Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opening night at Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine brings Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1926)

Buster Keaton and his locomotive costar in 'The General' (1926).

Never mind Memorial Day weekend—a real sign that summer is on its way is Opening Night of this year's silent film series at the historic Leavitt Theatre in downtown Ogunquit, Maine.

And yes, Opening Night is Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m., when I'll accompany Buster Keaton's classic Civil War adventure/comedy 'The General' (1926). Admission is $15 per person.

Please note the start time was moved to 6 p.m. due to the possibility of a Celtics playoff game that evening, which the Leavitt would have shown on its big screen. Although the Celtics swept the Pacers in four games, we're sticking with the earlier 6 p.m. show time.

I hope you'll join us for this and other screenings in this year's silent film series at the Leavitt, which is celebrating its 99th year entertaining vacationers and visitors to the Maine coast. 

The theater is a great venue for silent films because silent films are what it was originally built to show. And although the place has been transformed into a night spot with upscale food and drinks now available, the vintage one-screen theater remains virtually intact. 

Rows of original seats sport wire loops underneath so gentlemen may store their hats during the show!

It'll be my privilege to create music for Keaton's 'The General,' which many regard as his masterpiece, including Buster himself. Nearly 100 years after its release, the film continues to show up on lists of the Top 10 Films of any era.

If you're not familiar with Buster or his work, check out this press release about 'The General.' And hope to see you Wednesday night at the Leavitt!

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Buster Keaton stars in 'The General' (1926).

Keaton's 'The General' to launch Leavitt Theatre's 2024 silent film series

Classic silent comedy to screen with live music on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

OGUNQUIT, Maine—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 screening of 'The General' (1926), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $15 per person.

The show marks Opening Night of the Leavitt Theatre's 2024 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.

'The General,' set during the U.S. Civil War, tells the story of a southern locomotive engineer (Keaton) whose engine (named 'The General') is hijacked by Northern spies with his girlfriend on board.

Keaton, commandeering another train, races north in pursuit behind enemy lines. Can he rescue his girl? And can he recapture his locomotive and make it back to warn of a coming Northern attack?

Critics call 'The General' Keaton's masterpiece, praising its authentic period detail, ambitious action and battle sequences, and its overall integration of story, drama, and comedy.

It's also regarded as one of Hollywood's great railroad films, with much of the action occurring on or around moving steam locomotives.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts in 'The General' and all his other silent-era classics.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'The General' live as the movie is shown, as was typically 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 Leavitt Theatres's screening of 'The General,' 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."

The interior of the Leavitt Theatre, with its proscenium arch still showing the original silent film aspect ratio.

Opened in 1925 as a silent movie house, the Leavitt Theatre has operated continuously for 99 years. Although the venue has been transformed into an entertainment hub featuring upscale food and craft cocktails, the one-screen theater remains virtually unchanged. 

This makes it a great venue to experience silent films in their natural environment, Rapsis said.

"Not many theaters built in the 1920s have survived intact," Rapsis said. "That makes the Leavitt a kind of time capsule for movie fans."

Critics review 'The General':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—Walter Kerr, author of 'The Silent Clowns'

"An almost perfect entertainment!"
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"What makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster's directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance."
—Time Out (London)

The Keaton films are a great introduction to silent films for modern audiences, accompanist Rapsis said.

"Keaton's comedy is as fresh today as it was a hundred years ago — maybe more so, because his kind of visual humor is a lost art," Rapsis said.

‘The General’ (1926) starring Buster Keaton will be shown with live music on Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine.

General admission tickets are $15 at door or in advance online at leavittheatre.com. For more information, call (207) 646-3123.

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