-auto 19th century? But then again, would a car-less landscape be that unommon in truly rural small-town America of the 1920s?

Contrast this ambiguity with 'Speedy' (1928), Lloyd's next film, in which the time and place plays a leading role. 'Speedy' was definitely set in New York City of the 1920s—the film's story could not have worked otherwise, not to mention Babe Ruth's cameo appearance.

Although 'The Kid Brother' no hard evidence of a specific year such as calendars or dates on paperwork. Of the two official documents concerning the village dam, one is undated, and the other simply reads "May 6."

Maybe that lack of specificity is what Lloyd was going for? However it came about, Lloyd and his team set the story in an idealized version of small town America in the then-just-recent past: no specific year, just close enough to be familiar and distant enough to evoke a kind of nostalgia. 

The setting of 'The Kid Brother' seems to be designed to evoke simpler times of not-too-long ago: within our experience, but not current. At the time of the film's release (1927), it would have worked for adult viewers of any age, from knowing young folks of the Roaring '20s to people who grew up before the Civil War.

And now, almost a hundred years later, it still works. Whether or not we notice the lack of automobiles or other signs of certain eras, 'The Kid Brother' is not of today, but of a kind of idealized past.

This, I think, helps create just the right environment for the story to unfold, and for us to embrace it each in our own individual way, even as we're sitting there together in a theater enjoying what's ultimately a communal experience.

So it's a little like how F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise' is set not in a specific time or place, but depicts an abstract vision of country life and city streets. Even the characters don't have names! But their anonymity contributes to the timelessness and universality of the story.

There's something similar about 'The Kid Brother.' Although the characters do have names, there's an ambiguity about time and place that seems deliberate. Time? We don't really know, exactly. Place? Like Springfield in the Simpsons, it's never clear in what state Hickoryville is located.

Nearly 100 years after 'The Kid Brother' was released, it still works. To audiences today, Hickoryville still looks like a place we ourselves might imagine if asked to envision a community from time when things were simpler and more innocent—like what might appear in a storybook from our childhood.

Many thanks to Martin and Becky Normand, and all the supporters of the Coolidge's 'Sounds of Silence,' for the opportunity to create live music for a timeless masterpiece that's among Lloyd's greatest achievements. 

Next up for me at the Coolidge: live music for a midnight screening (!) on Saturday, July 30 of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920), which I understand is part of an ongoing carnival-themed horror film series. Hope you'll stay up late and join us.

But coming up sooner, it's 'Robin Hood' (1922) on Wednesday, June 29 at the Leavitt in Ogunquit. More info in the press release below:


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Original poster promoting 'Robin Hood,' the top-grossing film of 1922.

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Robin Hood' leaps into action at Leavitt Theatre on Wednesday, June 29

It's off to Sherwood Forest for the 100th anniversary of legendary silent blockbuster, screened with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—He robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and was the top box office attraction of 1922.

He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starring in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' the original movie adaptation of the legendary tale.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Ogunquit.

Admission is $12 per person. Live music for the silent 'Robin Hood' will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

Set in medieval England, 'Robin Hood' tells the tale of the Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks), a dashing nobleman who joins King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Wallace Beery) on a Crusade to the Holy Land.

Huntingdon later returns to England to find Richard's cruel brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse), falsely claiming the throne, enriching his aristocratic cronies and tyrannizing the citizenry.

Huntingdon takes to the woods and becomes 'Robin Hood,' soon joined by a band of merry men who undermine Prince John's reign by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Can Robin Hood and his men vanquish their enemy, the High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery)? And can they rescue Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett), Huntingdon's betrothed, from the evil clutches of Prince John?

Along the way, Fairbanks has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills in archery, fencing, and acrobatics.

Big film, big megaphone: Allan Dwan directs 'Robin Hood,' with an out-of-costume Fairbanks standing by.

Directed by Allan Dwan, 'Robin Hood' amazed audiences with its enormous sets that recreated in full scale the castles and villages of medieval England.

At a time when $200,000 was a hefty movie budget, 'Robin Hood' cost $1 million to produce.

But the film proved an enormous hit, becoming the top box office attraction of 1922 and earning $2.5 million in its initial release through United Artists, the distribution company Fairbanks formed with fellow stars Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and his wife, Mary Pickford.

Fairbanks, among the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts.

He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Lady Marian (Enid Bennett) is romanced by Douglas Fairbanks in 'Robin Hood' (1922).

Also in the cast for 'Robin Hood' is Alan Hale Sr., who made such an impression at Little John that he was cast in the same role in the 1938 remake starring Errol Flynn. (Hale's son, Alan Hale Jr., played the role of the Skipper on the 1960s television series "Gilligan's Island.")

Live music for 'Robin Hood' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

"Seeing a Fairbanks picture in a theater with live music and an audience is a classic movie experience," Rapsis said.

Rapsis emphasized the unique value of seeing early cinema as it was originally presented.

"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. Put it all together again, and you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

The Leavitt's silent film series runs through October, concluding with a Halloween screening of 'Der Golem' (1920) on Saturday, Oct. 29.

