Monday, May 29, 2023

Fly to Neverland on Wednesday, May 31 with original silent 'Peter Pan' in Manchester, N.H.

An original release posted promoting 'Peter Pan' (1924).

People are often surprised to find that silent film versions exist of many popular classic films. 

Earlier this month I accompanied the silent version of 'The Ten Commandments' (1923). And in June, I'll accompany the silent film version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.'

Perhaps one of the best silent film versions of a popular story is 'Peter Pan' (1924), which Paramount Pictures produced with involvement of J.M. Barrie, author of the original stage play. 

Yes, it's the same classic story we all know from numerous remakes by Walt Disney and others. It has it all: Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, and pirates and mermaids and crocodiles, too.

You'll get to see this original adaptation on the big screen, with live music by me, on Wednesday, May 31 at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H. Showtime is 7 p.m. More info is in the press release pasted below. 

On a personal note, the silent 'Peter Pan' holds the distinction of being the film that sparked my own return to working with the genre after many years away from it.

As a teenager, I was a fanatical silent film fan, perusing the monthly Blackhawk Films catalog and saving up to buy 8mm prints of great silent-era comedies, which I still have.

But in college, my interests drifted elsewhere, and for a couple of decades I didn't pay much attention to silent cinema or the era that produced it.

Then, on a whim, I attended the Kansas Silent Film Festival in March of 2000. And there, the first movie on the Saturday morning program was Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman,' with live music by Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

I was familiar with the Keaton film, but seeing it with an audience and with live music was a revelation. It was also a great warm-up for the afternoon's featured attraction (you guessed it): the original silent 'Peter Pan,' also with music by Mont Alto, and which I'd never seen before.

From the opening moments, I was hooked. (Not a Peter Pan pun, but there you go. By the way, that's Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook in the original adaptation.) It was a whole different way of telling a familiar story—one with its own characteristics, and with the silence giving it a magical, other-worldly quality unlike anything I'd experienced before. 

I realized: this was what life feels like to me.

And so began a long (but not too long) journey that led to actively accompanying 120 silent film screenings each year now, giving other people a chance to experience what I felt back almost a quarter-century ago in Topeka, Kansas.

That screening, by the way, included a projection mishap still talked about in Kansas. They were using a 16mm print and about 20 minutes in, a reel change produced a flopped image, with everything reversed: what was on the left was on the right, and vice versa.

This wasn't immediately apparent until the first intertitle appeared. Suddenly, with the English text reversed, it looked like the Czech language on the screen. Oops!

What had happened, of course, was that the reel had been rewound incorrectly after a prior showing. And with no soundtrack on the print, no one could tell it was being fed into the projector upside down until the first garbled title flashed onto the screen.

The film was quickly rewound and restarted, this time oriented correctly. Somehow, this added to the magic of the occasion to me.

And it's this magic that I try to keep in mind when doing music for 'Peter Pan,' which continues to be popular with audiences and is one of titles I most frequently accompany.

I do try to think back and remember the effect the film had on me when I first saw it, which was long enough ago now to encompass practically the entire history of silent cinema. I've since accompanied it several dozen times, at least.

None of that matters to anyone attending the May 31 screening in Manchester. So I have to remember: keep it light. Let the film do its thing. Play music that helps people discover the movie the way you did. 

Hope you'll be able to join us on Wednesday, May 31 at the Rex Theatre. If nothing else, your help is needed in the audience participation sequence!

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An original release poster promoting 'Peter Pan' (1924).

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rarely seen silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Rex Theatre on Wednesday, May 31

Original big-screen adaptation of magical fantasy classic, a major 1924 hit, to be shown with live musical score

MANCHESTER, N.H.—It was the film that introduced movie-goers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates.

It was the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan,' a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film was a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.

Movie fans can see for themselves when the first 'Peter Pan' (1924) is screened on Wednesday, May 31 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission tickets are $10 per person and available online at www.palacetheatre.org at the door.

Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent 'Peter Pan' maintains its freshness and charm nearly a century after its original release.

In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland.

There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan's sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may ever return home.

