Showing posts with label Somerville Theater. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Somerville Theater. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Even More Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater

Previous posts
Interview with Jeff Rapsis
Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater

What an excellent opportunity it was to be able to watch 3 more Buster Keaton films (2 shorts and a full-length film) on the big screen with the uber-talented Jeff Rapsis accompanying the films with his special brand of improvisational music. Jeff doesn't just play music to the films. He talks to us about the films before and after the screening. I think his speech before is most crucial for the audience's appreciation and enjoyment of the film. Jeff takes the time to talk to us about what he does and why it's important to watch these silent films on the big screen, with an audience, with live music, on 35mm and with the correct aspect ratio. He also gives us background on Buster Keaton and he contextualizes the films by giving us some information that helps us understand key scenes. Sometimes we are blinded my 21st century perspectives and we lose some of the understanding of early films over time. Mostly because society, customs, fads and culture all change as the decades pass. And while we can laugh at Buster Keaton's excellent skills as a physical comedian, there are some things that are trapped in the 1920s that we in the 2010s can't quite understand.

In the first film Cops (1922) , Buster Keaton plays a young man in love with the mayor's daughter. She won't marry him because he's not a well-to-do business man. Keaton sets off looking to make something off himself but instead gets tricked into taking on all this furniture (which he thinks he purchased but really he was swindled). He buys a horse for $5 (another swindle) and has the horse pull the cart full of furniture to his intended destination. But it's a big load for the horse to carry and mid-way the travel becomes a struggle. Keaton and the horse just happen to stop in front of a Goat Gland Specialist shop. Keaton looks at the sign out front, thinks for a moment and drags the horse in to the office only to be kicked out almost immediately upon entering. In 1922, this scene would have been hilarious but in 2011 it's just a head-scratcher. What the heck is a Goat Gland specialist and why did Keaton bring the horse there? This is where Jeff Rapsis comes in. Before the screening, he told us that Goat Glands were the 1920s answer to Viagara. These specialists would insert Goat Glands (ick) into men in order to revitalize the man's virility. Rapsis didn't tell us why we needed to know this but once we got to the Goat Gland-Keaton-Horse scene, it all made sense. And we knew why it was funny. Keaton brought the horse to the specialist in hopes that an operation and new-found virility would make the horse more effective in pulling his cart. Ha! Hilarious.

Jeff Rapsis gave us some information about all three films screened: Cops (1922), The High Sign (1921) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). We learned that in the early 1920s, Americans feared anarchists in the same way we fear terrorists today. This explains a crucial scene in Cops. We also learned that gangs in the 1920s often had secret hand signs like in The High Sign and that Keaton did all his own stunts and served as a stunt double for other actors in his own films (neat!). After the screening of Steamboat Bill Jr., we learned that the film had no script, just a basic concept and some key stunt scenes and the story just developed from there.

The screening was a lot of fun. It was a packed house of at least 200 or more people. More than double from the last time. I was so happy to see this and I hope my blogging efforts helped put a few people in those seats (I know I at least got myself, Carlos and my good friend Kevin there). After the screening, Jeff got a huge round of applause which was very well-deserved. We went to speak to him afterwards but had to wait awhile until all the "groupies" got to him first. Jeff got lots of questions and I overheard a few. I learned that he'll only watch a film once or twice before he performs so that he doesn't anticipate things. This allows for more freedom in improvisation.

Jeff will be back in the Fall to the Somerville Theater to play more silent films with live music. So make sure you check out his website for his schedule. Special thank you to Jeff Rapsis and the Somerville Theater for this amazing evening.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ninotchka (1939) at the Somerville Theater

Ninotchka (1939) was screened this past Sunday at the Somerville Theater as part of their Summer Classic Film Series. I singled out the two lesser known films in the series, Captain's Courageous and Ninotchka, to watch and made the trek out to Somerville on Sunday mornings to see them both.