A total of nine programs will be offered, including Buster Keaton in 'Battling Butler' and 'The Temptress (1926), a Greta Garbo drama with two very different endings.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nearly a century.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

Following 'Robin Hood' on Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m.: Buster Keaton in 'Battling Butler' (1926). Keaton plays Alfred Butler, a pampered rich idler with the same name as a feared boxing champion. When a girl he's pursuing thinks he's the fighter, Keaton has no choice but to start training. Uproarious 1926 comedy!

• Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m.: Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926). MGM drama with Garbo destroying the lives of men everywhere. Unusual in that the film was made with two very different endings per order of studio boss Louis B. Mayer; both will be screened.

• Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.: Clara Bow stars in 'Mantrap' (1926). Battle-of-the-sexes comedy; city boy Richard Dix tries to win his girlfriend by taking up the rugged cowboy life, only to find it not so rugged. Rarely screened comedic gem from the height of the silent era.

• Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922). Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Will Rudy choose the pure love of Carmen, or the sinister charms of the exotic Doña Sol? And will he survive the choice?

• Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.: Rare race drama: 'The Flying Ace' (1926). All-Black motion picture added to the National Film Registry last year. Rare example of 'race' cinema, produced for audiences in black-only theaters commonly found in segregated parts of the nation.

• Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.: F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924). Towering performance by Emil Jannings as aging doorman at posh city hotel whose unexpected change of jobs robs him of self-respect and identity. Directed by Murnau as a purely visual tale, no dialogue intertitles.

• Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.: 'Der Golem' (1920). Prepare for Halloween with one very weird flick! In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.

'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Tickets $12 per person, general seating.

For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Wednesday, June 22: Live music for Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927) at Coolidge Corner Theatre

The interior of the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, which will be 100 years old next year.

Back at the blog after a busy stretch that included screenings of Harold Lloyd's comedy 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926) at the Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine and Mabel Normand in 'Mickey' (1918) at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H. 

If you've ever wondered what the interior of the Leavitt Theatre looks like, the above picture tells the story. (My new iPhone camera is pretty good in low light; before this, photos never really turned out well.)

The interior, shown here as the audience for 'For Heaven's Sake' begins filtering in, hasn't changed much since 1923. The wooden floor is raked at a steep angle, and many of the seats are original, with thick wire loops underneath so gentlemen can stow their hats!

One difference: originally, back in the era of 1:1.33 aspect ratio and carbon arc projection, the proscenium would have been filled by a giant, brilliant image! However, nowadays the theater is configured for wide screen ratios, so only the bottom 3/5 of the screen area is used. Pity.

This week it's more Harold Lloyd, as I'll be accompanying 'The Kid Brother' (1927) on Wednesday, June 22 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Lots more info in the press release below:

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Harold Lloyd hangs on in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Coolidge Corner to screen silent comedy masterpiece 'The Kid Brother' with live music on Wednesday, June 22

Harold Lloyd program latest in theater's popular 'Sounds of Silence' series spotlighting silent films with live accompaniment

BROOKLINE, Mass.—He was the most popular film star of the 1920s, routinely outpacing comic rivals Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton at the box office.

He was Harold Lloyd, the boy next door who could wind up hanging from the hands of a clock high atop a skyscraper. Audiences loved Lloyd's mix of visual comedy and thrilling adventures, making him one of the most recognized icons of early Hollywood.

See for yourself when 'The Kid Brother' (1927), a feature-length film regarded as Lloyd's masterpiece, is screened on Wednesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $23 per person.

The show is the latest in the Coolidge Corner's acclaimed 'Sounds of Silents' series, which gives audiences the opportunity to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

In 'The Kid Brother,' meek country boy Harold Hickory (Lloyd) looks up to his tough father, but is overshadowed by two burly older brothers. When a traveling circus and medicine show brings trouble to town and possible disgrace to the Hickory clan, can Harold save the family name?

From that simple situation, Lloyd weaves a roller coaster of a tale that critics and film historians say show him at the height of his powers as a filmmaker and comedian.

"The first silent film I ever saw that made me actually stand up and cheer," wrote critic Steven D. Greydanus of The Decent Films Guide. "As a first introduction to silent film, I would pick 'The Kid Brother' over the best of Chaplin or Keaton every time."

"Unlike Chaplin’s Little Tramp, who was as much defined by his bizarre eccentricities as his bowler and cane, Lloyd’s character, with his trademark spectacles, was an instantly likable, sympathetic boy-next-door type, a figure as winsome and approachable as Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks," Greydanus wrote.

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in 'The Kid Brother.'

The film co-stars Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Eddie Boland, and Constantine Romanoff.

Harold Lloyd, along with Chaplin and Keaton, stands as one of the three masters of silent comedy. Though Lloyd's reputation later faded due to unavailability of his movies, the recent re-release of most of his major films on home media has spurred a reawakening of interest in his work and a renewed interest in theatrical screenings.

"Seeing a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with live music and an audience is one of the great experiences of the cinema of any era," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who will accompany the film.

"Films such as 'The Kid Brother' were designed for a specific environment. If you can put those conditions together again, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'The Kid Brother' will be screened with live music on Wednesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass. as part of the theater's 'Sounds of Silents' series.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $23 per person.

For more info and to buy tickets, visit www.coolidge.org or call (617) 734-2500.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Next up: Harold Lloyd's 'For Heaven's Sake' on Wednesday, June 15 in Ogunquit, Maine

Harold says his prayers in 'For Heavan's Sake' (1926).