Though the Peter Pan story is well-known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also merchandising that includes a ubiquitous brand of peanut butter), the tale was virtually new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s.

In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the first-ever screen adaptation, though he retained control over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.

After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrence, who invented the now-iconic villainous pirate persona that would become a Hollywood legend.

The film's highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film's memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight.

'Peter Pan' also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook's nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.

After the film's release, no copies of the original 'Peter Pan' were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 120 performances per year, and has created music for more than 380 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

'Peter Pan' is the latest in a series of silent films with live music scheduled for this year at the Rex Theatre, a restored venue in downtown Manchester that was reopened in 2019.

The series gives movie-goers a chance to rediscover the experience of silent cinema presented as it was intended: on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all the original elements together, the films of early Hollywood still come to life," said Rapsis. "These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Wednesday, May 31 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H. General admission $10 per person; tickets available online at www.palacetheatre.org or at the door.

Tickets and more information, call (603) 668-5588 or visit www.palacetheatre.org

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Coming up this weekend: Harold Lloyd (and Babe Ruth!) in 'Speedy' (1928) on Sunday, May 28

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy visit Coney Island in 'Speedy' (1928).

A few years ago, I was looking for a parking spot in Brooklyn, N.Y. to attend a get-together of my Fordham University friends.

This was in the Williamsburg section of the borough, close to the East River. And I found myself on Kent Avenue.

I'd never been there before, but for some reason I knew that street name. 

Before I found a parking spot, I remembered—Kent Avenue plays a prominent role in 'Speedy' (1928), Harold Lloyd's silent comedy that was shot mostly on location in New York. 

You can see Kent Ave. (street sign and all) and a lot of other New York locations this weekend, when we run 'Speedy' at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

It's the final installment of our silent tribute to the Big Apple. And in this case, I think you could argue that we've saved the best for last. 

More Coney Island action, shot on location at the height of the Roaring '20s.

Lloyd and his crew made the most of shooting on location, and 'Speedy' is filled with shots of NYC scenes from 100 years ago that add a huge layer of interest to the film, then and even more so now.

See for yourself by attending the screening on Sunday, May 28 at 2 p.m. See you there!

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Harold rides the NYC subway in 'Speedy' (1928).

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic Harold Lloyd comedy 'Speedy' on Sunday, May 28 at Town Hall Theatre

Screening features live music; filmed on location in NYC with cameo by Babe Ruth

WILTON, N.H.—He was the bespectacled boy 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 'Speedy' (1928), one of his most popular comedies.

The film, shot on location in New York City, will be shown on Sunday, May 28 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The film will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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

The film is the last installment in the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing 'Silent New York' series.

'Speedy,' Lloyd's final silent feature before the transition to talkies, finds Harold as a baseball-crazed youth who must rescue the city's last horse-drawn streetcar from gangsters bent on running it out of business.

Filmed almost entirely on location in New York, 'Speedy' features remarkable glimpses of the city at the end of the 1920s, including footage of Coney Island and the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

The latter scenes include an extended appearance by Babe Ruth, then at the height of his career during the team's storied 1927 season.

"In 'Speedy,' New York City is practically a part of the cast," Rapsis said. "In filming it on location, Lloyd knew scenes of New York would give the picture added interest to audiences across the nation and around the world.

"But what he didn't anticipate was that today, the location shots now provide a fascinating record of how life was lived in the Big Apple in the 1920s," Rapsis said.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Speedy' as the film is screened. In creating accompaniment for 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.

'Speedy' (1928) will be screened on Sunday, May 28 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.

Monday, May 15, 2023

A busy musical weekend in store: two silent film programs in Vt., then a concert in N.H.

A scene from F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise' (1927).

This coming weekend, it's two shows in Vermont followed by a concert in N.H. where some of my music is on the program.

First up: F.W. Murnau's acclaimed drama 'Sunrise' (1927) on Friday, May 19 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt. 

I'll be playing the venue's original Estey pipe organ to accompany the film. Lots more details in the press release below. 