I propose that this movie have a new subtitle. I would call it Ninotchka: A Capitalist Love Story. This film is a great example of American propaganda in the form of entertainment. Even though the story takes place in France, Russia and Turkey, the main star Greta Garbo was from Sweden and the director Ernst Lubitsch was from Germany, this is an American film with an American message in mind for it's American audience. Or is it?

The story starts with 3 emissaries from Russia who travel to Paris in order to sell royal Russian jewels in exchange for money that they can bring back to support their country's cause. The three loveable Soviet Comrades get a little caught up in the titillating life in Paris. Turns out, the jewels actually belong to the deposed Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), whose boyfriend is Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). The Duchess wants her jewels back but the three Soviets need to sell them. Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to Paris to fix the whole mess. She arrives to discover that her 3 comrades are staying in the most expensive suite in the most expensive hotel in Paris. Staying in the room for a one week is equal to purchasing 7 whole cows in Soviet Russia, and she imagines how much many people that would feed. Ninotchka, at first very repulsed by the Capitalist lifestyle of excess that she sees in France, falls for Melvyn Douglas' Leon, who is the epitome of upper class excess. Can she sell the jewels before the Duchess gets to them? Will she go back to Soviet Russia or will she stay in Capitalist France with Leon (Melvyn Douglas).

The witty back-and-forth between stern Garbo and free spirited Douglas is very funny (Billy Wilder was one of the writers). The two characters are polar opposites of each other so it's amusing to watch them clash as they fall hopelessly in love. The over-arching political message dampens the humor of the film a bit. At it's foundation, this film is really pitting Capitalism against Socialism/Communism. While it doesn't show Capitalism in the best light, it shows Communism in the worst. Why can't Garbo have her hat, her champagne and her 7 cow hotel room? Why can't she have the silk negligee and the love letters from France? How dare the Soviets deny her of this! Is the pro-Capitalism message something that MGM felt they needed to reinforce or was it just supporting an already established belief in the good of Capitalism that America held during WWII. Capitalism is great for the Duchess and the Count, but what about the Count's Butler. The one that Garbo calls "little father"? The Butler is at an advanced age, has been working without pay for 2 months and as the beck and call of the Count. Is this the fruits of Capitalism? Like many films from the late 1930s, there is a major "fix" in the film. It corrects any notion you may have of Capitalism being bad by showing you how the Soviets feed off of Capitalism in other countries for their own welfare. Any subversive message about negative aspects of Capitalism are quickly corrected with a nice final fix. Besides, it's a love story. How dare those Soviets get in the way. Capitalism will show him who is boss!

I'm not political. Really I'm not. However, I kept thinking of the American debt crisis while I was watching this film. And the fact that I had read that Apple has more cash than the United States (eek!). How would modern audiences interpret the representation of Capitalism in this film? Especially those scenes in which the older butler (past retirement age), is working without pay for Count Leon (Douglas) who himself has no money and lives off his title and the illusion of wealth that he created and perpetuates. I don't feel right exploring this topic further because as I said, I'm not very political. However, it's food for thought.

Leon: What kind of a girl are you, anyway?
Ninotchka: Just what you see. A tiny cog in the great wheel of evolution.
Leon: You're the most adorable cog I've ever seen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interview with Silent Film Accompanist Jeff Rapsis

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch 2 Buster Keaton shorts and 1 full-length film on the big screen with live musical accompaniment (read more about the experience here). The music was courtesy of Silent Film Accompanist Jeff Rapsis who travels all over the Northeast of the US screening silent films and playing his own original music to them. Jeff is very talented and is providing film enthusiasts with a great service by screening and accompanying these silent classics the way they were meant to be experienced.

Jeff graciously accepted my request for an interview. In coming up with the ten questions for the interview, I enlisted some help from my fellow classic film fans on Twitter (you can follow me there as @QuelleLove or @ClassicFilmRead ) and got some great questions in return. Thank you to all who participated and to Jeff Rapsis for taking the time out to do this interview.

