‘Peter Pan’ kicks off silent film series on May 11

BRANDON — It was the film that introduced moviegoers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates. It was the original silent film adaptation of “Peter Pan,” a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film became a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.
Local audiences can see for themselves when the first “Peter Pan” (1924) is screened with live music on Saturday, May 11, at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, Brandon. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. The program will be accompanied by live music performed by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis.
“Peter Pan” is the opening attraction of a season of monthly silent film screenings with live music at Brandon Town Hall. The series aims to show the best silent films in the way that caused people to first fall in love with the movies — on the big screen, in a theater, with live music, and with an audience.
Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent “Peter Pan” maintains its freshness and charm more than 80 years after its original release.
In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland. There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan’s sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may ever return home.
Though the Peter Pan story is well known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also a type of peanut butter), the tale was virtually brand new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s. In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the adaptation, though he retained right of refusal over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.
After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrance.
The film’s highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film’s memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight. “Peter Pan” also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook’s nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.
After the film’s release, no copies of the original “Peter Pan” were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended. The version to be screened on May 11 is digitally restored and includes color tinting and toning of scenes as seen by audiences in 1924.
“Peter Pan” will be accompanied by local musician and composer Jeff Rapsis, who has prepared new material to go with the 115-minute picture. “Silent film was intended to be screened with live music that not only supported the action, but clued in the audience to changing moods and scenes,” said Rapsis, a New Hampshire resident. “I hope this new music will help bring to life the film’s special qualities of fantasy and child-like wonder.”
The screening of “Peter Pan” (1924) is being sponsored by local residents Maxine and Harmon Thurston.

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