Then on Saturday, May 20, it's opening night of the 12th season of silent film screenings at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall. Showtime is at 7 p.m.; featured attraction is Chaplin's 1923 comedy 'The Pilgrim,' his last non-feature-length film and celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

More on that, and a look at the whole season of silent films that I'll accompany, in a post a bit later this week. For now, you can browse the listings (via the 'Upcoming Silent Film Screenings' link at upper right) and see what's playing.

And then on Sunday, May 21, the N.H. Philharmonic is playing part of my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra at its Spring Pops Concert, which is at 2 p.m. at Seifert Performing Arts Center, Salem High School, 44 Geremonty Drive, Salem, N.H.

I've been attending rehearsals during the past couple of weeks, and the orchestra sounds really good. To learn more about the piece, check out the 'Notes for Kilimanjaro Suite' link at upper right. And for tickets and more information, visit www.nhphil.org.

Hope to see you at some or all of these events!

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A poster for the original release of 'Sunrise' (1927).

MONDAY, MAY 8, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Academy Award-winning drama 'Sunrise' to be screened on Friday, May 19 at Epsilon Spires, Brattleboro


Silent film won three honors at first-ever Academy Awards, including 'Best Actress'; show features live musical accompaniment

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—Silent film on the big screen with live music returns to Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro with the Academy Award-winning romantic drama 'Sunrise' (1927) on Friday, May 19 at 8 p.m.

The screening of 'Sunrise,' starring Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien, will take place at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $20 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

The screening will feature live accompaniment on the venue's Estey pipe organ by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

Gaynor, a popular female star of the silent film era, won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in 'Sunrise.' The movie took top honors in cinematography and was also recognized for "Unique and Artistic Production" at the inaugural awards.

'Sunrise' tells the story of a young country couple (played by Gaynor and O'Brien) whose marriage is threatened by the presence of a woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) who convinces the man to abandon his wife. Will the young husband go through with a plan to kill his wife? Will true love overcome the obstacles of temptation and the promise of short-term pleasure?

Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien in 'Sunrise' (1927).

'Sunrise' was directed by F. W. Murnau, a German filmmaker and one of the leading figures in German Expressionism, a style that uses distorted art design for symbolic effect. 'Sunrise' was made when Murnau was invited by studio chief William Fox to make a film in Hollywood.

The resulting movie features enormous stylized sets that create an exaggerated, fairy-tale world. The city street set alone reportedly cost over $200,000 to build, a huge sum at the time. Much of the exterior shooting was done at Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

Full of cinematic innovations, the groundbreaking cinematography (by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) featured moving cameras and impressive tracking shots. Titles appear sparingly, with long sequences of pure action and most of the story told in Murnau's signature visual style. The extensive use of forced perspective is striking, particularly in a shot of the city with normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and smaller figures in the background by much smaller sets.

The story of 'Sunrise' is told as a visual allegory with few specific details. The characters have no names, and the setting is not named in order to make the tale more universal and symbolic.

With a full title of 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,' the film is regarded as one of the high points of the silent cinema. In 1988, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress for films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The Sight and Sound poll of 2012 for the British Film Institute named 'Sunrise' the fifth-best film in the history of motion pictures by critics, and 22nd by directors.

Critics continue to hail 'Sunrise' as one of the best films of all time.

"F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise' conquered time and gravity with a freedom that was startling to its first audiences," wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. "To see it today is to be astonished by the boldness of its visual experimentation.

Rapsis (at right), who uses original themes to improvise silent film scores, said great silent film dramas such as 'Sunrise' used their lack of dialogue to create stories that concentrated on the "big" emotions such as Love, Despair, Anger, and Joy. 

Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended — with a live audience and live music.

"Dramas such as 'Sunrise' were created to be shown on the big screen as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life as their creators intended them to. So the screenings at Epsilon Spires are a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies," he said.

'Sunrise' will be shown with live music on Friday, May 19 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $20 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at www.epsilonspires.org or at the door.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Classic drama 'Docks of New York' (1928) at Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, 5/14

Betty Compson and George Bancroft in 'The Docks of New York' (1928).

This weekend, our "Silent New York' series continues with 'The Docks of New York' (1928) on Sunday, May 14 at 2 p.m.