For those of you in the Boston area, Jeff Rapsis will be back at the Somerville Theater on Sunday August 7th at 7:00 pm for another Buster Keaton screening. He'll be showing the Buster Keaton shorts The High Sign (1921) and Cops (1922) and one of my favorite Keaton full-length films Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). Don't miss out on this opportunity!


1) @TPJost asks- What first got you interested in silent films?

I had a music teacher in junior high who was also a film collector, and he'd bring in 16mm prints of short comedies such as the Chaplin Mutuals and screen them in study hall. I remember the very first one I saw was 'One A.M.' and something about the film caught my interest. I then started checking out books from the local library, including Walter Kerr's then-new 'Silent Clowns,' and I never looked back. Before long, I was saving my allowance and birthday money to order 8mm prints from Blackhawk Films in Iowa. I've maintained an interest ever since, but only started accompanying films in the past five years or so. I had studied music and played keyboard, and I found that doing music and film together was like chocolate and peanut butter for me.

2) @BiscuitKitten from the blog Sittin' on a Backyard Fence  asks - What was the first movie you accompanied?

The first full-length feature was a Halloween screening of 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. in 2007. I had no time to prepare, but quickly came up with a few themes that were useful throughout the film, and it went pretty successfully. This encouraged me to tackle other films, and I've been at it ever since. Although I've had a lifelong interest in silent film, and I studied music separately, I had never considered accompanying silent film until I got a chance to score an independent feature film called 'Dangerous Crosswinds,' which was released in 2005. Prior to that, my only experience in creating music for silent film was accompanying short comedies here and there, including one time in a barn for a family gathering where the screen was an actual bedsheet.

3) @Walking26 asks - How do you decide what music to play?

One ground rule for me is that I use my own made-up material rather than songs or period pieces of the era. For each film, what I typically do is create four or five melodies or chord sequences, each with a different character -- one might be a main theme, then a secondary "love" theme, and maybe a forboding series of chords to help signal something important, and so on. Then, while the movie runs, I draw on this "bank" of material to improvise music that supports the film in real time. Because it's being done live, it also reflects the audience response as well as my own personal reactions, and so there's a kind of unpredictable energy present that I think is very different from when a score is all planned out and written in advance. It's a bit of a high wire act, but I think it's an important element in bringing these films back to life for modern audiences.

4) @pebbleinmyshoe from Gina: Blogs Books in Translation  and @diandapanda from Classic Movie Blog want to know about how you prepare and what you improvise. Is your performance practiced a lot in advance,do you wing it and is it the same music each time or is there wiggle room to improvise for the mood of a scene?

Generally, each performance is improvised live on the spot, although I try to create enough useful musical material beforehand to have a consistent musical vocabulary to work with that allows a score to hold together. To prepare for a film, I'll try to view it once beforehand to get a sense of the overall arc of the movie -- when the big scenes are, and any important moments like the firing of a gun. While I do this, I kind of doodle on the piano, and when I come up with something useful, I stop and jot down a scrap of melody or a distinctive harmony. It builds organically from there. And usually that's it for advance preparation, although for big films that I'm not too familiar with, I might watch them again with the DVD player on fast forward just to remind myself of the order of the narrative, which helps in terms of pacing the score in performance.

5) @NiamhVintageKid from Born in the Wrong Decade  asks - Do you ever feel like being completely contradictory and playing horror music during a romantic moment and vice versa?

Yes, but only when it's justified. Fundamentally, my job is to create music to help bring a vintage film to life for an audience today. Ideally, if what I'm doing is successful, audiences should not be really hearing the music separately, but should be absorbed in the film as a total experience. However, I find that using unexpected music can sometimes add real depth to a scene by contributing subtext to what's on screen. Say you have a love scene played between two people who are secretly scheming to kill each other; music can do a lot to bring out both of those seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time. Also, I feel the best silent film comedy does not need "funny" music, but works best when played straight. And in terms of the all-important audience reaction, you need to be really careful not to overplay or play too loud for a comedy, because that keeps audience members from hearing each other react, and that contagious audience reaction is one of the great glories of silent film. They were made to be seen by large crowds in a theater, and music should help induce or trigger that reaction, rather than stifle it.