Another sign that summer is fast approaching: this week marks the start of this year's season of silent film with live music at the venerable Leavitt Theater in the seaside resort town of Ogunquit, Maine.

This year, silent films will be shown on Wednesday nights at the Leavitt, a vintage venue that's been in the movie business since 1923. 

First up: comedy! On Wednesday, June 15, it's Harold Lloyd in 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926). Showtime is 7 p.m.

More info, including a complete roster of other titles we're screening at the Leavitt, is in the press release below.

For now, I'm catching my breath after completing a mini-marathon of silent film music: five programs over five days.

Highlights included accompanying Buster Keaton's 'Go West' (1925) to an assembly of middle school students; playing the big Estey pipe organ for Clara Bow in 'It' (1927) at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt.; and hearing a lively audience on hand in Brandon, Vt. to respond to Douglas Fairbanks in 'Robin Hood' (1922).

But now, after two days off, it'll be on to Ogunquit for one of Harold Lloyd's perennially popular full-length feature comedies! More info in the blog post below...

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Harold and friends take public transportation in 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926).

MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic comedy 'For Heaven's Sake' with live music on Wednesday, June 15 in Ogunquit

Harold Lloyd film, one of 1926's top box office attractions, to kick off this year's Leavitt Theatre silent film series

OGUNQUIT, Maine—Classics from the silent film era return to the big screen this season at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. in Ogunquit.

First up is Harold Lloyd in 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926), an uproarious romantic comedy which screens on Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m.

Admission is $12 per person. Live music for each silent film program will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

In 'For Heaven's Sake,' Lloyd plays a wealthy young man smitten with the daughter of an impoverished clergyman who ministers to the urban poor.

On the day Lloyd and the girl plan to marry, Lloyd's wealthy country club friends kidnap him to prevent what they see as an embarrassing mistake.

Can the urban mission's petty criminals and chronic alcoholics rescue Harold and get him to the church on time?

'For Heaven's Sake,' promoted with the tagline 'A Man With A Mansion, A Miss with a Mission,' became the 4th-highest grossing film of 1926, earning $2.6 million.

Critic Leonard Maltin described 'For Heaven's Sake' as "...a screamingly funny silent comedy."

In accompanying films live, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. He improvises the music in real time, as the movie is shown.

"It's a real treat to return to the Leavitt for another season of great early cinema," Rapsis said.

"If you've never seen one of these movies in a theater, check it out. These films were the pop culture of their day, and retain their ability to hold an audience and deliver a great time at the movies."

The Leavitt's silent film series runs through October, concluding with a Halloween screening of 'Der Golem' (1920) on Saturday, Oct. 29.

A total of nine programs will be offered, including a 100th anniversary screening of 'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks, and 'The Temptress (1926), a Greta Garbo drama with two very different endings.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nearly a century.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

Following 'For Heaven's Sake' on Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m.: 'Robin Hood' 100th anniversary! Celebrate the 100th anniversary of this blockbuster adaptation of the tales of Robin Hood and his merry men. Massive sets, great action, and Doug Fairbanks in the lead made this the top grossing film of 1922!

• Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m.: Buster Keaton in 'Battling Butler' (1926). Keaton plays Alfred Butler, a pampered rich idler with the same name as a feared boxing champion. When a girl he's pursuing thinks he's the fighter, Keaton has no choice but to start training. Uproarious 1926 comedy!

• Wednesday, July 27 at 7 p.m.: Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926). MGM drama with Garbo destroying the lives of men everywhere. Unusual in that the film was made with two very different endings per order of studio boss Louis B. Mayer; both will be screened.

• Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.: Clara Bow stars in 'Mantrap' (1926). Battle-of-the-sexes comedy; city boy Richard Dix tries to win his girlfriend by taking up the rugged cowboy life, only to find it not so rugged. Rarely screened comedic gem from the height of the silent era.

• Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922). Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Will Rudy choose the pure love of Carmen, or the sinister charms of the exotic Doña Sol? And will he survive the choice?

• Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.: Rare race drama: 'The Flying Ace' (1926). All-Black motion picture added to the National Film Registry last year. Rare example of 'race' cinema, produced for audiences in black-only theaters commonly found in segregated parts of the nation.

• Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.: F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924). Towering performance by Emil Jannings as aging doorman at posh city hotel whose unexpected change of jobs robs him of self-respect and identity. Directed by Murnau as a purely visual tale, no dialogue intertitles.

• Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.: 'Der Golem' (1920). Prepare for Halloween with one very weird flick! In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.

Harold Lloyd's 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926) will lead off this season's silent film series on Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Tickets $12 per person, general seating.

For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sunday, 6/12: Mary Pickford stars in 'Rosita' (1923), kicking off Town Hall Theatre series

Yes, 'Rosita' was directed by that Ernst Lubitsch, who was making his U.S. debut.

And we now switch from medieval England (last night's screening of 'Robin Hood') to medieval Spain, the setting for Mary Pickford's costume drama 'Rosita' (1923), which I'm accompanying today at 2 p.m.

The 'Rosita' screening launches a summer series of programs spotlighting women of the silent era. 

