Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Up next: Cinema Ritrovato 'L'Inferno' on 3/25 in Portsmouth, then 'Robin Hood' on 3/27 in Wilton

A big film means a big megaphone: Alan Dwan directing 'Robin Hood' with star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. observing. 

This Sunday, it's 'Robin Hood' (1922), the culmination of a series of 100th anniversary screenings at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

But first, on Friday we venture to the underworld, as I accompany a screening of 'L'Inferno' (1911), an early adaptation of Dante's iconic work and a landmark early feature film from Italy.

'L'Inferno' is part of "Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour in New Hampshire," a program brought to the Granite State each year by foreign language department staffers at the University of New Hampshire. (It's where I earned my MBA, and also taught as an adjunct for many years.)

Friday being opening night, the screening will take place at the prestigious Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H. Showtime is at 7 p.m. Complete info can be found at the program's website.

Screenings continue at the Music Hall through Sunday, after which the program moves to the UNH campus in Durham for more films through March 31.

It's quite a privilege to be asked to create live music for a film in the touring "Ritrovato" program. Three cheers to organizers for recognizing the value of live music for pictures from the silent era.

And it's also a thrill to be performing in the Music Hall, a legendary venue in my home state. 

Although they don't run much silent film with live music, it's where I first took in the Alloy Orchestra doing their thing to Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' back in about 1991 or so, which helped rekindle my interest in early cinema.

It's also where I saw (and heard) Philip Glass perform in person, and where I first experienced the John Adams opera 'Nixon in China' via simulcast. (Small world: Adams grew up in New Hampshire not far from my home base.) 

Looking forward to hearing what my digital synthesizer sounds like in the storied old hall, which dates from the 1870s. I usually do pretty well with halls built in the era when acoustics were a priority, so I'm hopeful.

Okay, and now off to Sherwood Forest!

As the year's top box office hit, 'Robin Hood' forms  the culmination of our series of screenings celebrating the 100th anniversary of movies released in 1922.

In a silent film version of Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown (remember that?), since January we've been showing the year's top five grossing pictures more or less in reverse order, starting Harold Lloyd's 'Grandma's Boy' (No. 5) in January.

Since then, we've run Valentino's 'Blood and Sand' (No. 4), Norma Talmadge in 'Smilin' Through' (No. 3), and Marion Davies in 'When Knighthood Was in Flower' (No. 2), with occasional detours for special titles such as 'Nanook of the North,' which also hit screens in 1922.

But as 1922's box office champ, 'Robin Hood' topped them all. And then as now, this big-time historical swashbuckler is best experienced on the big screen with live music and an audience. 

This means you! So I invite all to join us Sunday afternoon to escape with Robin Hood and his Merry Men, even if just for the afternoon. 

Lots more info in the press release below. Hope to see you this Sunday in Sherwood Forest—er, I mean the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.!

*    *    *

Original artwork promoting 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1922).

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

'Robin Hood' leaps into action at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, March 27

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

WILTON, N.H.—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 'Robin Hood,' the original movie adaptation of the legendary tale.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening will be accompanied with live music by Jeff Rapsis.

Set in medieval England, 'Robin Hood' tells the tale of the Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks, at right), 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.

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood romances Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett).

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.

Rapsis (at right) 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 screening of 'Robin Hood' is part of the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing series honoring the 100th anniversary of significant motion pictures that debuted in 1922.

Programs will include all of 1922's five highest-grossing titles, each shown on the big screen with live music, as well as century-old oddities, short films, cartoons, and more.

Upcoming programs in the Town Hall's 100th anniversary series include:

• Sunday, April 3, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Chaney/Houdini Double Feature. In 'Flesh and Blood' (1922), escaped convict Lon Chaney hides out in Chinatown and plots revenge. In 'The Man From Beyond' (1922) illusionist Harry Houdini plays an Arctic adventurer frozen for 100 years!

• Sunday, April 17, 2022 at 2 p.m.: Emil Jannings in 'Othello' (1922). The Bard's immortal tragedy brought to the screen in this early German version. Silent Shakespeare in honor of the author's 458th birthday.

'Robin Hood' (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will be screened with live music on Sunday, March 27 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 defray expenses.

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

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