6) @filmclassics asks - Do you ever get emotional during a performance?

Yes. One film that always gets to me is 'Wings' (1927), the big World War I flying epic. I've done it maybe four times in performance, and it's hard not to get all choked up at some moments near the end. My father was a pilot from the old school, which may have something to do with this. But it's not just me -- once we screened 'Wings' for the New Hampshire Aviation Museum, and a large contingent of old flyboys showed up, and at the end all these tough guys were bawling and blowing their noses! I find one of the great things about silent film is that it's often about the big emotions: lust, anger, triumph, revenge, and so on. It's like opera in that regard, but even more so because silent film is more abstract, and therefore you project more of yourself into it. So if you buy into a film and let it cast its spell on you, it can be very intense, almost cathartic. I try to supply music that helps that process happen, and I personally respond to this kind of art, so it shouldn't be surprising that I get caught up in things every now and then.

Now onto some questions from me!

7) Where do you perform?

I've played films everywhere from big traditional theaters and concert halls to nursing home function rooms and noisy school assemblies. Because most of my work has been outside the big cities, audiences rarely exceed 150 people, so I find the best locations seem to be smaller venues (200 to 400 seats) so there's a kind of critical mass of energy with the audience. I also prefer places with good acoustics for the music, which is a major factor in me being able to work effectively, I think. The only unsatisfying gigs are when someone plans a 1920s-themed party (not very often these days) and they ask me about showing silent films as background entertainment or as atmosphere. This unfortunately tends to reinforce many of the negative stereotypes that persist about silent film, so I try to talk them out of it.

8) Is there a film you want to screen/accompany but haven't yet?

I would love to try some of the big Abel Gance epics such as 'J'Accuse,' 'La Roue,' or even 'Napoleon.' I've never done any of the silent Hitchcock films and I think those would be interesting. Also, I have yet to tackle several of the big Griffith epics, including 'Intolerance' and 'Broken Blossoms,' but I'm looking forward to doing them because the Griffith films seem to match my approach and my kind of music. 'The Birth of a Nation,' while regrettably racist, really comes to life with a score that works to support Griffith's story-telling. There are other more obscure features, such as 'The Johnstown Flood' (1926) and 'The Great K & A Train Robbery' (1926) that I'd like to do -- really, any railroad-themed film, let me at it. I love the big Biblical epics, too; I've yet to do the original 'Ten Commandments' (1923), but I will get a chance to do music for the epic (and weird) part-talkie 'Noah's Ark' (1928) for screenings around Easter 2012.

9) Why are silent films important to you?

First, I think they're a neglected and misunderstood art form that still contains a lot of expressive power if the right conditions are present: good prints, the big screen, live music, and an audience. For me personally, silent films tell stories and depict life in a way that I really respond to, and my efforts to create music for them and screen them stems from a desire to share this experience with others, I think. To me, it's amazing artistic accident that the technical limit of no synchronized soundtrack caused filmmakers to tell stories in a way that turned out to be so universal. And so they have a kind of timelessness woven into them, meaning they can still produce a strong impact all this time later. They're really a different art form than motion pictures today: not that they're more primitive, but they're different in terms of how stories were told and how a viewer contributes his or her own voices and bonds with characters (either consciously or unconsciously), thus personalizing the experience, and how the variable of live music can keep the films fresh and bridge the gap between the time of their making and a contemporary screening. To me, the idea of supplying music to enhance the experience of a film is a remarkable creative opportunity, as long as the goal is to respect the integrity of the film's vision. So I sometimes joke that I've finally found my niche: collaborating with dead people! Also, with the passage of time, even the most ordinary of silent films have another level of interest now, in that they depict so much about life that's changed since they were made. We just screened 'Tol'able David' (1921), which was filmed in rural Virginia, and in the film it looks as if life hadn't changed much since Colonial days! No automobiles, no electricity, no iPads. By watching silent films, it's possible to get a sense of what's transient and what's timeless about your own life and times, and I find it deeply rewarding to experience this myself and to share the experience with others.

