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!

*  *  *

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

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, Renée 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.

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