Some, such as Pickford and Gloria Swanson, are still well known even today.  Others are now forgotten—any members of the Mae Marsh Fan Club out there?

Well, they'll all return to the big screen this summer at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., where six programs and eight features are slated through August.

To review the complete line-up, download the calendar.

The one thing to mention about 'Rosita' is that it's based on an obscure 19th century opera, 'Don César de Bazanset,' and set in Seville, Spain — just like a certain other opera featuring a barber in the title.

Another opera set in Seville is Bizet's 'Carmen,' so it's interesting to learn that in 'Rosita,' the title character's mother is named...Carmen! 

This Carmen, however, has little in comment with the other opera's sexy gypsy girl. 

 In 'Rosita,' Carmen is a middle-aged housewife built like a fire plug and plagued by three noisy brats and a lazy husband who spends most of the film either in a hammock or in bed. 

Could 'Rosita' be an alternative history version of 'Carmen?' What if, instead of dying at the end of the opera, she went on to live a full life? And this is how it turned out?

Makes ya think.

Well, I hope you'll think about swinging over to the Town Hall Theatre this afternoon, to take in Mary Pickford playing a guitar-wielding street singer in 'Rosita.'

More details about today's screening are in the press release:

*    *    *

Mary Pickford co-stars with her guitar in 'Rosita' (1923).

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Mary Pickford's 'Rosita' at Town Hall Theatre with live music on Sunday, June 12

Screening kicks off summer series spotlighting female stars in eight silent feature films shown over three months

WILTON, N.H.—Mary Pickford's 1923 costume drama 'Rosita' will launch the Town Hall Theatre's summer-long salute to female stars of the silent screen.

'Rosita' will be screened with live music on Sunday, June 12 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 help defray expenses.

'Rosita,' a big budget picture based on the opera 'Don César de Bazan,' finds Pickford playing the title character, a Spanish street singer during the reign of King Charles II.

Pickford's mockery of King Charles gets her into hot water—until the lecherous King finds himself attracted to the decidedly un-royal singer.

'Rosita' marked a departure for Pickford, who had built her career playing ingenue roles. 'Rosita' was the first time she'd played a full-fledged adult character.

'Rosita' launches a series of six programs this summer in which eight full-length features will be screened, all with live music by accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Here's the line-up:

• Sunday, June 19 at 2 p.m.: 'Mickey' featuring Mabel Normand. Comic legend Mabel Normand stars in a rare 1918 comedy/drama playing an unsophisticated miner's daughter sent East to live with an aunt, causing no end of chaos—and leading to a lot of romance, too.

• Sunday, July 17 at 2 p.m.: Double feature with Greta Garbo, Colleen Moore. In 'The Single Standard' (1929), screen icon Garbo is a socialite determined to treat men the way they treat women; in 'Ella Cinders' (1926), Moore reinvents the fairy tale with a modern (1920s) comedic twist.

 • Sunday, July 24 at 2 p.m.: Norma Talmadge in 'Within the Law.' Silent screen dramatic star Norma Talmadge plays a shopgirl wrongly imprisoned, and bent on revenge against the man who wronged her in this vintage 1923 release. Filmed on location in New York City.

• Sunday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m.: Marion Davies in 'Beverly of Graustark.' Gender-bending 1926 comedy in which Davies stars as an American cousin of a European prince—and with whom she must switch places to keep the kingdom from unraveling. Newly released title!

• Sunday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m.: Double feature with Gloria Swanson, Mae Marsh. Silent screen icon Gloria Swanson stars in 'Fine Manners' (1926), a comedy about a chorus girl trying to keep up with high society beau. In 'Daddies' (1924), Mae Marsh plays an unlikely orphan adopted by the head of the local Bachelor's Club. Hilarity ensues!

All titles in the series have never been shown as part of the Town Hall Theatre's long-running silent film programming.

"We specifically chose films that we haven't run before in Wilton, in part to explore the incredible range and surprising diversity of roles women played in Hollywood's silent era," said Jeff Rapsis, the Town Hall Theatre's silent film accompanist.

‘Rosita’ (1923) starring Mary Pickford, the first program in a three-month series featuring women of the silent screen, will be shown with live music on Sunday, June 12 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 help defray expenses.

For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Tonight! It's off to Sherwood Forest—or Brandon, Vt.—for 100th anniversary of 'Robin Hood' (1922)

It's a hit! Douglas Fairbanks Sr. takes aim in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1922).

Tonight! It's up to Brandon, Vt. to do live music for a 100th anniversary screening of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

If you're anywhere near the area, come on out tonight for what promises to be a grand time at the movies. After all, it was only the #1 top box office attraction that year!

For more information, let's get right to the press release:

*    *    *

On the set of 'Robin Hood': A big film merits a big megaphone!
 
MONDAY, MAY 31, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Robin Hood' leaps into action at Town Hall Theatre on Saturday, June 11

It's off to Sherwood Forest for the 100th anniversary of legendary silent blockbuster, screened with live music

BRANDON, Vt.—He robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and was the top box office attraction of 1922.

He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starring in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' the original movie adaptation of the legendary tale.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, on Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are welcome to help support ongoing Town Hall renovation efforts.

