Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Up next: Mary Pickford's 'My Best Girl' (1927) on Wednesday, 8/30 at Flying Monkey, Plymouth, NH

An original release poster for 'My Best Girl' (1927) starring Mary Pickford. 

I've been off my game lately. 

Last week I couldn't find a film I thought I had on DVD, causing a last-minute title swap. Then I left a speaker cable at that venue, which I didn't realize until several days later when setting up for another gig. 

And then I drove two hours to another gig to find I forgot to bring my speakers. Fortunately, the venue had an acoustic piano that I could use, and the show went on.

And then my car's exhaust system gave out (after only 280,000 miles—can you believe it?) necessitating an unexpected shop visit and time on a bicycle. 

But that's all in the past! Time to look to the future, which holds...well, more films from the past.

Next up: 'My Best Girl' (1927), a rarely shown gem from the late silent years starring Mary Pickford and future husband Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. 

Now that the film is in the public domain as of this year, I've been pleased to present and accompany it several times already.

It's silent story-telling at its very best, with vivid and colorful characters and a tale that holds up well after nearly a century. 

Your next chance to see it is this week, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, when I'll accompany 'My Best Girl' at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. Lots more detail in the press release below.

Now, I just have to remember to get that speaker cable back...

*   *   *

Charles 'Buddy' Rogers and Mary Pickford in 'My Best Girl' (1927).

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Mary Pickford's 'My Best Girl' with live music at Flying Monkey on Wednesday, Aug. 30

Sparkling romantic comedy showcases talents of movie industry pioneer known as 'America's Sweetheart'

PLYMOUTH, N.H.— She was known as 'America's Sweetheart,' but often played assertive take-charge characters that made her a role model to movie-goers around the world.

She was Mary Pickford, who ruled the entertainment industry as the Queen of Hollywood during the silent era.

See for yourself with a screening of 'My Best Girl' (1927), one of Pickford's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $10 per person.

The show is the latest in the Flying Monkey's silent film series, which gives audiences the opportunity to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Set in a big city department store, 'My Best Girl' explores what happens when romance blossoms between a humble clerk and the wealthy store owner's son?

The result is a sparkling “rich man, poor girl” romantic comedy from 1927 starring Pickford alongside leading man Charles 'Buddy Rogers,' who would later become Pickford's real-life husband.

An industry pioneer who became Hollywood’s first movie star, Pickford enjoyed a cult-like popularity throughout the silent era that made her a national icon and an international celebrity.

Pickford also possessed a business savvy that gave her nearly total control of her creative output, with her own production company and a partnership in a major film distribution company, all before she was 30 years old.

Dubbed "America's Sweetheart" early in her screen career, the nickname was misleading, as Pickford's popularity was rooted in her portrayal of assertive women often forced to battle for justice in a male-dominated world.

After starring in hundreds of short dramas from 1910 to 1915, Pickford's popularity led to starring roles in feature films starting in the mid-1910s.

In 1919, she joined industry icons D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in creating the United Artists studio. In 1920, she married Fairbanks, with the pair reigning as Hollywood's royal couple for the remainder of the silent era.

In the 1920s, Pickford reduced her output to one picture per year. 'My Best Girl' was her last silent feature before the industry switched to talking pictures.

Pickford made several successful talking pictures, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film 'Coquette' in 1929.

Pickford, however, chose to retire in 1933. She lived in semi-seclusion until her death in 1979.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'The General' live as the movie is shown, as was done during the silent film era.

"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompaniment.

With the Flying Monkey's screening of 'My Best Girl,' audiences will get a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—in a high quality print, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

‘My Best Girl’ (1927) starring Mary Pickford and Charles 'Buddy' Rogers will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission tickets are $10 at door or in advance by calling the box office at (603) 536-2551 or online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

See John Barrymore fall apart in 'Beau Brummel' (1924) on Sunday, Aug. 20 at Town Hall Theatre

Mary Astor and John Barrymore, lovers on-screen and off, in 'Beau Brummel' (1924).

