Friday, February 3, 2023

On Sunday: 'Within Our Gates' (and maybe a second feature) at the Somerville Theatre

From Oscar Micheaux's drama 'Within Our Gates' (1920).

Sunday, Feb. 5 takes me down to Davis Square in Somerville, Mass., for the relaunch of the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please!' series.

I'll accompany 'Within Our Gates' (1920), a "race drama" directed by Oscar Micheaux that's being screened in honor of Black History Month.

Showtime is 2 p.m. More details about the film and the full 'Silents, Please!' schedule are included in a press release pasted in below.

'Within Our Gates' is hailed as something of a breakthrough: it was the first U.S. feature-length film directed by an African-American. 

The movie was intended for "Black Only" movie theaters that flourished in certain parts of the U.S. during the Jim Crow era. 

Much of the product for that market was produced on shoestring budgets by small companies (many in Florida) that often vanished when the rent came due. 

As a young Black filmmaker, race movies were the only outlet open to Micheaux. Despite the limitations, he was aiming for something more, as seen in 'Within Our Gates.'

Unusual for its time, the film tackles head-on the racism that was pervasive in the U.S. at the time. 

A hundred years later, have things changed all that much? See the film, and decide for yourself.

The film will be shown via a 35mm print on loan from our friends at the Library of Congress. 

In shipping 'Within Our Gates,' the LOC included a 35mm print of a second film that we didn't specifically request.

It's 'The Other Woman's Story' (1925), a seemingly routine courtroom drama with absolutely nothing to do with Black History Month.

But then, as Paul Harvey used to say, there's "...the rest of the story." 

Turns out one of the lead actresses in 'The Other Woman's Story,' Helen Lee Worthing would shortly become infamous for...marrying an African-American!

This was at a time when interracial marriage was actually against the law in California and many other states. 

The resulting scandal and ongoing furor in the press not only caused the marriage to break down, but led to Worthing's involuntary commitment to an insane asylum a few years later. She died in 1948, at the young age of 52.

I won't say any more in case the theater does run the film. I hope they do. It's a rare chance to see one of Helen Lee Worthing's few surviving films—and I've never had a chance to do music for it before.

Cross your fingers!

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A scene from 'Within Our Gates' (1920).

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 25, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Within Our Gates' on Sunday, Feb. 5 opens Somerville Theatre's 2023 'Silents Please!' series

First feature-length film directed by African-American to be screened in 35mm with live music to honor Black History Month

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—They're back where they belong: on the big screen.

Classic motion pictures from Hollywood's early days, shown using 35mm prints and accompanied with live music, mark the return of the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please,' a long-running series at the Davis Square moviehouse.

The 2023 line-up kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. with a screening of 'Within Our Gates' (1920), the first U.S. feature-length film to be directed by an African-American, Oscar Micheaux.

The movie—a ground-breaking drama that deals directly with racism in the U.S. as experienced a century ago—will be shown in honor of Black History Month.

The plot features an African-American woman who goes North in an effort to raise money for a rural school in the Deep South for poor black children. Her romance with a Black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family's past and her own mixed-race, European ancestry.

Tickets $16; seniors/children $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.somervilletheatre.com or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.

'Within Our Gates' was produced at a time when the mainstream Hollywood film industry was shut off to Black Americans.

Micheaux (at left, in a formal portrait) was able to self-produce 'Within Our Gates' on a shoestring budget and outside the studio system.

'Within Our Gates' portrays the contemporary racial situation in the U.S. during the early 20th century—the years of Jim Crow, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Great Migration of Blacks to cities of the North and Midwest.

At the time, it was part of an emerging genre known as "race films"—pictures intended for segregated Black-only movie theaters that existed primarily in the U.S. south from the 1920s until after World War II.

The film portrays racial violence under white supremacy. It was produced, written and directed by Micheaux.

'Within Our Gates' stirred up considerable controversy during its original release because it contained a scene in which a Black man is lynched by a white mob.

At first the film, which eventually had its premiere in Chicago, was rejected by the Chicago Board of Movie Censors who were afraid the movie could possibly inspire a race riot. However, a second screening of the film by the press, Chicago politicians, and prominent members of the Black community convinced the Censors to grant the film a permit since it addressed horrendous conditions that needed reform.

Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however, and some of the most vigorous protests against the film came from Black activists.