Live music for the silent 'Robin Hood' will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

Set in medieval England, 'Robin Hood' tells the tale of the Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks), a dashing nobleman who joins King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Wallace Beery) on a Crusade to the Holy Land.

Huntingdon later returns to England to find Richard's cruel brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse), falsely claiming the throne, enriching his aristocratic cronies and tyrannizing the citizenry.

Huntingdon takes to the woods and becomes 'Robin Hood,' soon joined by a band of merry men who undermine Prince John's reign by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.


Can Robin Hood and his men vanquish their enemy, the High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery)? And can they rescue Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett), Huntingdon's betrothed, from the evil clutches of Prince John?

Along the way, Fairbanks has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills in archery, fencing, and acrobatics.

Directed by Allan Dwan, 'Robin Hood' amazed audiences with its enormous sets that recreated in full scale the castles and villages of medieval England.

At a time when $200,000 was a hefty movie budget, 'Robin Hood' cost $1 million to produce.

But the film proved an enormous hit, becoming the top box office attraction of 1922 and earning $2.5 million in its initial release through United Artists, the distribution company Fairbanks formed with fellow stars Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and his wife, Mary Pickford.

Fairbanks, among the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts.

He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Also in the cast for 'Robin Hood' is Alan Hale Sr., who made such an impression at Little John that he was cast in the same role in the 1938 remake starring Errol Flynn. (Hale's son, Alan Hale Jr., played the role of the Skipper on the 1960s television series "Gilligan's Island.")

Live music for 'Robin Hood' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

"Seeing a Fairbanks picture in a theater with live music and an audience is a classic movie experience," Rapsis said.

An original lobby card of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1922).

Rapsis emphasized the unique value of seeing early cinema as it was originally presented.

"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. Put it all together again, and you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

It's the 11th year of Brandon's popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

Screenings are held once a month on Saturday nights from May through November. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to benefit the Town Hall's ongoing restoration.

Over the years, silent film donations have helped support projects including handicapped access to the 19th century building; renovating the bathrooms; and restoring the structure's original slate roof.

The screening of 'Robin Hood' is sponsored by Bruce Ness and Nancy Spalding-Ness.

Other films in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, July 23, 7 p.m.: 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Battling Butler' (1926). A Buster Keaton double feature showing the stone-faced comedian at the peak of his physical comedy powers. Sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: 'Blood and Sand' (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role, as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Celebrating its 100th anniversary! Sponsored by Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, the Hanson Family in memory of Pat Hanson, and Sally Wood.

• Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.: 'The Flying Ace' (1926), rare example of movies produced for black-only theaters in segregated parts of the nation; added to the National Film Registry in 2021. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.

• Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: 'Nosferatu' (1922) Just in time for Halloween! Celebrate the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau's original adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' story. Sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

• Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.: 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman. The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

By Jove! I think we've got 'It' (1927) on Friday, June 10 at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt.

A poster promoting Clara Bow in 'It' (1927).

It's one of the shortest titles ever! (Except perhaps for Fritz Lang's 'M.') 

Up next, it's Clara Bow in 'It' (1927) on Friday, June 10 at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt., accompanied by me on the venue's Estey pipe organ.

Showtime is 8 p.m. and hope to see you there! Plenty more info is in the press release below.

First, a few thoughts on my annual pilgrimage to Antrim (N.H.) Town Hall, where each June I do an end-of-the-school-year silent film program for kids at Great Brook School, which enrolls Grades 5-8.

This year it was yesterday, and here's what it looks like:

It's all organized by teacher Maryanne Cullinan (seen above), who uses the occasion to call each graduating 8th grader up and offer personal recollections and remembrances in front of their peers.

Wow! This is very different from my own experience attending Spring Street Jr. High in Nashua, N.H. At the end of the school year, the closest thing we got to this was when the bullies in "smoker's row" would pull my friends and me aside for one final beating before classes let out for the summer. 

We've been doing this for more than 10 years now, and over time the kids have made it clear that their preferred silent film star is Buster Keaton. 

So yesterday's program included the classic Keaton short comedy 'One Week' (a perennial favorite) followed by the full-length 'Go West' (1925), which we'd never showed before. 

 Prior to the film, I tried to pique their curiosity by saying it included one of the strangest love stories of the silent era. (That being the relationship between Buster and Brown Eyes the cow.)

I could tell they were growing a little restless during the feature. But interest perked up starting with the gunfight over the cattle-carrying train, and then the stampede through the streets of Los Angeles. 

The film's ending produced an avalanche of adolescent applause, with one kid yelling out "That was the best movie I ever saw, even though I slept through the first two-thirds of it!" which earned him a scolding for being rude.  

But I really enjoy this annual cannonball into the middle school swimming pool. Thanks to Ms. Cullinan and everyone at Great Brook School for inviting me once again and keeping this fine tradition going.

Later that day, I headed up to Plymouth, N.H. to do music for Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'The Black Pirate" (1926) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center.

(The picture at left was taken just as I looked the receipt for a tank of gas.)

About 40 people turned out for this granddaddy of all pirate films, which we programmed as part of our series of 1926 films that just recently entered the public domain. 

A good time was has by all, except those in the movie terrorized by pirates. And for once, no one brought up the fact that sundials (featured prominently in the movie) don't work on a boat at sea.

