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Buster Keaton silent films to be screened on Saturday

BRANDON — Stone-faced silent clown Buster Keaton returns to the big screen with a showing of his feature film “Three Ages” (1923) on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon.
The program will also include Keaton comedy short films released prior to his jump into full-length features.
The program starts at 7 p.m. Admission is free; donations are welcome, with all proceeds to support the town hall’s ongoing renovation.
Live music for “Three Ages” will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists. The event is sponsored by Amy Menard, Steve Dombrowski and Lake Sunapee Bank.
“Three Ages,” a send-up of the then-famous drama “Intolerance” (1916), weaves together similar love stories told in three different epochs: the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and “Modern” (1920s) times.
The three-stories-in-one approach was Keaton’s first attempt at a feature-length comedy. If “Three Ages” bombed at the box office, Keaton planned to split it up into three shorter films to be released separately.
But the picture was a hit, due primarily to inspired comic touches that still shine through today. “Three Ages” launched Keaton’s spectacular run of classic comic features that lasted until the industry’s transition to sound pictures in 1929.
Although “Three Ages” spans three historical eras, Keaton performs jaw-dropping physical comedy in each of them. The “caveman” sequences feature Buster in a bearskin outfit; the Roman scenes include a wild chariot race held during a snowstorm; and the modern era scenes include one of the great silent film chases.
Keaton, one of the silent film era’s great comics, was known for his ingenuity with gags, acrobatic stunts and his trademark deadpan manner.
Throughout the 1920s, Keaton made movie audiences around the world laugh while never cracking a smile himself. He was among the first actors and directors to move comedy out of the confines of the stage and use cinema to expand it to a massive scale, using film to do battle with ocean liners, railroad locomotives, cyclones and hordes of policemen ready to give chase to his hapless everyman character.
Keaton was raised as part of his parents’ knockabout vaudeville act, in which he was included shortly after being born in 1895. His birth name was “Joseph,” like his father, but Buster earned his nickname at an early age from magician Harry Houdini after the young Keaton fell down a flight of stairs unharmed.
Buster joined the film industry in 1917, when a friend introduced him to Fatty Arbuckle, then one of the nation’s top movie comics. Keaton signed on with the Arbuckle troupe, putting his comic and acrobatic skills to use as he learned the then-new art of making motion pictures.
Keaton branched out on his own in 1920, producing a series of popular short comedies that were recognized for their brilliance, originality and physicality. By 1923, he was ready to take the leap into much riskier feature film production, but hedged his bets by making “Three Ages” as a kind of test.
After his starring career ended in the 1930s, Keaton continued to work as a sought-after gag man and cameo performer. After successfully battling alcoholism, he emerged in later life as an elder statesman of comedy, performing widely on early television shows and on European and American stage tours. Keaton died in 1966.
The Keaton program on Saturday, Aug. 15, will include Keaton short subjects made prior to the comedian’s move to feature-length pictures.
“Three Ages” is the latest in a series of monthly silent film screenings at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by assembling the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best: great films in best available prints, projection on the big screen, live musical accompaniment and a live audience.
“These films are still great entertainment if you show them as they were intended to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the series. “There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that experience.”
For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.
Upcoming programs in the Brandon Town Hall’s silent film series include:
•  Saturday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m.: “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” (1927). You won’t hear his iconic yell, but everything else about the Tarzan legend is present in this rip-roaring action adventure that plays like an early version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Companion feature: “h” (1926) starring Rex the Wonder Horse. Sponsored by Tracey Holden and Kirk Thomas.
•  Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m.: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” (1927), the annual “Chiller Theater” presentation in the as-yet-unheated Brandon Town Hall. Just in time for Halloween — in “The Lodger,” the search is on for the man responsible for a series of murders in fog-shrouded London. Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s career began in the silent era, when then young director first produced his brand of darkly suspenseful thrillers. Sponsored by Gary and Nancy Meffe.
For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org. For more on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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