Not surprisingly, white theatre owners in the south who catered to Black patronage were also offended by 'Within Our Gates' and refused to book it. One theatre owner in Shreveport, La., admitted "it was a very dangerous picture to show in the south" and his comment was typical for the region.

Micheaux, no stranger to controversy, refused to compromise his material despite being locked out of numerous distribution channels and went on to tackle other unpopular but equally topical problems in films like 'God's Stepchildren' (1938), in which a light-skinned African-American tries to pass for Caucasian, and 'Birthright' (1939), the story of a Black Harvard graduate who encounters opposition from both whites and members of his own race.

While Micheaux was well aware that audiences wanted to be entertained, he also felt it was his duty to confront challenging issues that would, in his words, "leave an impression" on audiences.

Michaeux died in 1951 at age 67, having independently produced a total of 44 films and earned a reputation as the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century.

For many years, 'Within Our Gates' was regarded as a lost film. However, a single copy turned up in Spain in the 1970s. The version to be screened at the Somerville Theatre descends from this single surviving copy.

The precursor to Black History Month was Black History Week, established in 1926 to coincide with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14. Primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American Blacks in the nation's public schools.

In 1976, the expansion to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. At the time, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Following 'Within Our Gates,' the 'Silents, Please!' schedule features a broad range of titles, from well-known classics to obscure films rarely seen since their release, which in some cases was more than a century ago.

Several programs are double bills on a common theme, such as a July program saluting 'Canada Day' with two films set in the Canadian West. All films in the series will be shown using 35mm prints, with most on loan from the U.S. Library of Congress.

A roster of upcoming films includes:

• Sunday, March 5, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'Annie Laurie' (1927) starring Lillian Gish and 'Cinderella' (1914). Celebrate Women's History Month with a double feature of two films featuring leading ladies of early Hollywood. 'Annie Laurie' (1927), a rarely-screened MGM epic about warring Scottish clans, features silent-era megastar Lillian Gish as leading lady while legions of men in kilts do battle. Plus, an early adaptation of 'Cinderella' (1914) starring film industry pioneer Mary Pickford.

• Sunday, May 7, 2023, 2 p.m.: Buster Keaton 'Boats and Trains' Double Feature! Two Keaton classics in which Buster creates large-scale comedy with big machines. In 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928), Buster plays the effete college-educated son of a rough-hewn riverboat captain who must help his father fight a domineering businessman—who just happens to be the father of Buster's girlfriend. In 'The General' (1926), Buster's Civil War-era masterpiece tells the story of a Confederate railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies.

• Sunday, July 9, 2023, 2 p.m.: Salute to Canada Double Feature! To mark "Canada Day" (July 1), we salute our neighbors with a double helping of vintage cinema set north of the border. In 'Mantrap' (1926), silent-era "It" girl Clara Bow stars in a battle-of-the-sexes comedy about a big city divorce lawyer hoping to get away from it all at a Canadian wilderness retreat. 'The Canadian' (1926) stars Thomas Meighan in the tale of a pioneering couple homesteading in Alberta, where they battle bad weather and financial woes.

• Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Fire Brigade' (1926). MGM’s blockbuster production stars Charles Ray as the youngest in a long line of fearless Irish American firefighters. Things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter (May McEvoy) of a crooked building contractor. Spectacular fire sequences with hand-colored effects included in this recent Library of Congress restoration.

• Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Big Parade' (1925) starring John Gilbert, RenĂ©e Adoree. We salute Veterans Day with this sweeping saga about U.S. doughboys signing up and shipping off to France in 1917, where they face experiences that will change their lives forever—if they return. MGM blockbuster directed by King Vidor; one of the biggest box office triumphs of the silent era.

'Within Our Gates' (1920), a silent drama directed by Oscar Micheaux, will be shown in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.  Tickets $16; seniors/children $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.somervilletheatre.com or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Dinner and a movie: Pot luck supper plus Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' on Saturday, Feb. 4

Harold Lloyd monkeys around in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

This weekend brings a triple-header of silent films programs with live music by me. 

On Saturday, Feb. 4, it's Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927) plus a pot luck supper at the Campton (N.H.) Historical Society. More details on this annual event in the press release below.

Then on Sunday, Feb. 5, the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. will lauch this year's 'Silents, Please!' series with Oscar Micheaux's 'Within Our Gates' (1920), to be screened in honor of Black History Month.

