Sunday, February 13, 2022

Five screenings in five days, but first: a case of 'Music' turning into 'Magic' in Campton, N.H.

The parking lot will soon be full of cars. Next month, it'll be full of mud!

This week brings an unusual happening—a rare mid-winter stretch of five straight days of silent film screenings in venues across three states.

It's like I'll be in training for the Kansas Silent Film Festival, which is coming up at the end of this month.

But before we look forward, let's look back with a report on last night's showing of 'Straight is the Way' (1921) at the Campton N.H. Historical Society. 

This "Silent Movie Night" screening, which has become an annual event, is highlighted by the community pot luck supper that always precedes it, and this year was no exception.

However, this time we enjoyed a truly special added attraction: an hour's worth of music from young people who are part of the Fiddlehead Field Orchestra. A pot luck supper accompanied by music!

Young people in the Fiddlehead Field Orchestra program wait to go on stage.

This local Fiddlehead program, directed by flat-out amazing folk musician/fiddler and educator Jessye Bartlett, gives young people the chance to learn an instrument and play together in groups. 

That's what they did during Saturday night's pot luck supper, and did marvelously. One ensemble after another took the stage to play through a wide range of music, all of it infused with joy, compassion, and humanity.

I don't know about you, but something about the sight and sound of young kids making music together gives me hope in a way that nothing else does.

Yes, we have problems. But hearing these kids—some of whom are only just starting to learn their instruments—play through pieces, I feel increasingly confident that all will be okay.

And here's something weird: it seems that the more local or homegrown the music, the most intensely I feel this reaction. 

Fiddlehead leader Jessye Bartlett coaxes a performance out of two youngsters in the program.

Really! Compare: two weeks ago I joined about 1,500 people at Symphony Hall to hear the Boston Symphony. The concert was superb. But the great playing, and the presence of so many people gathered together to share music, didn't affect me the way the Fiddlehead players did. 

I was thrilled to learn that the Fiddlehead group is planning a trip to Ireland in 2024. Imagine that! Young musicians traveling to the Emerald Isle to meet other young musicians and play together. Why can't we as a nation do more of that, instead of starting wars in the Mideast?

That's a question for another blog. For now, if you'd like to contribute to the Fiddlehead group, visit them online and get in touch. They're worth your attention and support. 

I got so carried away, I couldn't help but get up and make an announcement, which went something like this:

"If you want hope for the future, don't watch the news. Instead, listen to this. What we're hearing here tonight reminds me that if you take the word 'Music' and change just two of the letter, it becomes 'Magic.' They're that close!"

I don't think I ever heard that "music is close to magic" thought ever before. So I may have invented it right there on the spot. Hey, it happens. 

Saturday night's Fiddlehead performances included some impromptu dancing.

Also invented on the spot: an entire score to 'Straight is the Way,' the Cosmopolitan Pictures comedy/drama set in New Hampshire and rescued from obscurity last year by film historian Ed Lorusso. 

Last night's screening marked on the second known public screening of the film since its original release more than a century ago. (The first was our 'World Repremiere' in Concord, N.H this past December.)

Audience reaction was strong—in fact, a lot stronger than what we got back in December when I accompanied the film in Concord. 

I think one reason was the kids in the audience. The young people (mostly kids in the Fiddlehead program, but also others) found the story and characters surprisingly hilarious. The scenes in which attempts are made to contact Uncle Henry via a Ouija boardprodued gales of laughter.

And that really carried along the rest of the audience, as sometimes happens at a silent film screening. With the young people in effect giving everyone permission to laugh, the intensity of reactions grew as the film progressed.

Further stirring the pot (appropriate for an event featuring a pot luck supper) were my pre-movie comments, which included instructions for people to react openly to what they were seeing. If a character does something bad, feel free to boo—which they did, at times quite lustily.

The Campton audience found the Ouija board scenes unexpectedly hilarious.

The music fell together nicely, I thought, with good contrasting music for the thieves, the innocent locals, and the romance that eventually develops

The one cue I missed was right at the end, when a character tries to summon help by ringing a handbell. Alas, the handbell I always travel with (which belonged to my grandmother) was out of reach in the darkness below me and couldn't be retrieved in time. 

But it didn't seem to hurt the film, which earned a tumultuous ovation. Thanks again to Ed Lorusso for getting 'Straight is the Way' out of the vault and available for people to enjoy, which they certainly did last night in Campton, N.H. 

Funny how some screenings really click. Maybe what it takes is a pot luck supper and several dozen young musicians for the magic to happen. 

Up next: Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926), which we're showing on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. 

The film has two different endings, and we're showing them both. I'll do a separate post on this flick, but wanted to mention it here to whet your appetite. See you at the movies! (And bring your violin if you want to play before the show.)

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