If you've never seen a silent film on the big screen and with live music, this would be a good one to check out. 

Why? Because it really dispels the myth of silent film being a primitive ancestor of talking pictures. It's a good example of how silent cinema developed a story-telling power that was unique to the medium, and which still works today.

Plus the film stock had improved to the point where all kinds of light and shadow could be used in making a motion picture—something director Josef von Sternberg exploited to great effect.

So, for a different kind of Mother's Day experience, take in 'The Docks of New York' at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. More details in the press release below.

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Betty Compson and George Bancroft in 'The Docks of New York' (1928).

TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Cinematic masterpiece 'Docks of New York' to screen Sunday, May 14 at Town Hall Theatre

Big Apple tribute continues: Josef von Sternberg's silent working class drama to be shown on big screen with live musical accompaniment

WILTON, N.H.—It's a rare chance to see a masterpiece of early cinema presented as intended: on the big screen, with live music and with an audience in a theater.

It's 'The Docks of New York' (1928), a working class drama directed by Josef Von Sternberg, to be shown at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, May 14 at 2 p.m.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening is the latest installment of the Town Hall Theatre's 'Silent New York' series, which shows the Big Apple as depicted in movies a century ago.

'The Docks of New York,' one of the last silent films released by Paramount Pictures, explores the lives and loves of lower-class waterfront denizens.

Roughneck stoker Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) falls for Mae (Betty Compson), a wise and weary dance-hall girl. But the relationship changes Roberts' hard-luck life in unexpected ways.

Fog-shrouded cinematography by Harold Rosson ('The Wizard of Oz'), expressionist set design by Hans Dreier ('Sunset Boulevard'), and sensual performances by Bancroft and Compson make this one of the legendary director Joseph von Sternberg’s finest works.

The film was daring for a Hollywood picture at the time for its realism: the unflinching and unromantic portrayal of working class people, and its refusal to rely on traditional story formulas and outcomes.

Unlike many early movie directors, von Sternberg emphasized the visual quality of his pictures, using lighting and scene composition in new and innovative ways.

Working as a studio director for Paramount, the native Austrian was aided by the increasing ability of black-and-white film stock by the mid-1920s to capture light and shadows.

The result was a series of ground-breaking dramas at the very end of the silent era, including 'Underworld' (1927) and 'The Last Command' (1928), the latter which helped Emil Jannings win "Best Actor" at the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony.

After the transition to talking pictures, von Sternberg discovered German actress Marlene Dietrich, inviting her to Hollywood to make a series of highly successful pictures under his direction.

With their moody lighting and extensive use of shadows, von Sternberg's films are widely acknowledged as paving the way for the "film noir" look that took hold in Hollywood in subsequent decades.

Although von Sternberg's directing career faded in the 1950s, his legacy continues today in surprising places—including the field of early rock music.

Between 1959 and 1963, Sternberg taught a course on film aesthetics at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on his own works. His students included Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who went on to form the rock group The Doors.

The group recorded songs referring to Sternberg. Manzarek has described Sternberg as "perhaps the greatest single influence on The Doors."

'Docks of New York' was released at the very end of the silent era, causing it to be overlooked by critics at the time.

Previewed by the New York City press during the same week that saw the fanfare opening of Al Jolson’s 'The Singing Fool,' Sternberg’s film was ignored in the excitement over competing talking pictures.

Film critic Andrew Sarris lamented that Sternberg’s film “quickly vanished in undeserved oblivion...confirm[ing] Chaplin’s observation that the silent movies learned their craft just about the time they went out of business.”

Museum of Modern Art film curator Charles Silver ranked 'The Docks of New York' as “probably the last genuinely great silent film made in Hollywood [rivaling] Chaplin’s masterpieces of the 1930s.”

Upcoming programs in the Town Hall Theatre's 'Silent New York' series include:

• Sunday, May 28, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'Speedy' (1928) starring Harold Lloyd. Lloyd's final silent feature finds him at the peak of his career playing a baseball-crazed go-getter forced to rescue the business of his girlfriend's father from being destroyed by thugs. Filled with great scenes of 1920s NYC, with notable cameo by baseball's Babe Ruth. ('Speedy' was originally scheduled for Sunday, April 30 but was moved to Sunday, May 28 due to a scheduling conflict.)