Then on Monday, Feb. 6, it's Alfred Hitchcock's silent thriller 'The Lodger' (1927) at the Garden Cinema in Greenfield, Mass. By the way, a nice feature on the Garden's silent film series recently ran in the Greenfield Recorder.

First, a tip of the porkpie hat to everyone who attended yesterday's screening of Buster Keaton's 'College' (1927) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

It wasn't quite a full house. But it was close enough to create the kind of energy that helps amps up audience response. That's what turns a silent film screening into a memorable event, which is what happened Sunday afternoon.

I mean, an audience doesn't have to react. But I must say, it was great to hear people roaring at Keaton's antics, first in 'Cops' (1922) and then in 'College,' (1927). Laughter has a way of making everyone happy—accompanist included.

Hope you'll join us on Saturday, Feb. 4 for another great comedy: Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927), newly in the public domain and served up with a pot luck supper. Details below!

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An original release poster for Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 25, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent comedy masterpiece 'The Kid Brother' to screen with live music in Campton, N.H. on Saturday, Feb. 4

Dinner and a movie: family-friendly Harold film is featured attraction of local historical society's annual pot luck supper; public welcome

CAMPTON, N.H.—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 by the Campton Historical Society on Saturday, Feb. 4.

The event, which is free and open to all, takes place at Old 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.

Music during the pot luck will be played by members of the Fiddlehead Field Kids Orchestra.

Live music for the silent film program will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Harold hangs from an abandoned ship in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

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 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.

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

Harold and costar Jobyna Ralston in 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

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 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 Saturday, Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. at Old Campton Town Hall, 529 Route 175, Campton, N.H.

The film will follow a pot luck supper that starts 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.

Music during the pot luck supper will be provided by the Fiddlehead Field Kids Orchestra.

The event is free and open to all, with donations accepted to support the Campton Historical Society.

For more information, visit www.camptonhistorical.org.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Head to class with Buster Keaton in 'College' (1927), screening Sunday, Jan. 29 in Wilton, N.H.


This weekend, Buster Keaton goes to 'College' (1927), with music by me, on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

Don't miss this opportunity to chase away those mid-winter blahs with the silent comic's take on academic life. More info in the press release below.

For now, here's a brief recap on my recent whirlwind road trip last weekend to accompany silent film screenings in Detroit, Mich. and Cleveland, Ohio. 

Last Friday night it was Keaton's 'Battling Butler' (1926) at Cinema Detroit, which welcomed a nearly full house to enjoy Buster's boxing comedy.

In a sonic highlight, I got to use an authentic boxing bell that belongs to Ken Winokur, formerly of the Alloy Orchestra, who loaned it to me for the occasion. Thanks, Ken!

The next day it was off to Cleveland, where I accompanied the 1916 version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' during the annual 36-hour sci-fi marathon at Case Western University.

For once I wasn't the most sleep-deprived person in the room. But actually, the audience was hugely responsive to what must have seemed like an antique curiosity to many viewers. 

By that I mean, the film doesn't exactly show silent cinema at its most eloquent. Alas, it's one of those titles that reinforces the idea of early movies as primitive ancestors of today's visual entertainment.

But it's still worth screening. And it DID keep the sci-fi marathon audience engaged throughout, inspiring shouted comments of the "Time to engage your willing suspension of disbelief!" variety.

Thanks to everyone at Cinema Detroit and the Case Western Reserve University Film Society 

And then it was back home to New England, where this past Monday I accompanied Alfred Hitchcock's early thriller 'The Lodger' (1927) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass.

Which takes us up to the present, where I'm looking forward to accompanying Buster Keaton in 'College' (1927) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Hope you'll enroll. See you at the theater!

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Buster Keaton and Anne Cornwall attend 'College' (1927).

MONDAY, JAN. 16, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'College' with live music on Sunday, 1/29 at Town Hall Theatre

Silent film series continues in Wilton, N.H. theater with screening of timeless classic send-up of campus life

WILTON, N.H.—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.

See for yourself with a screening of 'College' (1927), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Jan. 29 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 music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

'College' follows the story of a hapless university bookworm (Keaton) forced to become a star athlete to win the attention of his dream girl. Can Buster complete the transformation in time to woo her from his rival? And along the way, can he also rescue the campus from sports-related shame?