And now, let's get on with 'It!' Please join me on Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m. for this iconic Jazz Age comedy. The press release is below!

*    *    *

 

Clara Bow and would-be beau Antonio Moreno in 'It' (1927).

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Come and get 'It' with Clara Bow at Epsilon Spires on Friday, June 10

Performance venue to screen Jazz Age silent romantic comedy with live organ accompaniment

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—A film that helped define an era returns to the big screen in June at Epsilon Spires.

'It' (1927), a romantic comedy that came to epitomize the Jazz Age of the 1920s, will be screened with live music on Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $15 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

The screening will feature live accompaniment on the venue's Estey pipe organ by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'It' tells the story of a shop girl who sets her sights on the handsome and wealthy boss of the department store where she works. The two are from completely different parts of society, but will attraction be strong enough to bridge the gap in their backgrounds?

The film made actress Clara Bow a major star, earning her the nickname of the 'It' girl. Released at the height of the Jazz Age, the movie was a hit with audiences all over the U.S., breaking box office records.

'It' is based on a novella written by Elinor Glyn and originally serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine. Glyn, whose writings popularized the concept of 'It' as a quality of attractiveness, has a cameo role as herself in the film.

'It' is also an early example of product placement, as Cosmopolitan magazine is featured prominently in a scene where a character reads Glyn's story and introduces it to the audience.

The picture was considered lost for many years, but a copy was found in Prague in the 1960s. In 2001, 'It' was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

To accompany 'It,' Rapsis will improvise a score created live in real time as the movie is screened, in the tradition of theatre organists during the silent era.

Rather than focus on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The non-profit Epsilon Spires, housed in Brattleboro's former Baptist church, builds connections between art and science by offering provocative performances and events, interactive art installations, and opportunities to engage in civil discourse by addressing current topics through the integration of diverse forms of expression.

'It' (1927) will be screened with live music on Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt. Admission is $15 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Set sail with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'The Black Pirate' on Wednesday, June 8 in Plymouth, N.H.


I'm back at the keyboard after a twice-postponed visit to London, with a side trip to my old stomping grounds of Glasgow, Scotland.

Next up: music for 'The Black Pirate' (1926) starring Douglas Fairbanks, which is screening on Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. 

More info and details are in the press release below. First, a few notes from "across the pond," where last week we scored a rare "triple," meaning three West End shows in one day. 

The line-up looked like this: 

- At 2 p.m., a new production of 'My Fair Lady' at the Coliseum on Charing Cross Road.

 - At 5:30 p.m., a cabaret-style revue called 'Six' that features the wives of Henry VIII, and which is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre at the Strand.

 - At 7:30 p.m., the new musical version of 'Back to the Future' that's playing at the Adelphi next door.

We didn't plan on this — it just happened. Tickets were available for all three;  the theaters were close enough for this to work, and there was that unusual 5:30 p.m. matinee of 'Six.'

We even got something to eat between 'Six' (which is just over one hour long) and 'Back to the Future.' 

The last time this happened was way back in the 1990s, when we caught a weird one-man play called 'Anorak of Fire' at an odd time, with a matinee before it and an evening show afterwards. So it's a rare bird indeed.

About 'Back to the Future': what was interesting to me was that even though it was full of new songs, much of the material was drawn from the score that Alan Silvestri composed for the 1985 film. 

There are a couple of really enduring licks in the 'Back to the Future' score, and Silvestri (who also worked on the musical) made the most of them in this stage reinterpretation.

The result was something you don't see very often: a stage musical that heavily relied on strong background music in the same way a movie action sequence might do. (Or, yes, a silent film score!)

This was especially true in the musical's Act 2, when Marty McFly must get the time-traveling DeLorean up to 88 mph just as lightning strikes the town's clock tower.

With no songs, just action and Silvestri's music galloping along, I totally, totally bought into it. And it was the music that did it, I think. 

The time-traveling car may have been powered by plutonium. But the real energy that held everything together and pushed it forward in an edge-of-your-seat frenzy was the score. 

So even though we were watching a stage production in 2022, it reminded me how much the right kind of music can add to a scene or sequence in a movie made in 1922. The challenge (for me, anyway) is to find those moments and make the most of them, and not overdo it at other times.

I'll next get a chance to find the balance this Wednesday, as we set sail with Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Black Pirate' (1926) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center. 

Press release is below. See you on deck!

 *  *  *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. buckles some swash in 'The Black Pirate.'
 
TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926) at Flying Monkey on Wednesday, June 8

Swashbuckling adventure flick stars Douglas Fairbanks, Hollywood’s original action hero; shown with live musical accompaniment

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He was the Indiana Jones of his day, thrilling early film-goers with amazing stunts and feats of heroic derring-do.

He was Douglas Fairbanks Sr., one of Hollywood’s first megastars, and his timeless charisma can be seen again on Wednesday, June 8 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Featured attraction in June for the theater's monthly silent film series is ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926), an epic swashbuckling tale of the high seas that proved one of Fairbanks’ most popular blockbusters. The forerunner of all pirate movies, it was also one of the first Hollywood films to be released in color.

Showtime for 'The Black Pirate' is Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission is $10 per person.

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 scores for silent films.