10) Why should we watch silent films with live music, an audience, the correct aspect ratio, a good print, etc.?

Because that's how they were intended to be shown. The people who made these films, good or bad, did so with all these factors in mind, either consciously or unconsciously: the music, the big screen, the communal experience of the audience. They were baked into the films during planning, shooting, and editing. The films were never intended to be experienced, say, on a home entertainment center by just you alone or with your dog. They were created to be shown in theaters to audiences (the larger the better) and live music, and to discount these factors is to rob a film of much of its intended impact. I've seen it happen many times: a film that bored me when I watched it alone produced a surprisingly intense reaction when screened for an audience. D.W. Griffith's 'Way Down East' (1920) is a good example: In developing music for it, I thought the first two hours were so slow and creaky that they'd be a very tough go for an audience. But we got a good crowd for the screening and they reacted strongly right from the start, whether it was laughing good-naturedly at the moralistic titles or energetically booing the Lowell Sherman character once he showed his true colors. And when Richard Barthelmess rescued Lillian Gish from the waterfall, they went absolutely nuts!

Thank you Jeff for this interview!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer of Classic Films in Boston ~ August 2011

Why would I ever leave this great city of mine? Look at the amazing selection of classic films being shown in Boston this month!


Tickets are $9, $7 for Students and Senior Citizens. Some screenings are $12 or even free (check the website)! Cash only folks. Don't bring the credit card. And you can NOT buy in advance so show up early.

Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)
August 5th (Friday) - 9:00 pm

Back Door to Hell (1964) 
August 7th (Sunday) - 5:00 pm

The Shooting (1968) 
August 7th (Sunday) - 7:00 pm
Special Event price of $12.00
Director Monte Hellman in attendance

Flight to Fury (1964)
August 15th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
August 19th (Friday) 7:00 pm
August 21st (Sunday) - 5:00 pm

Dragonwyck (1946)
August 19th (Friday) - 9:15 pm

Cleopatra (1963)
August 20th (Saturday) - 7:00 pm

5 Fingers (1952) 
August 21st (Sunday) - 7:00 pm

House of Strangers (1949) 
August 22nd (Monday) - 7:00 pm

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
August 26th (Friday) - 7:00 pm
August 28th (Sunday) - 5:00 pm

The Quiet American (1958)
August 26th (Friday) - 9:00 pm

Julius Caesar (1953) 
August 29th (Monday) - 7:00 pm


Brattle Theater - Cambridge

Tickets are $9.75, Matinees before 5 pm are $7.75. Students $7.75 with ID. Seniors $6.75. Children under 12 $6.75. You can also purchase one of many different membership packages.

Double Feature!
North by Northwest (1959)
August 2nd (Tuesday) - 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Vertigo (1958)
August 2nd (Tuesday) - 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm

These Amazing Shadows (2011) Documentary
See my review of it here and more about my experience here.
August 5th (Friday) - 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm
August 6th (Saturday) - Noon and 5:00 pm
August 7th (Sunday) - 7:30 pm

Double Feature!
It's a Gift (1934)
August 7th (Sunday) - 12:30 pm and 4:00 pm
Baby Face (1933)
August 7th (Sunday) - 2:15 pm and 5:45 pm

Double Feature! With Robert Mitchum!
On Dangerous Ground (1952)
August 8th (Monday) - 3:30pm
August 9th (Tuesday) - 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm
Cape Fear (1962) (new 35mm print)
August 8th (Monday) - 5:30pm

August 9th (Tuesday) - 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
August 13th (Saturday) and 14th (Sunday) - 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 7:30 pm
August 15th (Monday) - 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm

Double Feature!
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
August 15th (Monday) - 3:00 pm
August 16th (Tuesday) - 3:00 pm and 7:15pm 
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
August 15th (Monday) - 5:15pm
August 16th (Tuesday) - 5:00 pm and 9:15 pm

