Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' on New Year's Day in Greenfield, Mass. plus thanks to everyone!

Charlie Chaplin warms his feet in 'The Gold Rush' (1925).

Happy holidays to everyone!

Next up I'm doing live music for Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925) on New Year's Day (Jan. 1, 2024) at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. Hope you'll join us for Chaplin's immortal comedy, set in the Klondike Gold Rush era. Lots more info is in the press release pasted in below.

For now in what I assume will be my final post of 2023, I'd like to thank everyone who attended or who otherwise supported my screenings in the past year.

I very much appreciate all the people, many unknown to me, who make it possible to continue to do live music for silent cinema a century after the format was reaching its peak.

They do that by buying tickets and attending screenings that I accompany. This is crucially important because without an audience, the experience doesn't work, either artistically or financially. 

So thank you! Hope to see you all again in the new year—at least until the lights go down.

*    *    *

Chaplin consumes a shoe in a famous sequence from 'The Gold Rush' (1925). 

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

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' in Greenfield, Mass. on Monday, Jan. 1

Family fun: Little Tramp's silent film comedy classic set in the frozen Arctic to be screened with live music on New Year's Day

GREENFIELD, Mass. — Classic silent film comedy returns to the big screen on New Year's Day with 'The Gold Rush' (1925), a classic comedy starring Charlie Chaplin.

The screening will take place on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

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

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and students. Tickets are available online or at the door.

'The Gold Rush,' a landmark comedy and one of the top-grossing films of the silent era, finds Chaplin's iconic 'Little Tramp' character journeying to the frozen wastelands of the Yukon. There as a prospector, the Tramp's search for gold turns into a pursuit of romance, but with plenty of laughs along the way.

The film contains several famous scenes, both comic and dramatic, including a starving Chaplin forced to eat his shoe for Thanksgiving dinner and a heart-breaking New Year's Eve celebration.

As a comedian, Chaplin emerged as the first superstar in the early days of cinema. From humble beginnings as a musical hall entertainer in England, he came to Hollywood and used his talents to quickly rise to the pinnacle of stardom in the then-new medium of motion pictures. His popularity never waned, and his image remains recognized around the world to this day.

'The Gold Rush,' regarded by many critics as Chaplin's best film, is a prime example of his unique talent for combining slapstick comedy and intense dramatic emotion.

Chaplin in 'The Gold Rush' (1925).

" 'The Gold Rush' is still an effective tear-jerker," wrote critic Eric Kohn of indieWIRE. "In the YouTube era, audiences — myself included — often anoint the latest sneezing panda phenomenon as comedic gold. Unless I’m missing something, however, nothing online has come close to matching the mixture of affectionate fragility and seamless comedic inspiration perfected by the Tramp."

Rapsis, who uses original themes to improvise silent film scores, said the best silent film comedies often used visual humor to create laughter out of simple situations. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended — with an audience and live music.

"These comedies 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 this screening is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies," he said.

Rapsis achieves a traditional movie score sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra.

Upcoming titles in the Garden Cinema's silent film series include:

• Monday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926). Just in time for Valentine's Day! Garbo and Gilbert steam up the camera lens in this torrid romance set in 19th century European high society.

• Monday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m.: 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928). Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc set new standards for cinematography and expanded the language of film in new directions.

• Monday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923). The iconic image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is just one scene of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences.

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' will be screened with live music on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and students. Tickets are at the door; advance tickets are available at www.gardencinemas.net. For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Two shows to go: 'My Best Girl' on Sunday, Dec. 10, then 'Why Worry?' on Wednesday, Dec. 13

An original lobby card depicting Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers in 'My Best Girl' (1927).

Just a couple of shows left in 2023 as the year draws to a close.

Today (Sunday, Dec. 10) it's Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers in 'My Best Girl' (1927), which I'll accompany at 4 p.m. at the Natick Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

More about the film and the screening are in the press release pasted in below.

After that, the only show left is Harold Lloyd's comedy 'Why Worry?' (1923), which I'm accompanying on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the Coolidge Theatre in Brookline, Mass.

And that's it. 

I'll be back at it in 2024, but at a reduced pace.

For 15 years, I've pushed myself to be a better accompanist in the only way I know how—by doing it a lot.

By a lot, I mean an average of 120 shows per year, or about two or three each week. That's more than 1,000 shows in the past decade, even factoring in the pandemic, which slowed things down for a time.

It's been a rewarding experience. Through all this time spent in darkened theaters, playing music that's largely improvised on the spot, I think I've developed a musical vocabulary that otherwise wouldn't have emerged, I think. That's important to me. 

Plus, it's just been fun.

But it's also been a lot of work. Most of these screenings have come about by my own efforts—of reaching out, convincing venue managers to take a chance on something different, and then working hard to help build an audience.

That takes time and effort. And then there's travel time. Some venues I work regularly are a three-hour drive one way. Add that in, and you've got a minimum 10-hour commitment for certain gigs. 

So it adds up. Not that I've minded. Keeping a busy schedule is part of my identity—if anyone remarks on my crowded calendar, I usually say something like I'm "the Jake LaMotta of silent film accompaniment—I just keep on coming."

Well, in the coming year, I plan focus more exclusively on my work as executive director of the Aviation Museum of N.H., a non-profit organization that I've had the privilege of leading for the past five years.

The museum has come a long way in the past five years. We now boast a robust youth education effort that includes a high school student plane-building program, a successful aviation summer camp, and more. 

But there's a long way to go, and I've just agreed to a five-year commitment to continue the work.

I'll still do film music—in fact, one of my upcoming gigs is at the Aviation Museum, where I'll accompany 'The Flying Ace' (1926) in February for Black History Month. 

But I'd also like to take my hard-won musical vocabulary and see what I can do with it in terms of music that gets written down.

So some of my musical energies will go into composing, rather than improvising. I'm creating a piece for a concert of works by New Hampshire composers at the Manchester (N.H.) Community Music School, and I hope other works will follow.

I expect there will be some crossover work related to my film accompaniment efforts. 

For example, for the silent version of 'Peter Pan' (1924), which I've accompanied probably two dozen times, I've developed a suite of material that I think would lend itself to some kind of orchestral suite in the manner of the tone poems of Richard Strauss, say. 

We'll see. But in real terms, it means that going forward I'll have to be more selective in my performing gigs as I take time to start writing stuff down.

Okay, here's more info about 'My Best Girl,' which I'll accompany this afternoon down in Natick, Mass. Hope to see you there!

*   *   *

Vintage print ad for 'My Best Girl' (1927). 

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

Mary Pickford's 'My Best Girl' with live music at Natick Center for Arts on Sunday, Dec. 10

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

NATICK, Mass.— She was known as 'America's Sweetheart,' but often played assertive take-charge characters that made her a role model to women and 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 Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. at TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

The screening, the latest in the Center for the Art's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

The show is the latest in TCAN'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 'My Best Girl' 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 TCAN'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 Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. at TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.