Tonight the "Homecoming Tour" of the silent comedy/drama 'Straight is the Way' (1921) continues with a screening in Campton, N.H. for the Campton Historical Society, complete with pot luck supper starting at 5 p.m.
The film, reissued last year via a Kickstarter campaign organized by Ed Lorusso, has the distinction of being the only silent feature film I know of with a story set specifically in New Hampshire.
Hence the "Homecoming Tour" of Granite State screenings, which is up to two so far: the "world re-premiere" of 'Straight is the Way' in the big city (and state capital) of Concord, and now tonight's screening in genuinely small-town New Hampsha'.
And never mind that the movie, set in "Hampton Center, N.H.," was actually filmed in either Long Island or New Jersey. It's still an interesting look at how the nation regarded small-town New Hampshire long before Yankee Magazine started publishing (in 1935) or Thornton Wilder's play 'Our Town.' (in 1938).
Even back then, on the cusp of the Roaring '20s, we were country bumpkins. Citizens consulted their Ouija boards to communicate with long-dead ancestors, and the local constable rode around town in a horse and buggy. Har!
Well, here we are again, on the cusp of another '20s, although it's hard to say if they'll be "roaring" or anything else. And New Hampshire is still regarded as a slightly backwards place, complete with pot luck suppers and all that.
The press release for the screening, with a lot more info, is pasted in below.
This past Thursday, a journeyed to a new venue for me—the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center in downtown Newport, R.I, site of a book-signing and film show celebrating the publication of 'Camera Man,' a new Buster Keaton book by Slate critic Dana Stevens.
I had a ball accompanying 'The General' in this wonderful vintage one-screen theater, which has somehow remained intact and functioning for a century. It's really the perfect venue for silent film with live accompaniment, and I'm pleased to say that response was strong enough to merit possible future screenings. We'll see.
It was a pleasure to meet a lot of people: author Dana Stevens, of course, but also Steve Iwanski of Charter Books, which organized the event, and Alex Whitney, the theater's operations manager. Everyone could not have been more helpful, and audience reaction was strong throughout.
Looking ahead: this week I'm in for a rare mid-winter run of five screenings five days in a row. (This usually only happens in the summer, when I'm doing seasonal series in several venues.) It starts on Wednesday, Feb. 16 with Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.
Subsequent evenings see screenings in Manchester, N.H.; Arlington, Mass., Brattleboro, Vt.; and Wilton, N.H. It's like I'm in training for the Kansas Silent Film Festival, which happens at the end of this month.
But for now, bring a dish with you and attend tonight's pot luck supper / screening of 'Straight is the Way' (1921) at the Campton Historical Society in Campton, N.H. Details below!
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TUESDAY, FEB. 1, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Vintage feature film with story set in N.H. to be screened on Saturday, Feb. 12
Rare surviving comedy/drama 'Straight is the Way' (1921) to be shown with live music at Campton Historical Society
CAMPTON, N.H. — It's a film that's not been seen in theaters since its original release more than a century ago. And it's set in fictional 'Hampton Center, N.H.,' a small town where a pair of big-city crooks hide out from the law.
It's 'Straight is the Way,' a Paramount release that proved a modest box office success in the spring of 1921.
The film then completely disappeared—until now.
This month, the Campton Historical Society will host a screening of 'Straight is the Way,' which boasts a screenplay by two-time Academy Award-winning writer Frances Marion.
The event, which is free and open to all, takes place at Campton Town Hall, 529 Route 175, Campton, N.H.
It starts with a pot luck dinner at 5 p.m., with the film program to begin at 6 p.m.
Those attending the pot luck dinner are asked to bring one of the following: soup, bread, salad, main dish, dessert or beverage.
Live music for the silent film program will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.
The story of 'Straight is the Way' follows two burglars who flee to rural "Hampton Center, N.H." to hide out in the unused wing of a mansion, where an impoverished family faces eviction.
Exposed to small town values, the pair resolve to change their ways.