Double Feature!
Romeo and Juliet (1968)
August 18th (Thursday) - 3:15 pm and 8:30 pm
The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
August 18th (Thursday) - 6:00 pm

Double Feature!
Amarcord (1973)
August 25th (Thursday) - 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm
The Clowns (1970)
August 25th (Thursday) - 5:00 pm and 9:30 pm

Double Feature! (tentative)
Citizen Kane (1941)
August 29th (Monday) - 2:15 pm
August 30th (Tuesday) - 2:15 pm and 7:00 pm
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
August 29th (Monday) - 4:45 pm
August 30th (Tuesday) - 4:45 pm and 9:30 pm


Somerville Theater - Somerville

Weekday matinees (before 5pm and not including Holidays) are $5. Saturday, Sunday and  Holiday matinees (before 6pm) are $7.00. All other times are $8.00. There are discounts for Senior Citizens and children under 12.

Jeff Rapsis - Silent Film Accompanist presents Buster Keaton with Live Music!
The High Sign (1921)
Cops (1922)
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
August 7th (Sunday) - 7:00 pm
Special event pricing is $12 and $8 for students and seniors


Tickets are $9.75 for Adults and Matinees before 4 pm are $7.75. Children, Seniors (62+) and T.A.P. Card holders pay $6.75 Monday through Thursday and $7.75 Friday through Sunday. Membership is available and members pay $6.75 for all shows. $0.75 of each admission goes to the Capital Campaign Renovation fund.

August 8th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

August 15th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

August 29th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Buster Keaton and Live Musical Accompaniment at the Somerville Theater

A coworker mentioned to me back in May that the Somerville Theater was showcasing a Buster Keaton film festival. I thought she may have confused that with the Charlie Chaplin festival they were having. I put it out of my mind until I saw something in a local town blog about the Somerville Theater showing 2 Buster Keaton shorts and 1 full-length film along with live musical accompaniment. WHAT?! And I had missed a similar showing on June 5th in which one of the shorts was my FAVORITE BUSTER KEATON SHORT EVER, The Scarecrow (1920). Well there was no way I was going to miss this new opportunity, so on a gorgeous Sunday evening, Carlos and I head out to Somerville to enjoy some Buster Keaton.

The films screened were Neighbors (1920), The Goat (1921) and Seven Chances (1925). We got to see these Buster Keaton films the way they were meant to be seen. And how is that exactly? The scenerio fit the following criteria:

1.) 35 mm print
2.) original Thomas Edison aspect ratio of 1:37:1
3.) in a theater that was around during the Buster Keaton era
4.) live musical accompaniment
5.) an enthusiastic and lively crowd that laughs at the real humor

The musician was Jeff Rapsis, a silent film accompanist and composer who travels all over the northern parts of New England performing and screening silent films in theaters. Lucky for us, he traveled further south to the Boston area to perform at the Somerville Theater. Boston is a classic film loving town so of course he was welcomed with open arms. Rapsis improvises his music. He has an idea of what he's going to play but nothing is written down. He reacts to the film and to the audience. After the screening, he told a few of us that sometimes he'll play very quiet music or none at all to get the audience to wake up and pay attention to what's going on in the film. Rapsis demonstrated a genuine love for silent films and encouraged the audience to react to the film. When the first film, Neighbors (1920), played the audience immediately erupted into laughter. Rapsis plays on a keyboard and will switch between different instrumental sounds. So at times it sounded like a full orchestra and at other it's was just organ music. I love how Rapsis played variations of the Wedding Theme in various points in Seven Chances.

Neighbors (1920) - This was Carlos' favorite film of the three and my least favorite. I enjoyed it but not as much as the other two. Buster Keaton and Virginia Fox are in love with each other and want to marry but her dad, Joe Roberts (Fatty Arbuckle's replacement) is opposed. Keaton's real-life dad Joe Keaton plays his on screen dad and they have a hilarious scene together where Buster's head is stuck in mud and Joe tries to pull him out much to Joe Roberts' amusement. I particularly loved the scene at the end with Buster standing over two other men in a three-person tower and they go back and forth across the tenement yard. Hilarious!

