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).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

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.

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