‘The Docks of New York' (1928) will be screened on Sunday, May 14 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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Sunday, May 7 in Somerville, Mass.: Buster Keaton 'Boats and Trains' double feature, 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) and 'The General' (1926) both in 35mm

Buster perched on a railroad engine's 'cowcatcher' in 'The General' (1926). 

What's better than a Buster Keaton film? How about two Buster Keaton films, both shown on the big screen using 35mm prints?

That's what you'll get at a "Boats and Trains" Buster Keaton double feature on Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

Here's the line-up: Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) will screen at 2 p.m., while his masterpiece 'The General' (1926) runs at 3:30 p.m. I'll be doing live musical accompaniment for both films.

You can buy a ticket for one feature at $16 per person, or see both for the bargain price of $20. Lots more information in the press release pasted in below.

For now, a little bit more about the 35mm prints we're using. 

A vintage lobby card promoting 'The General' (1926). 

The Somerville Theatre is among very few first-run moviehouses in our area that maintained their 35mm projectors when the industry converted to digital projection about 10 years ago.

So it has the ability to show 35mm prints, and even augmented its capacity a few years ago to handle 70mm prints, which it occasionally screens.

So when it's time to see a film on actual film (as was done for more than 100 years before the advent of digital projection), the Somerville can still do it. 

Although exhibition of first-run movies is almost exclusively digital now, many cinephiles insist on the authenticity (and in some cases, superiority) of actual film.

In some ways its similar to what's been happening with audio recordings on vinyl records. The format was nearly wiped out by the transition to compact discs in the 1980s, but never quite went away.

And vinyl LP's are now undergoing something of a renaissance, with sales surpassing CDs last year for the first time in decades. (Of course far more music is heard via streaming services these days, but vinyl seems to be winning the battle for physical media.)

Where does one get 35mm prints of films from nearly a century ago? In the case of the Somerville, they often come from the U.S. Library of Congress, which maintains a catalogue of circulating 35mm prints of a wide range of titles.

Booking them for a screening is just like borrowing from your town library: if a print is available, all you do is pay for shipping, and then return it promptly.

So did you recently file your federal income tax return, and are you left wondering what you really get for all that money?

Well, one tangible result is the availability of Buster Keaton's classic comedies in 35mm prints we're showing this weekend. 

Hope you'll be able to join us, as in a small way you already helped make the show possible!

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A vintage lobby card promoting 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton stars in 'Boats & Trains' comedy double feature at Somerville Theatre

Classic comedies 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' and 'The General' to be shown in 35mm with live music on Sunday, May 7

SOMERVILLE, Mass.— 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 'Boats & Trains' double feature of two of Keaton's best films on Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.'

First up at 2 p.m. is 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928), in which Keaton plays the effete college-educated son of a rough-hewn riverboat captain who must help his father fight a domineering businessman.

Then, at 3:30 p.m., it's 'The General' (1926), Buster's Civil War-era masterpiece that tells the story of a Confederate railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies.

Tickets for the double feature are $20; tickets for one film only are $16; seniors/children $12.

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

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

Buster Keaton plays a Civil War-ear railroad engineer in 'The General' (1926).

'Steamboat Bill Jr.' and 'The General' show Keaton at the peak of his career as a filmmaker and 1920s star. They also highlight his talent for creating large-scale physical comedy with big machines.

"Seeing both these films today, on the big screen and with live music, is a great way to appreciate Keaton's timeless ability to connect with audiences," said Ian Judge, the Somerville Theatre's creative director and general manager.

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. 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 both 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' and 'The General.'

'Steamboat Bill Jr.' contains the famous scene in which the front of a two-story building falls directly onto Keaton, who remains unharmed thanks to an open window.

Buster Keaton and Ernest Torrence as son and father in 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

In reviving Keaton's comedies, the Somerville 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 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.

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, 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.

'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), a silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, will be shown on Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m., followed by Keaton's 'The General' (1926) at 3:30 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 www.somervilletheatre.com or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.