The Goat (1921) - Now I know where the famous Buster-behind-bars image comes from! Buster Keaton plays a scapegoat. Dead Shot Dan is on the loose after he tricked a photographer into taking a picture of Keaton instead of himself and escapes jail. Now everyone is after Keaton because they think he's Dead Shot Dan. Everyone including cop Joe Roberts. Keaton helps Virginia Fox and she takes him in but uh-oh her dad is that cop who has been chasing him! Lots of great stunts in this film and there are a lot of great gags. A slight bit of blackface but not so much that it's very offensive. This is 1921 after all. Keaton's family almost make appearances in this film.

Seven Chances (1925) - Contemporaries may be more familiar with the Chris O'Donnell remake The Bachelor (1999). This is a full-length feature with more plot but just as many wonderful stunts! Keaton plays Jimmie Shannon. A shy man who is head-over-heels in love with Mary (Ruth Dwyer) but doesn't have the balls to ask her to marry him. When it comes to light that his law firm is about to be disgraced, he learns that he could save his reputation and his company with his $7 million inheritance. However, in order to inherit the fortune he needs to marry by 7pm on his birthday, that day! When he flubs his proposal to Mary, his friends try to get him a new bride and all sorts of hilarity ensues. This film is particularly known for the famous boulder scene which happened by accident. At a screening, his tripping over some rocks got the most laughs so they shot the film again with bigger fake rocks that got bigger and bigger. It's a wonderful scene and shows Keaton at his best physical comedy prowess.

I've said it once and I'll say it again. It's great being a classic film fan in Boston!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer of Classic Films in Boston - July 2011

Lots of great films for July!

Brattle Theater - Cambridge

Tickets are $9.75, Matinees before 5 pm are $7.75. Students $7.75 with ID. Seniors $6.75. Children under 12 $6.75. You can also purchase one of many different membership packages.

The Leopard (1963) 
July 8th - 10th (Friday - Sunday) - 4pm and 7:30 pm

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
July 11th  (Monday) - 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm
July 12th  (Tuesday) - 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm

Double Feature! Two for the price of one!
The Birds (1963) & Psycho (1960)
July 18th (Monday) - 2:30 pm (Birds) 5:00 pm (Psycho)
July 19th (Tuesday) - 2:45 pm and 7:00 pm (Birds) 5:15 pm and 9:30 pm (Psycho)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
July 22nd (Friday) - 8:00 pm
July 23rd (Saturday) - 12:30 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:45 pm, 7:30 pm
July 24th (Sunday) - 12:30 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:45 pm, 7:30 pm

Somerville Theater - Somerville

Weekday matinees (before 5pm and not including Holidays) are $5. Saturday, Sunday and  Holiday matinees (before 6pm) are $7.00. All other times are $8.00. There are discounts for Senior Citizens and children under 12.

The African Queen (1951)
July 3rd (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 4th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Singin' in the Rain (1952)
July 10th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 11th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
July 17th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 18th (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Dr. Strangelove (1964)
July 24th (Sunday) - 11:00 am
July 25th  (Monday) - 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Ninotchka (1939)
July 31st (Sunday) - 11:00 am

Silent Film Series - Buster Keaton
Special event price $12.00, $8 for Seniors and Students
July 10th (Sunday) - 7pm
Seven Chances (1925) plus Keaton shorts Neighbors (1920) and The Goat (1921)
with live musical accompaniment

Tickets are $9, $7 for Students and Senior Citizens. Some screenings are $12 or even free (check the website)! Cash only folks. Don't bring the credit card. And you can NOT buy in advance so show up early.

