Monday, October 14, 2013

Safety Last (1923) with Live Musical Accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis

Last Sunday, Carlos, a few friends and I went to the Somerville Theatre to watch Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923) on the big screen with live music performed by my favorite accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis has been performing alongside numerous silent films throughout the Summer and Fall for the Somerville Theatre. The last one I went to was Ben Hur (1925) (you can read about that experience here). Jeff's performances are always top-notch and you are guaranteed to have a good time. He honors the silent films by showing them in the best way possible: in their original format if possible, on the big screen in a proper theatre and with live music. It's the way these films should be seen and makes for the most enjoyable experience. Jeff improvises his music paying close attention to what's happening on the screen and how the live audience is reacting to the film. He's a marvel, passionate about what he does and his performances are growing in popularity. I commend the Somerville Theatre for taking a chance and hosting these events.

Before each screening, Jeff Rapsis always plays some music to entertain the audience as they find their seats and wait for the show.

I was so pleasantly surprised as to how many people showed up for this event! Jeff Rapsis always brings in a good crowd but this is the first time I've been to one of his performances where the house was packed. It made me really happy to see this.

I brought friends to this screening. New friend RJ and my film loving friends Kevin and Lisa attended. As I mentioned before, my husband Carlos was there. I can always count on Carlos to support me in pretty much any of my classic film adventures. If he's free, he's willing to go with me no matter what film is showing. I think it's really important to have supportive friends and family who are willing to try something different because they see how much passion you have for it. A big thanks to RJ, Kevin, Lisa and Carlos for attending.

Jeff Rapsis had performed music for other Harold Lloyd films in his series for the Somerville Theatre. The Freshman (1925) screening had been a big hit (I wish I had attended!) and a lot of patrons came back for Safety Last. This screening was introduced by Annette D'Agostino Lloyd (no relation) who is a Harold Lloyd expert and has written a biography on him. She discussed the film and gave people some background on Harold Lloyd and two other stars in the film Bill Strother and Lloyd's wife Mildred Davis. 

Then it was time for the show! It has been quite a few years since I've seen Safety Last (1923) so it almost felt like I was watching it for the first time. And what an experience it was. We all laughed so much. This film is so exquisitely funny, has great comedic timing and I found myself slapping my forehead a few times at some of the hilarious situations the characters get themselves in. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, Harold Lloyd plays a young man who is engaged to a girl. He sets out to the city to make a good living so that he can marry his love. He gets stuck in a dead end job at a department store and uses all of the money to send back his girl trinkets to make her think he's doing better than he is. His buddy (Bill Strother) helps him out of a bind when Lloyd has to pull off a big publicity stunt to get his department store lots of new business. The stunt? Climbing the department store's building, freehand! His buddy was supposed to do it for him but was otherwise engaged in a chase with an angry police man with whom he had a previous encounter. There was no other options for Lloyd except to do it himself. And of course, hilarity ensues.

All of my friends enjoyed it and Kevin even told me it was a new favorite film for him. The biggest surprise for me was Carlos who was laughing so hard throughout the whole film. Lloyd's character works in the department that sells fabric to ladies who want to make their own dresses. A lot of hilarious moments in the film come from Lloyd's interaction with his lady customers. Then it hit me! No wonder Carlos is cracking up. He works at a men's clothing shop and also has to deal with customers and their crazy demands. The film was resonating with him because of that connection. Huzzah! This made me so happy.

Carlos trying to mimic Harold Lloyd climbing up a building. Davis Square, Somerville, MA
The music performed by Jeff Rapsis was spectacular as always. There was one scene in which the Department store is having a sale and Harold Lloyd's counter is overwhelmed by frantic customers. A big lady stands in the back and pushes her way through the crowd. Rapsis gave her special music to both complement her and her actions. I laughed! It was so funny. Rapsis told me later that at one point he even stopped playing music for a few second so that the audience could enjoy their laughter. His music was great. It really complements the film and the live experience. I feel like each performance is customized for us but also to glorify the film. At the end, Rapsis got a huge round of applause and he always takes a moment to honor the film and to thank the audience. If you want to learn more about Rapsis' scoring of Safety Last and his previous experiences with the film and its music, check out his blog post.

Rapsis makes time after each screening to talk to any of the audience members one-on-one. He always recognizes me and gives me a big hug when I see him. So many people attend his performances so I feel special that he remembers who I am. He told me about his upcoming Peter Pan (1924) screening in November and I definitely plan to go to that one. It'll be close to my birthday so perhaps I can work it into a birthday celebration of some sort.

A big thank you to Jeff Rapsis and the Somerville Theatre for hosting such a wonderful event!

If you are interested in attending these screenings, check out the Somerville Theatre website or Jeff Rapsis' blog for upcoming shows. They are special event priced at $15 and are a great time!


  1. Sounds like a spectacular event. Thanks for taking us along. Really enjoyed it.

  2. This sounds just wonderful! I would so enjoy a screening like this. And I love the photo of Carlos and hearing of how he related to the movie, that's really fun!

    Best wishes,

  3. Seeing a silent film with live music must be wonderful. I'm glad you all had fun, I also enjoyed this comedy a lot, but not with a live audience :)

  4. It sounds like you all had a ball! (Loved the pic of Carlos contemplating the building.) It is really a great experience to see a silent film with a live accompaniment. I've only seen one, but it was wonderful. I'm glad to see it was so well-received!


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