"It should be a fun screening because the filmmakers depict 'Hampton Center' as a small rural Granite State community—rather like Campton today," Rapsis said.
The film, a comedy/drama, features scenes in which a Ouija board is used to contact the spirits of long-dead relatives.
Ouija boards had become popular in the years following World War I, when 'Straight is the Way' was released.
How does a film disappear for 100 years, and then resurface?
Produced by Cosmopolitan Pictures, 'Straight is the Way' was one of dozens of titles on Paramount's 1921 release schedule. After its initial run, the film was never reissued or rereleased.
This was the fate of nearly all motion pictures of the era, most of which were lost to neglect, decay, or accident. Today, about 75 percent of all silent films no longer exist in any form.
But 'Straight is the Way' is among the survivors. A single 35mm print of the film is in the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. The print was part of a hoard of film material donated long ago by 1920s star Marion Davies, whose pictures were produced by Cosmopolitan.
However, the print is on fragile and flammable nitrate cellulose film stock, meaning it can't be safely projected or loaned out. To keep the film from deteriorating, the print is kept in long-term storage at the Library of Congress media center in Culpeper, Va.
In 2021, Maine-based film archivist Ed Lorusso organized an online Kickstarter program to raise funds to transfer the surviving print of 'Straight is the Way' to digital media. The fundraiser was successful, and the transfer was completed earlier this year.
Lorusso made the film available on DVD to fellow vintage film enthusiasts, including accompanist Rapsis, who felt the film's Granite State setting merited a revival, complete with live music.
The film's "world re-premiere" took place in December 2021 at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., which hosted the first theatrical showing of the film since its original run.
"Very few films are set in New Hampshire, then or now," Rapsis said. "What's interesting about 'Straight is the Way' is that it shows how the state was viewed at the time—a place of small towns and old-fashioned ways, including a constable patrolling the town in a horse and buggy."
Although 'Straight is the Way' contains authentic details such as New Hampshire license plates on the few autos that appear, Lorusso has found no evidence that any part of the film was shot in the state.
Instead, 'Straight is the Way' was produced in New York City, where Cosmopolitan Pictures was based, and which continued to host film production even after most movie-making moved to California in the 1910s.
'Straight is the Way' features several location shots of Manhattan scenes such as Washington Square in Greenwich Village as it appeared in 1921.
Another car in 'Straight is the Way'—sporting the same identical license plate as the other vehicle above!)
Lorusso believes the New Hampshire scenes were most likely filmed in the rural countryside of Long Island or New Jersey, just outside the city, as was common practice at the time.
Lorusso has identified one location: the mansion shown in the film is the summer home of author Ethel Watts Mumford in Sands Point, Long Island. Mumford wrote 'The Manifestations of Henry Ort,' on which 'Straight is the Way' was based.
The screenplay was by Frances Marion, the one recognizable name associated with the production.
Marion, a prolific writer, authored more than 300 screenplays in a career that spanned three decades. Her credits include silent classics such as 'The Wind' (1928); she would later win Academy Awards for writing the prison drama 'The Big House' (1930) and the iconic boxing story 'The Champ' (1931).
'Straight is the Way' features a cast of solid performers, all unknown today: Matt Moore, Mabel Bert, Gladys Leslie, George Parsons, Henry Sedley, Van Dyke Brooke, and Emily Fitzroy.
The film was directed by Robert Vignola; the following year, he would direct Marion Davies in 'When Knighthood Was in Flower' (1922) a big budget costume drama.
Rapsis said the Campton Historical Society screening of 'Straight is the Way' is a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be experienced—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.
'Straight is the Way' (1921), a silent comedy/drama set in New Hampshire, will be screened with live music at Campton Town Hall, 529 Route 175, Campton, on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.
The screening is free and open to the public, with donations accepted to support the Campton Historical Society.
The program will be preceded by a pot luck supper starting at 5 p.m. Those attending the pot luck dinner are asked to bring one of the following: soup, bread, salad, main dish, dessert or beverage.
For more information, visit www.camptonhistorical.org.