Thursday, March 16, 2023

Up next: Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry' (1923) at Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H. on Saturday, 3/18

In 'Why Worry?', Harold Lloyd demonstrates the basic comedy principle of 'Big shoes are funny.'

Okay, on to the next venue in the high-profile jet-setting life of this silent film accompanist: the Blazing Star Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H. 

 There—where the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson still hangs proudly—I'll do live music for a screening of Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18.

More details on the show are in the press release pasted in below. 

The Grange screening was a homecoming of sorts. I did annual "mud season" silent film programs in Danbury for quite a few years until 2020, when the screening was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Now, three years later, the tradition is being revived by the Blazing Star Grange, one of very few chapters still active in New Hampshire. 

Why 'Why Worry?' Because it's one of Harold's funniest comedies, I think, and also because this year marks the 100th anniversary of its release.

It shares that distinction with Lloyd's 'Safety Last' (1923), which is far better known due to its famous building-climbing climax. 

So for its 100th anniversary, I've accompanied 'Safety Last' three time already this year, with more to come, and so I suggested 'Why Worry' in the interest of equal time. 

If you're in the area, hope you can join us, as a packed house is good for comedy. And good for you!

And despite the small-town nature of most of my work, I'm pleased to report that recently we've staged satisfying screenings of some pretty big-time pictures.

Last night in Plymouth, N.H., a completely improvised score for John Ford's 'Hangman's House' (1928) was one of those times where I had all the right material at just the right moments. 

The only thing I knew in advance that I would use was a lively tune for the big horse-racing scene. Other than that, I played and watched, and watched and played.

What came out were melodic lines with a slightly modal flavor and rhythmic catches that to me made them sound vaguely "old country," which I think fit the story, the setting, and the film's visual style.

I wouldn't say it was specifically Irish, because my knowledge of Irish music is limited to the tune in the old "Irish Spring" soap commercials. ("Manly, yes, but I like it, too.")

Out of that developed two licks that ended up carrying a lot of the dramatic freight: one originally played for the despised Judge who dies early in the film, but whose demise casts a shadow over  the piece, and another for the villain. 

I was able to use these two lines to build up dramatic tension, adding more insistent rhythmic patterns underneath as things intensified. It all fell together marvelously, I thought, and helped build to a terrificly cinematic climax.

Prior to that, last Sunday I had a great time doing music for Marion Davies in 'Little Old New York' (1923) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

And the week before that, for Lillian Gish in 'Annie Laurie' (1925), a big drama of big emotions and the kind of picture that my method of accompaniment seems best-suited for. Plus a screening of 'Wings' (1927) in Greenfield, Mass. that went well, and a kick-ass 'Caligari's Cabinet' (1920) for students at UNH.

Why the hot streak? Who knows? Probably just that like many other things (cooking, bowling, stilt-walking), doing it a lot tends to improve one's batting average. (Baseball, too!) 

Also, right now there's way too much going on in my non-silent-film life. So when it's time to lose myself in creating music for a screening, it comes as a relief and there's a lot of pent-up energy ready to go.

And after focusing on live film accompaniment  for 15 years (more than 100 shows per year, so over 1,500 performances), I think I've gradually developed a fluency in a certain kind of musical language and a comfort level in using it. It's just what I do.

Plus, I steal from the best! Sometimes without knowing it. Just this morning on the radio, I heard the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's opera 'Eugene Onegin,' and it starts with dotted-note up-and-down scales in the strings that are pretty much exactly what I used in a movement of my Kilimanjaro Suite.Ooops!

(Which, by the way, I really enjoyed hearing played live in concert a few years ago by the N.H. Philharmonic. And one of the highlights was the end of this movement. The piece is a musical depiction of a Westerner trying to respond to the other-worldly beauty of Africa and Kilimanjaro, and in this case the movement finishes by breaking into an all-out Sousa-like march (complete with trombone lines from the 'Washington Post March') that's very much in the spirit of Charles Ives, and which makes a heckuva racket when played in a concert hall rather than modest computer speakers. Anyway...)

Well, for whatever reason, it's been a good month so far. I'm looking forward to continuing the streak with 'Why Worry?' this coming Saturday night. See you at the Blazing Star Grange! And then on Monday, March 20 in the big city, when I'll accompany Buster Keaton's 'The Navigator' (1924) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass., just over the line from Boston.

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Promotional art for Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Harold Lloyd stars in 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18 in Danbury, N.H.

Public welcome: Blazing Star Grange to screen classic feature-length silent comedy with live music

DANBURY, N.H.—He was the bespectacled young man next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.

He was Harold Lloyd, whose fast-paced comedies made him the most popular movie star of Hollywood's silent film era.

See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a revival of 'Why Worry?' (1923), one of his best comedies.

The Blazing Star Grange will host a 100th anniversary screening of 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the historic Blazing Star Grange Hall, 15 North Road in Danbury.

The show is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $5 per person.

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

Lloyd's go-getter character proved immensely popular throughout the 1920s, with fans following him from one adventure to the next.

Harold Lloyd plays a rich hypochondriac in 'Why Worry?'

In the political satire 'Why Worry?', Harold plays a wealthy hypochondriac traveling abroad who gets caught up in a local uprising.

Thrown into prison, Harold is forced to use his wits to escape and rescue his nurse from the clutches of an evil Revolutionary.

Regarded as one of Lloyd's most surreal movies, 'Why Worry?' features a cast that includes an actual real-life giant—8-foot-tall John Aasen, discovered in Minnesota during a national talent search.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Why Worry?' as the film screens. In creating accompaniment for the Lloyd movies and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's really crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.

The short Harold Lloyd comedy 'Number, Please' (1920) will also be included in the program.

‘Why Worry?’ will be shown on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the historic Blazing Star Grange Hall, 15 North Road in Danbury.

The show is open to the public with suggested $5 donation.

Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?', not to be confused with another Lloyd feature, 'Hot Water' (1924).

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