The film was released in 1927, at the crest of a national fascination with college life. In addition to being a great Keaton comedy, 'College' offers vintage glimpses into what higher education was like nearly a century ago.

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

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'College.'

In reviving Keaton's 'College,' the Town Hall Theatre aims to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored 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 accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'College' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

Rapsis encouraged people unfamiliar with silent film to give 'College' a try.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films still connect with cinema-goers. They retain the power to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

The Town Hall Theatre's silent film series was recently featured in the weekly HIppoPress in a story about discovering life-enriching activities and hobbies.

Buster Keaton's 'College' (1927) will be screened on Sunday, Jan. 29 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 information, call (603) 654-3456. 


 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Coming up on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Wilton, N.H.: Celebrate the 100th anniversary of 'Safety Last,' plus how the film relates to Beethoven's 5th

Harold Lloyd and the iconic image from 'Safety Last' (1923)

As we move through the decade of the 2020s, each year is now bringing a bumper crop of 100th anniversaries of great films worth celebrating—and screening, too!

For the still-new year of 2023, chief among the titles celebrating a centennial is Harold Lloyd's thrill comedy 'Safety Last.' 

In the coming months, I'll accompany more than a few screenings of this film—the first of which is this weekend, on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As stated in the press release (which is pasted in below, and has all the details), the film is well-known even among people who've never seen any of Lloyd's work. 

That's a result, I suspect, of a single iconic image (see above), which over the decades has come to symbolize the "anything for a laugh" school of comedy that supposedly prevailed in the silent era.

And that's unfortunate—not just because it's incorrect, but it also shortchanges a wonderfully realized comedy that has a lot more going for it than just a guy hanging from a minute-hand.

What I mean from that is captured in some thoughts I posted seven years ago, in which I compared 'Safety Last' to Beethoven's 5th Symphony, of all things.

But with Safety Last turning 100, I think they're worth bringing up again. Here goes!

From Jan. 24, 2016...

With me, when I ponder 'Safety Last,' I often think of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. You know? Da da da DUMMM!

Which prompts the question: What does a Jazz Age romantic comedy have in common with one the sternest, most serious pieces of classical music ever written?

Well, as with so much, it's personal. So forgive me as I briefly succumb to that malaise of middle age: the reminiscence.

I first got interested in silent film as a kid in the 1970s. At the time, if you really wanted to see silent film, you had to get the actual films and run them yourself.

Many were available (in 16mm and 8mm) from the public library, or could be ordered from Blackhawk Films of Davenport, Iowa, which I did.

And so I explored and learned about the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, of Buster Keaton, and so many others. Little by little, I came to understand the world of 1920s cinema.

But the films of one person were missing: Harold Lloyd. You could see some of his early short films, but all the big classic features just weren't available.

Of course I could read about Lloyd's films. In books, he was often labeled a "thrill" comedian in passages that were inevitably accompanied by the famous image at the top of this post.

Here it is again:


And that was that. As far as I knew, Lloyd was rooted in the frentic "anything for a laugh" school of comedy, as epitomized by that one photo, used over and over again.

Why was he hanging from a clock? There couldn't be any possible reason other than he was just trying to get laughs by being outrageous.

And that was my image of Lloyd for quite awhile.

At the same time (junior high school), I was beginning to explore the works of the great composers.

All along, I had known what Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was all about: da da da DUMMM, right?

But to my adolescent ears, it came as a a major discovery that 40 minutes of music followed: music that explored a vast emotional landscape ranging from the deepest valleys of despair to the highest summits of ecstasy.

I recall it was an RCA recording of Fritz Reiner leading the Chicago Symphony on an LP that was very "close-miked," meaning the voice of each instrument was clear and distinct, as opposed to the general sonic blur you sometimes get from an orchestra in a concert hall.

It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. And it was big news to find out all of what came after DUMMM.

The same thing happened with 'Safety Last.' After years of thinking of the film as just an excuse for Lloyd to go stunting willy-nilly on a tall building, I finally got to see the entire film. (This happened when the Lloyd films were shown on Public Television in the late 1970s.)

Just as with Beethoven, a whole world opened up to me. Turns out Lloyd wasn't just a clock-hanger! His films had plots, character, settings, and finely honed gag sequences that brought the art of visual comedy to places I had never seen before.