'The Black Pirate' tells the story of a ship's passenger (Douglas Fairbanks) who survives a pirate raid. Sworn to avenge his dead father, he takes command of the pirates responsible, and secretly strives to free the princess whom they have kidnapped.

Fairbanks, originally a stage actor, broke into films in the industry's early years. By 1920, starring roles in a romantic comedies established Fairbanks as a popular leading man. He then turned to historic adventure films, including ‘The Mark of Zorro’ (1920) and ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1921), which cemented his reputation for on-screen athleticism, heroism, and romance.

In 1920, Fairbanks’ marriage to fellow megastar Mary Pickford was one of the era’s biggest media events and resulted in Hollywood’s first celebrity power couple. They combined their last names to call their estate “Pickfair,” and massive crowds turned out everywhere during the couple’s European honeymoon.

At the peak of his popularity, pictures starring Fairbanks set the standard for Hollywood action adventure films, including such titles as ‘Robin Hood’ (1922), ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (1924), and ‘The Black Pirate’ (1926), all of which were major box office successes.

When the silent film era ended in 1929, an aging Fairbanks found he was less enthusiastic about the effort required to make movies and retired from the screen. He died in 1939 at age 56 after suffering a heart attack; his now-famous last words were, “I’ve never felt better.”

The Fairbanks feature is the latest in a series of monthly silent film screenings at the Flying Monkey. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by assembling the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best: superior films in best available prints; projection on the big screen; live musical accompaniment; and a live audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings. “There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

‘The Black Pirate’ (1926) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. will be shown with live music on Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Sunday, May 22: 'The First Auto' in Wilton, N.H., plus notes on three earlier screenings featuring John Gilbert, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton

An original poster for 'The First Auto' (1927).

This weekend, in honor of the upcoming Indianapolis 500, we're screening 'The First Auto' (1927), a Warner Bros. drama set at the turn of the previous century, at the dawn of the auto era.

Showtime is Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. A lot more info is in the press release below, including the ironic death of actor Charles Emmett Mack in a car accident prior to the film's completion.

Now, a look back at some recent shows. It's been a busy month and I'm behind on keeping up this diary, so here goes.

• A screening of the John Gilbert swashbuckler 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926) drew cheers, surprisingly, from the audience on Wednesday, May 11 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

I say "surprisingly" because the cheers came during the film's climax towards the end of a screening that otherwise elicited practically no audible response from those attending.

Well, you never know. I think part of it is that the climax to 'Bardelys' is truly top-notch: Gilbert's title character, condemned to death and actually on the gallows, suddenly makes a break for it.

What follows is a remarkable sequence of choreographed action in which Gilbert eludes his pursuers, matching swashbuckling legend Douglas Fairbanks in creative and athletic stunting.

To me, the cheers and applause was music to my ears, as it meant people were following the story and cared about this character's fate after all. 

Also, it was very nice to have a regular attendee of the Flying Monkey silent series come up afterwards to say the music I came up with for the famous "boating romance" scene in 'Bardelys' really fit the scene and gave it extra depth. 

I assume she was talking about the music, and not the pond that John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman are seen gliding over.

• Harold Lloyd's 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926) opened this year's silent film series in Brandon, Vt., preceded by a Weiss Bros. short 'Danger Ahead' (1926) just to show two contrasting types of silent comedy. 

I've accompanied 'For Heaven's Sake' several times recently (in celebration of its new 'public domain' status) and I've noticed something strange about the film that I've not read anything about.

The picture clocks in at 58 minutes, or just under an hour—rather short for a Lloyd feature in between 'The Freshman' (1925, 76 minutes) and 'The Kid Brother' (1927, 84 minutes).

I know Lloyd had trouble with it in production, and even finding a suitable title was difficult. The material just didn't gell, which I guess will happen when you make films in the semi-improv way the silent clowns employed.

And critics have sometimes pointed out that the climactic "race to the altar" lacks drama or suspense because there's no real reason in the story for Harold to hurry, other than he doesn't want to be late. 

I mean, he's already phoned his bride before commencing on a wild ride across the unnamed city. Along the way, the antics of Harold's five sozzled roughneck friends are amusing, but are no match for other high-stakes situations such as the iconic building climb of 'Safety Last' (1923).

Contrast the climax of 'For Heaven's Sake' that with 'Girl Shy' (1924), where Lloyd absolutely MUST get to the church as fast as possible, as his girl is already at the altar, exchanging vows with a bigamist. I've accompanied screenings of this film where people are literally shouting "Hurry up!" at the screen.

Alas, this doesn't happen in 'For Heaven's Sake,' as the stakes aren't nearly so high. 

And I wonder if something didn't quite go right in the oven, and if something larger and more sinister was originally planned for the film, but somehow got cut. 

For starters, there's the film's stunted length. 

And then there's also the credits: getting top billing is James Mason—the silent one, not the James Mason who later starred in '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.' Mason is billed as 'The Gangster,' presented as one of the lead roles.

But Mason barely appears in the film, and always on the sidelines.

Much more prominent is reliable celluloid bully Noah Young, who interacts regularly with Lloyd throughout the film and plays what turns out to be the film's key heavy. But unlike Mason, he doesn't merit any mention or credit in the opening titles.

