Monday, July 11, 2022

Heading Downeast to accompany Buster's 'Butler,' but first some thoughts on 'North by Northwest'

Cary Grant vs. cropduster in 'North by Northwest' (1959).

Yesterday I went down to the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square to catch a matinee screening of 'North by Northwest' (1959) in 35mm.

Why? Because I plan to someday work on a book that tells a story based on Hitchcock's spy thriller. I'm not quite there yet, but soon.

For now, all I can do is report what I overheard yesterday afternoon in the theater, which was surprisingly crowded.

Young Person Behind Me Before Show Started: "Wait, this film is in color? So did they invent color between the last film we saw and this one?"

This caught my attention. Further discussion revealed that they'd recently seen the Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil' (1958), made the year before 'North by Northwest,' and the assumption was apparently was that once color was available, everything just switched over to it. Wow.

Well, whatever. We all discover the world around us in our own way And people have to start somewhere. 

And I should be glad that they're willing to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon in a darkened theater with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint and Bernard Herrmann, or watch a film such as 'Touch of Evil' in a theater. (Which they apparently had done.)

After the Hitchcock film ended, the comment I caught was: "Was that supposed to be good in a kind of 'so bad it's good' kind of way?" Again, wow.

Well, not sure what they'd make of Buster Keaton in 'Battling Butler' (1926), but that's the film I'm accompanying this Wednesday at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

My Brattle neighbors may not be in attendance, but I hope you will. Below is the press release with all the info...

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Buster in a posed shot with his porkpie hat (which he doesn't wear in the film) from 'Battling Butler' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton's 'Battling Butler' at Leavitt Theatre on Wednesday, July 13

Silent film series continues with knockout boxing comedy focusing on the fight game, accompanied by live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

Acclaimed for their originality, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Battling Butler' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St, Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $12 per person. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

'Battling Butler' tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O'Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with the same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"As an elemental contest between two opponents, boxing inspired early filmmakers to do some great work," Rapsis said. "It's a visual sport that doesn't require a lot of dialogue or commentary to understand, and so was perfect for silent movies."

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the silent screen's three great clowns.

Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

While making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

All those talents are on display in 'Battling Butler,' which holds the distinction of being the top-grossing title of Keaton's silent features.

The Leavitt Theatre's silent film screenings provide local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can watch them as they were designed to be shown,” 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. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

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 'Battling Butler' on Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• 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.

Buster Keaton stars in 'Battling Butler,' to be shown on Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St, Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $12 per person, general seating. For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit

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