And 'Safety Last' wasn't just a flimsy excuse for Lloyd to do stunts on a building. No! It was laid out with a certain inexorable logic that leaves Lloyd's character no choice but to climb the building, floor by increasingly vertiginous floor, while frightened silly the whole way.

And as he does it, the film's story virtually requires us to root for him. And when he finally reaches the clockface—the one I'd seen in that picture so many times—the reaction generated is the result of all that has gone on before it.

I couldn't believe how well done it was. I finally knew how Lloyd came to hanging from that clockface, and it made all the sense in the world.

It also helped me begin to understand why Lloyd was so popular in the 1920s. His films were a lot more than da da da DUMM. They were actually made to a very high standard, designed to be experienced by a large audience, and still work like gangbusters when shown as intended.

So there! I hope that's enough to encourage you to venture out the the venerable (and venture-able, too!) Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. and join us for a screening of 'Safety Last' on Sunday, Jan. 15. More details in the press release below.

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Harold Lloyd clocks in during 'Safety Last' (1923).

TUESDAY, DEC. 27, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall Theatre to celebrate 100th anniversary of silent film classic 'Safety Last'

Thrill comedy climaxed by Harold Lloyd's iconic building climb; matinee screening with live music on Sunday, Jan. 15

WILTON, N.H.—It's a cinematic image so powerful, people who've never seen the movie instantly recognize it.

The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a huge clock, from the climax of his silent comedy 'Safety Last,' (1923), has emerged as a symbol of early Hollywood and movie magic.

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the film's original release with a screening of 'Safety Last' on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

The screening will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

'Safety Last' follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business, then send for his small town sweetheart.

His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea—hire a human fly to climb the building's exterior.

But when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on.

The result is an extended sequence filmed without trick photography that blends comedy and terror, holding viewers spellbound.

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

Lloyd's character, an ambitious young man ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s.

While Chaplin and Keaton were always favored by the critics, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

Silent film at the Town Hall Theatre gives today's audiences the chance to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who practices the nearly lost art of live silent film accompaniment.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound.

"Seeing 'Safety Last' with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound," Rapsis said. "Harold's iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released."

Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' (2011), which includes clips from 'Safety Last.'

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) with a screening on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person at each screening is suggested to help defray expenses. For more information, call the theater at (603) 654-3456.

CRITIC COMMENTS ON ‘SAFETY LAST’:

"Impossible to watch without undergoing visitations of vertigo, Safety Last's climactic sequence is all it's reputed to be.”
—TV Guide

"Harold Lloyd manages to make the characters sympathetic enough to carry the audience's concern on his journey of crazy stunts and mishaps. One of the best of this era."
—David Parkinson, Empire Magazine

"The climb has both comic and dramatic weight because it is both a thrilling exercise in physical humor and a thematically rich evocation of the pressures men feel to succeed, lest they be viewed as less than a man."
—James Kendrick, Q Network Film Desk

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Coming up next: sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Keene's Colonial Theatre

Let's hear it for the Precision Driving School of Greenfield, Mass. for sponsoring a local theater's silent film series!

What better way to follow a screening of 'Metropolis' than with...another screening of 'Metropolis'?

That's what'll happen this weekend, when Fritz Lang's ground-breaking sci-fi epic hits the big screen yet again: this time on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

Lots more detail about this screening is in the press release below.

This will actually be the fourth 'Metropolis' screening I've accompanied in the past three weeks. That's a lot of futuristic fantasy!

The four screenings were booked separately by programmers at different venues, which I take as a sign of the film's enduring popularity. Anywhere you go, it seems people still buy tickets and show up for 'Metropolis.'

So if you're in the Monadnock area of southwestern N.H. this Saturday, please drop on by and experience one of the great achievements of the silent era as it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with a restored print, with live music, and with an audience!

I usually describe a screening as a "rare chance" to experience early cinema as it was intended. But in the case of 'Metropolis,' I can't really say it's rare, having done music for it so often.

Plus, if you can't make it to Keene this weekend, I'm doing 'Metropolis' again in April at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Stay tuned on that one...

*  *  *

From 'Metropolis': A star is born...sort of.

TUESDAY, DEC. 20, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' to screen in Keene on Saturday, Jan. 7

Ring in the New Year with landmark early futuristic fantasy shown with live music at Colonial Theatre

KEENE, N.H.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music in Keene next month.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

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

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8.50 youth. Tickets are available online at http://thecolonial.org or at the door.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a society where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live in poverty.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and underground cities, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.'