One reason we're doing the "Not Known To Be Shown" series at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. is because it gives me a chance to work with films that rarely screen anywhere, and which I might not ever have a chance to accompany.

And that's a good thing, because I doubt I would have otherwise discovered 'Beau Brummel' (1924), which at first glance seems to be one of those static time-wasters—the kind of slow-paced drama about the 18th century aristocracy exchanging knowing glances that give all silent drama a bad name.

And for the first half-hour of 'Beau Brummel' (1924), that's what I saw: John Barrymore and Mary Astor making goo-goo eyes, plus plenty of what I imagine was cutting edge 19th century fashion displayed on screen. Yawn!

Things changed, however, when Brummel's downfall begins a little more than half-way through the picture. From that point, the film practically turns into a remake of the silent 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' which Barrymore starred in a few years earlier. 

For my money, no one does transformation like Barrymore, who had a talent for portraying educated aristocrats who become drooling madman. (He certainly had  a lot of practice, doing it many times as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde both on stage and in the screen version.)

In 'Beau Brummel,' it's not a back and forth thing, but one long slow descent into poverty and senescence, which we get to see (and savor) close-up.

In both roles, Barrymore did not go for subtlety. No—he puts his whole body into the transformation, hunching his spine, stiffening his walk, immobilizing his neck. Makeup aids somewhat, but in both films it's hard to believe the same actor is playing all phases of the transformation.

It's as good as anything Lon Chaney did, I think. 

You really have to see it for yourself. And I hope you will by joining us on Sunday, Aug. 20 for a rare theatrical screening of 'Beau Brummel' (1924), one of the prestige releases of that year from Warner Bros. 

Show time is 2 p.m. And if you'd like more info about the screening or the film, just check out the press release below.

*  *  *

An original release poster for 'Beau Brummel' (1924).
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rare feature film 'Beau Brummel' (1924) to screen with live music at Town Hall Theatre

Drama featuring iconic actor John Barrymore to be shown on Sunday, Aug. 20 as part of 'Not Known To Be Shown' series

WILTON, N.H.—A seldom screened picture featuring iconic silent-era megastar John Barrymore will return to the silver screen in August for a rare revival.

'Beau Brummel' (1924), a period drama produced  by Warner Bros., will be shown on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10. Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The screening is part of a series of early films that never played at the Wilton venue when originally released.

The 'Not Known to be Shown' series runs through October and features obscure dramas, comedies, and adventure flicks from the silent era.

"In putting together this series, we wanted to give audiences a chance to see some rarely screened titles from the first years of motion pictures," Rapsis said.

"Also, they're all movies I've never scored before," Rapsis added. "So it's also a chance to work with 'new' material, although the films themselves are about 100 years old," Rapsis said.

'Beau Brummel,' is an historical drama set in the 18th century starring John Barrymore (right) as George Bryan Brummel, a British military officer. Brummel loves Lady Margery (played by Mary Astor), the betrothed of Lord Alvanley. 
Despite her own desperate love for Brummel, she submits to family pressure and marries Lord Alvanley. Brummel, broken-hearted, embarks upon a life of revelry. He befriends the Prince of Wales and leaves the army, becoming subsequently the best-known rake and decider of fashion in Europe. 
As his affairs flourish, he falls out of favor with his benefactor, the Prince. Only Lady Margery has any chance of helping him—but will she? 
Barrymore, known as The Great Profile and heralded as “the foremost English-speaking actor of his time,” first achieved fame on the stage, later moving into motion pictures. He starred in more than 60 feature films, during both the silent and sound era, before succumbing to alcoholism at age 60 in 1942. 
Shooting on 'Beau Brummel' began in September 1923, with Barrymore and Astor conducting an affair throughout the production. 
Barrymore and Willard Louis, who played the Prince of Wales, frequently told off-color jokes during camera takes rather than say their lines, since it was a silent film. 
However, they did not take into account deaf audience members who could lip read what they were saying. Many patrons wrote to Warner Bros. to complain about the actors' antics.

The picture wasa remake of a 1913 version and was in turn remade in 1954 with Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Turner, and Peter Ustinov. 

