Thursday, March 2, 2023

A late night preview of 'Annie Laurie' in 35mm, with a little 'Cocaine Bear' thrown in

An original lobby card for 'Annie Laurie' (1927) starring Lillian Gish.

Coming up on Sunday, March 5: I'll do live music at the Somerville Theatre for a double feature of two silents shown via 35mm prints from the Library of Congress.

The pair are 'Annie Laurie' (1927) a little-known-but-big-budget MGM historical epic starring Lillian Gish, and an early screen adaptation of 'Cinderella' (1914) starring Mary Pickford.

The fun begins on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Somerville, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. You'll find more details on our 'Women's History Month' program, and the Somerville's whole 'Silents, Please!' program, in the press release below.

The thing about 'Annie Laurie' is that it's one of those silent titles that's very difficult to see. It's never been released for home viewing in any format, nor are any versions floating around the Internet, bootleg or otherwise.

So to see 'Annie Laurie,' you really have to get a print of the film and run it, which is what we're doing on Sunday. The Library of Congress happens to have a circulating 35mm print, and that's what's being used for the Somerville's screening. (The film itself is now in the public domain as of Jan. 1, 2023.)

Because I'd never seen it, projectionist David Kornfeld offered to arrange an advance screenings some night this week, after the Somerville's last first-run movie showings. So last night I headed down to the theater, arriving at about 9:45 p.m., just in time to see the last 10 minutes of 'Cocaine Bear.' (Not really my type of picture, but hey...)

A selfie taken up in the Somerville's balcony while waiting for projectionist David Kornfeld to set up 'Annie Laurie' (1927).

After that, David prepped 'Annie Laurie' high up in the projection booth, and then joined us in what's called 'House 1' (the Somerville's main theater) for the screening, shown without music.

I'm pleased to report that the print itself looks great. About 10 minutes into it, David proclaimed it "gorgeous" and I agree. As for the movie, it's quite a hoot. I don't want to spoil it for you, but 'Annie Laurie' is a riot of historical epic-itis, or inflammation of the historical epic. 

The costumes, the settings, the story, the emotions, the stereotypes—everything is over the top. But it works, as it only can in silent film, I think. 

If you're in the mood to lose yourself in another world, 'Annie Laurie' works doubly well, as it transports a viewer to early 18th century Scotland and also 1920s Hollywood—at this point, an equally exotic place.

As the accompanist, I was especially grateful for a chance to preview the film as it's filled with music on screen. 

As you'd expect, there's quite a lot of bagpipe playing to accompany ceremonies, marching, games, dancing, and personal hygiene routines. I estimate at least a quarter of the film has bagpipes playing on screen. (The image at left, taken during the screening, is a typical intertitle.)

But there's also a surprising amount of lute music. Turns out Annie Laurie (the gal, not the movie) inspires a great deal of singing by others, always (it seems) accompanied by a guitar-like stringed instrument that I'll call a lute, although it's probably not. 

For most films, I wouldn't mind playing music for them "cold," or without the chance to see them beforehand. This happens once in awhile, and an experienced accompanist ought to be able to "sight read" a film in real time and come up with appropriate music on the fly. 

However, with 'Annie Laurie' being a big budget extravaganza, and with the Somerville charging a good price for tickets ($20 to see both films), I wanted to get a sense of what was in it so as to plan out any complicated sequences.

I'm glad I did, because music can really make a difference with this kind of film, and there's no way I would have anticipated or caught many of the moments without a look beforehand. Thank you, David!

So this Sunday, I encourage you to head to the Somerville and check out 'Annie Laurie.' It's a rare chance to see a big budget epic as originally intended—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience. (That's where you come in. Literally!) More details in the press release below.

And thanks to last night's sneak preview, I'll be prepared for the all the various ways that music plays an important role in the picture, both on-screen and as underscoring.

I just have to go find a set of bagpipes and a lute before Sunday afternoon.

*   *   *

Lillian Gish in one of her more sedate costumes in 'Annie Laurie' (1927).

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Ladies first: Pair of pioneering female filmmakers spotlighted in silent double feature at Somerville Theatre

'Annie Laurie' starring Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford's 'Cinderella' to be shown in 35mm with live music on Sunday, March 5 for Women's History Month

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—What they did would make a good movie.

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, both iconic stars of early cinema, achieved fame and fortune in cinema's chaotic early days despite working in a new industry largely controlled by male businessmen.

Both were able to leverage their star power and public popularity to call their own shots, build successful careers, and have a lasting influence on the emerging movie business.

To honor their achievements, and to salute 'Women's History Month,' on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m. the Somerville Theatre will run a double feature of two rarely screened silent films starring Gish and Pickford.

First up at 2 p.m. is 'Annie Laurie' (1927), starring Lillian Gish as the female lead in a big budget MGM historical epic about warring Scottish clans.

Then, at 3:45 p.m., it's 'Cinderella' (1914), an early screen version of the famous tale starring Pickford in the title role.

Both films will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in accompanying silent films.

Both films will be shown via 35mm prints on loan from the Library of Congress.

By the way they built their careers in early Hollywood, Gish and Pickford are often cited as models for female entrepreneurs.

"These two ladies were not just movie stars," Rapsis said."They both used their influence to shape early Hollywood behind the scenes, making sure performers and artists were given credit for their work and also fairly compensated for it."

Pickford, dissatisfied with studio production deals that failed to reflect the value of her immense box office appeal, co-founded United Artists. This enabled her to control all aspects of her film work as well as her career.

Pickford went on to co-found the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which awards the annual Oscars.

Gish, hugely popular due to her starring role in early D.W. Griffith epics such as 'Way Down East' (1920) and 'Orphans of the Storm' (1921), parlayed that fame into a lucrative contract with MGM that gave her creative control within the tightly-run studio.

Gish went on to a lengthy career in film, stage, and television, in later life making appearances on shows such as the 'The Love Boat' in 1981.

"Seeing both these films today, on the big screen and with live music, is a great way to appreciate the appeal of these two great female stars as they were building their careers in early Hollywood," said Ian Judge, the Somerville Theatre's creative director and general manager.

The Somerville Theatre's ongoing '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 in the 'Silents, Please!' series includes:

• 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.

'Annie Laurie' (1927), a silent drama starring Lillian Gish, will be shown on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m., followed by 'Cinderella' (1914) starring Mary Pickford at 3:45 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Both films will be shown in 35mm with live music.

Tickets for the double feature are $20; tickets for one film only are $16; seniors/children $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.

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