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

In reviving 'Metropolis,' the Colonial aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at Colonial is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927.

The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

When first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

From Metropolis': note the sign in the bottom right corner. It doesn't seem to represent anything real in any language I recognize. But it IS an anagram for both 'A Mouth' and 'Uh, Atom.'

The restoration work has continued in recent years. In 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included not merely a few additional snippets, but 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery led to a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. This fully restored edition will be screened at the Colonial.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who provides live music for silent film screenings throughout New England and beyond.

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. Admission is $10.50 for adults; $8.50 for youth. Tickets are available online at http://thecolonial.org or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (603) 352-2033.

CRITIC'S COMMENTS on ‘METROPOLIS’

“'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world.”
—Roger Ebert, 2010, The Chicago Sun-Times

“If it comes anywhere near your town, go see it and thank the movie Gods that it even exists. There’s no star rating high enough.”
—Brian Tallerico, Movieretriever.com

Monday, January 2, 2023

First in line for 2023: 'Metropolis' on Monday, Jan. 2 at Greenfield (Mass.) Garden Cinema

A scene from 'Metropolis' (1927).

We start out 2023 by breaking new ground!

Tonight I'm doing live music for 'Metropolis' (1927), and it's the first time in my experience that Fritz Lang's futuristic fantasy will be sponsored by a driving school.

Yes, the Garden Cinema of Greenfield, Mass. will screen 'Metropolis' tonight at 6:30 p.m., and along for the ride will be the Precision Driving School.

And that's not all. The driving school has generously agreed to underwrite a three-film series of silents at the Garden. Alfred Hitchcock's early thriller 'The Lodger' (1927) will screen in February, and then it's the WWI aerial epic 'Wings' (1927) in March.

So a tip of the cap to the folks at the Precision Driving School (Your Driver's License is Just a Click Away!) for doing their part to help a local downtown cinema run unusual and distinctive programming—the kind that can't easily be duplicated at home.

And while we're at it, three cheers to the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, where they've been bringing the magic of the movies to Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley since 1929. It's great that Garden willing to find room in their programming for silent classics with live music, which I'm honored to provide. (And which keeps me off the street.)

So if you're within hailing distance of Greenfield, Mass., then get thee down to the Garden for tonight's screening of 'Metropolis.' And if you don't know how to drive, call our good friends at the Precision Driving School (1-413-773-8600) and they'll set you right up. 

Details and more info in the press release below:

*    *    *

An original promotional poster for 'Metropolis' (1927).

TUESDAY, DEC. 27, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' to screen in Greenfield on Monday, Jan. 2

Ring in the New Year with landmark early futuristic fantasy shown with live music at Garden Cinema

GREENFIELD, Mass.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music in Greenfield next month.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Monday, Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

The screening, which honors "National Science Fiction Day," will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and veterans. Tickets are available online or at the door. The screening is sponsored by Precision Driving School of Greenfield.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a society where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live in poverty.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and underground cities, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.' (Notice the similarities in poster design.)

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Garden Cinema aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' during the screening. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at Greenfield Garden Cinema is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927.

The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

When first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

Futuristic gesturing on display in 'Metropolis' (1927).

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

The restoration work has continued in recent years. In 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included not merely a few additional snippets, but 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery led to a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Greenfield Garden Cinema.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who provides live music for silent film screenings throughout New England and beyond.

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

Silent film will return to the Garden on Monday, Feb. 6 with a screening 'The Lodger' (1927), an early effort from director Alfred Hitchcock; and then on Monday, March 6 with 'Wings' (1927), a sweeping drama of U.S. aviators in World War I that won of Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards.

All films will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis.

The Garden Cinema's silent film series is sponsored by Precision Driving School, 91 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Monday, Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass. Admission is $10.50 for adults; $8.50 for children, seniors, and veterans. Tickets are available online at www.gardencinemas.net or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

CRITIC'S COMMENTS on ‘METROPOLIS’

“'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world.”
—Roger Ebert, 2010, The Chicago Sun-Times

“If it comes anywhere near your town, go see it and thank the movie Gods that it even exists. There’s no star rating high enough.”
—Brian Tallerico, Movieretriever.com