Upcoming films in the Town Hall Theatre's 'Not Known to be Shown' series include:

• Sunday, Aug. 27, 2 p.m.: 'The Divine Lady' (1929) starring Corrine Griffith. Frank Lloyd won the 'Best Director' Oscar for this romantic melodrama about British naval hero Horatio Nelson's romantic adventures.

• Sunday, Sept. 17, 2 p.m.: 'Eagle of the Night' (1928) starring Frank Clarke, Shirley Palmer. An inventor creates a new muffler for noisy airplane engines, but the bad guys are out to steal the breakthrough and put it to evil use.

• Sunday, Oct. 8, 2 p.m.: 'The Red Kimona' (1925). A small-town girl finds escape from her cruel home life in the arms of a handsome stranger, a situation that leads her to work as a prostitute in New Orleans.

'Beau Brummel' (1924), a drama starring John Barrymore, will be shown on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10. For more information, call (603) 654-3456. 

Below: an original release poster featuring "the Great Profile."

Monday, August 14, 2023

Making my accompaniment debut above the Arctic Circle, off the coast of East Greenland

Greenlandic storyteller Neils Rasmussen, carrying boots, and me on board the MS Fram.

I didn't journey to the remote coast of East Greenland to do accompaniment, but that's what happened. 

We traveled there this month from Reykjavik, Iceland on the MS Fram, a ship built specifically for expeditions in the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic.

East Greenland is a vast expanse of uninhabited land, with one exception: the town of Ittoqqortoormiit (pop. 350), a settlement on the entrance to Scoresby Sund, the world's largest fjord system.

As such, visiting a town described as the most remote on earth is a highlight of the view cruises that visit its small harbor, which is iced over for nine months of the year.

In our case, a member of the ship's crew named Neils Rasmussen happened to be a native of Ittoqqortoormiit, growing up among the dog sleds and endless winters. 

So Neils found himself in the weird position of giving walking tours of his hometown to those of us who went ashore to explore Ittoqqortoormiit. (It's pronounced It-ta-ka-TOOR-mit, by the way.) 

We got to see Neils' childhood home (that's the red building below), the schools he attended, and the electric power company where he worked before leaving town for university in Denmark and then other places. 

We got to hear his tales of how, to entertain themselves during the long winters, young people of Ittoqqortoormiit would sometimes dare each other to jump off roofs. This may account for the surprising number of outdoor trampolines we saw outside many homes.

So we got to know Neils, who back on the ship was slated to give a talk about Greenlandic myths. 

He was to do this in the 'Explorers Lounge' on Deck 7, which had a Yamaha hybrid piano just off one side of the modest dance floor.  

An earlier ship talk about Viking legends included stories that I thought would have really benefited from a little musical accompaniment. 

So when I learned that Neils' talk consisted mostly of telling tales that have Greenlandic families have told over the generations, I asked him if he'd ever considered musical underscoring.

He hadn't, but was open to the idea, calling it an "experiment."

So there I was, seated at the Yamaha, with Neils embarking on a half-hour tale of a mistreated orphan's journey through life, and another yarn concerning the Mother of the Sea, one of the mythic gods of Greenlandic legend.

I stayed with him the whole time, staying as light as possible, powering up where appropriate, and going completely silent at key moments.

It was very much like accompanying a silent film, although in this case the story was not conveyed visually but by a storyteller.

To me, it felt a little like when I accompanied a Japanese "benshi" performer during a silent film screening at the Harvard Film Archive: there was a continuous flow of spoken narrative, and the music had to fit in underneath but not disappear.   

Neils received a strong reaction to both tales, and generously acknowledged my accompaniment at the end. 

And I have to say, it didn't turn out half bad. I'd never heard the stories before in my life, but all stories follow something of an arc, and the music I do for silent film seems to work with Greenlandic mythology, too.

Afterwards, Neil and I joked about going on tour together. We'll just need to figure out how to get a piano to Ittoqqortoormiit. 

Neils and me (and a cloud of Arctic mosquitoes) ashore on Bear Island in Scoresby Sund, East Greenland.