To me, it seems likely that Lloyd and his team intended to develop the "gangster" theme more thoroughly to create a situation to bring real danger to our protagonist J. Harold Manners, the richest man in town.

Lloyd's "meet-cute" with Jobyna Ralston in 'For Heaven's Sake' (1926). 

And the potential is there. If there was a reason for a gangster to stop Lloyd's wedding to Jobyna Ralston's mission worker (maybe a romantic rivalry?), then maybe Lloyd could have been kidnapped by the bad guys (not his rich friends), creating suspense on the level of 'Girl Shy' or 'Safety Last.'

Maybe that's the role Mason was intended to play. After all, he played a similar baddie (with designs on Ralston) in Lloyd's comedy 'Why Worry?' (1923). 

Even better, Mason could have kidnapped Ralston, not Lloyd, forcing our Hero to race to her rescue, maybe with his drunken friends in tow along the way. Great suspense could be generated, with Lloyd striving to rescue Jobyna while keeping five inebriated friends from danger.

But there are signs that whatever role Mason was supposed to play, most of it wound up on the cutting room floor.

Instead, in 'For Heaven's Sake,' Lloyd gets kidnapped by his fellow rich twits, which doesn't lead to any significant peril for our hero, and little edge-of-the-seat suspense for an audience. 

There are accounts that the "gangster" angle planned for 'For Heaven's Sake' wound up being reworked for 'Speedy' (1928), But it's really too that a way wasn't found to use it to amp up the tension in 'For Heaven's Sake.' 

I mean, for heaven's sake.

• Sunday, May 15 brought Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923), which I accompanied at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass. 

Great screening, audience with the picture all the way. Lots of questions during a very extended Q & A following the film. 

An original lobby card promoting 'Our Hospitality' (1923). 

One attendee observed that Keaton was very hard on the South and its people. This prompted an interesting discussion, with me saying that Keaton wasn't trying to "say" anything, but just using a family feud and what would have been seen as antiquated customs even in the 1920s to drive a story.  

Keaton wasn't a political artist in the same way that his rival, Mr. Charles Chaplin, was, especially later in life. With Keaton, I said it would be a misstep to read anything like a contemporary political agenda into his work, which was produced a century ago. (And in the case of 'Our Hospitality,' was set 100 years before that.)

And that led into a discussion of 'The General' (1926), and how Keaton's Civil War epic portrayed the South as heroes and the North as villains—again, just for story-telling purposes, not to promote any kind of agenda, hidden or otherwise.

Speaking about 'The General' later in life, Keaton observed that "you can always make a villain out of the North, but you can never make a villain out of the South." 

It's my theory that he was talking about box office: in the 1920s, with the Civil War still within living memory, any film in which the South was portrayed as the bad guys and the North as triumphant wouldn't do business in a big part of the nation.

And now, it's on to 'The First Auto' (1927), which I'll accompany on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H. 

Let me know if you need a ride!

*  *  *

An original lobby card for 'The First Auto' (1927).

WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'The First Auto,' silent car racing drama with live music, on Sunday, May 22 in Wilton, N.H.

Movie's leading man ironically killed in car crash during filming, but Warner Bros. still completed and released the picture

WILTON, N.H.—It was intended to be a nostalgic drama about the transition from horses to automobiles in the early 1900s.

But during filming, 'The First Auto' (1927) took a tragic behind-the-scenes turn when leading man Charles Emmett Mack was killed in a car accident.

Mack, a popular 1920s star, died in a crash while driving to a racetrack to shoot sequences for the nearly completed movie.

Despite Mack's death at age 26, Warner Bros. finished the picture, altering the ending so that his character didn't need to appear on-screen.

'The First Auto' will be screened on Sunday, May 22 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 help defray expenses.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

'The First Auto' is being shown in honor of the upcoming Indianapolis 500, the classic road race that takes place each Memorial Day weekend.

Opening in 1895, 'The First Auto' follows the story of a prosperous stable owner (Russell Simpson) whose son (Charles Emmett Mack) becomes fascinated with the then-new "horseless carriages," or automobiles.

After the two clash repeatedly, the son moves to Detroit to work in the auto business. By 1905, he's become a successful race car driver.

Things come to a head when the son secretly enters a race back in his old hometown—a race that the father intends to sabotage.

Leading man Charles Emmett Mack (at left) broke into the movies as a young prop man for director D.W. Griffith.

Griffith began using Mack in small on-screen parts, which led to a career in front of the camera as a popular 1920s star.

He co-starred in several films with fellow young actor Neil Hamilton, who would much later go on to play Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s 'Batman' TV series.

Among the large cast in 'The First Auto' is actor William Demarest, who would go on to play Uncle Charlie in the long-running sitcom 'My Three Sons.'

The movie also features a cameo appearance by legendary race car driver Barney Oldfield, who first broke the 60 mph speed mark in 1903.

Oldfield served as technical advisor for the race sequences to ensure period authenticity.

The film was directed by Roy Del Ruth; writers included a young Darryl F. Zanuck, who would go on to create 20th Century Fox, a studio he ran for many decades.

'The First Auto' is part of the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series, which aims to show early movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score for 'The First Auto.'

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life," he said.

‘The First Auto’ will be shown with live music on Sunday, May 22 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 help defray expenses.

For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.