July 22nd (Friday) - 7:00 pm
July 24th (Sunday) - 4:30 pm

Somewhere in the Night (1946)
July 22nd (Friday) - 9:30 pm

All About Eve (Two-Disc Special Edition)All About Eve (1950)
July 23rd (Saturday) - 7:30 pm

The Late George Apley (1947)
July 23rd (Saturday) - 9:30 pm

Guys and Dolls (1955)
July 24th (Sunday) - 7:00 pm

People Will Talk (1951)
July 25th (Monday) - 7:00 pm

Suddenly, Last Summer
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
July 29th (Friday) - 7:00 pm
July 31st (Sunday) - 4:30 pm

The Honey Pot (1967)
July 29th (Friday) - 9:15 pm

Escape (1948)
July 30th (Saturday) - 9:30 pm

No Way Out (Fox Film Noir)
No Way Out (1950)
July 31st (Sunday) - 9:30 pm

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Captains Courageous (1937) at The Somerville Theater

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

Does your local theater have this kind of variety? I doubt it!

Please, sir. Could you show me the way to the main theater?

The Somerville Theater recently kicked off their Classic Film Series with two screenings of Captains Courageous (1937). I was a bit surprised that this movie was even in the line-up. Surprised, yet very, very happy. Captains Courageous is a film I've been meaning to watch for quite a while and getting a chance to see it for the first time and on the big screen to boot was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. And I went by myself! I've been to a lot of social gatherings lately so it was really nice to be able to watch this on my own. And although I always encourage people to share classic films with others, sometimes it's nice to have a movie all to yourself. It's a very intimate and personal experience and I recommend it if you ever need a break from being social butterfly.

Captains CourageousDirected by Victor Fleming, Captains Courageous stars Freddie Bartholomew as Harvey Cheyne, a spoiled little motherless brat whose father, Frank Burton Cheyne (Melvyn Douglas), sends him off to boarding school each year. Off Harvey goes with pockets full of cash and false sense of entitlement. The father is neglectful of his son and without any guidance Harvey is a poor excuse for a boy. With the power of his dad's money, Harvey tries to bribe and trick his way into things. The other kids start to dislike Harvey and he wants out of school so he tells his dad that the school masters are abusing him and accepting bribes. Once the father finds out Harvey's real problem, he pulls him out of school and takes him on a cruise to Europe for some dad-son bonding time. But oops! Harvey falls off the boat. No worries! He gets rescued by a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy). Manuel brings Harvey back to the fishing Schooner. Lionel Barrymore  plays the captain, Mickey Rooney  plays the captain's son, John Carradine  plays Long Jack and there is a motley crew of other seafaring men on board. Harvey is stuck on the schooner for the 3 months the fisherman will be out at sea before they head back to Gloucester, MA with their catch. Reluctantly on both their parts, Manuel and Harvey start a friendship. Manuel becomes the father figure Harvey never had. The situation is too good to be true. You just know something bad is going to happen.

Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy) is curly-haired, Portuguese and lives in Massachusetts. Who does that remind me of?

Oh yeah. ME! But I have a better accent than Spencer Tracy did. The man could not speak Portuguese!

Having seen as many classic films as I have I can usually place a film in a certain time period by observing a few things. If I can, I try to guess the exact year. If I'm off, it's only ever by a little bit. So having forgotten that this film is from 1937, I looked at a few things to guess that the film was from the late 1930s. For one thing, Lionel Barrymore is up and walking. After his accident and with his problems of arthritis, Lionel Barrymore was wheel chair bound from the 1940s until his death in the mid 1950s. A youngish Mickey Rooney looked young but not too young. Spencer Tracy, who didn't age very well and always looked older than he was, did not serve as a point of reference to me at all! Neither did Freddie Bartholomew because frankly this is the first of his films I've ever seen and I wouldn't have been able to guess from his age. In the beginning of the film I spotted a lot of Art Deco fixtures and furniture. That definitely places is it in the 1930s. The content of the film places it post pre-Code (so after 1934). Ultimately, I guessed 1937 or 1938.

I had a wonderful experience at the Somerville Theater! I sincerely wish I brought a few tissues as I really needed them and my shirt sleeve wasn't cutting it. I want to say thank you to them for taking a chance and showing this wonderful theater on the big screen!

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