Silent films returning to Brandon this summer

BRANDON — Classics of the silent film era return to the big screen starting in May in Brandon Town Hall, which will host another season of vintage cinema with live music in the historic facility.
It’s the sixth year of the town hall’s popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were intended to be shown — on the big screen, with an audience and accompanied by live music.
Screenings are held once a month on Saturday nights starting in May and run through October. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to benefit the town hall’s ongoing restoration.
Over the years, silent film donations have helped support projects including handicap access to the 19th-century building; renovating the bathrooms; and restoring the structure’s original slate roof.
Live music for each silent film program will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring silent films.
“It’s great to be bringing silent film back to the big screen in Brandon for another series,” Rapsis said. “Brandon Town Hall is a wonderful place for these great movies to be seen at their best.”
In accompanying silent films live, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. He improvises the music in real time, as the movie is shown.
First up in this season’s lineup is screen comic Buster Keaton, whose movies rocked theaters with laughter around the world throughout the silent era.
A program featuring Keaton’s comedy “Spite Marriage” (1929) will be screened on Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall.
“Spite Marriage,” Keaton’s final silent feature, finds the poker-faced comic smitten by stage actress Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian) — so much so that he joins the cast of her current production, a Civil War melodrama. 
The fun begins when she unexpectedly asks Buster to marry her, but only to get even with an old flame. Complications with gangsters lead to a climax at sea, making for a classic Keaton comedy full of memorable routines.
The Keaton program, which includes short comedies prior to the feature, is sponsored by Heritage Family Credit Union.
Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great comics of the silent screen. Many 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.”
“Buster Keaton was the stone-faced comic who never smiled on camera, so he’s sometimes thought of as the most silent of the silent clowns,” Rapsis said. “But seen today, his films are remarkable for their effective story construction, their innovative cinematography, and their ability to still produce gales of laughter,” he continued. “A chance to see a Keaton film as originally presented — in a theater, with live music and an audience — is not to be missed.”
Other shows in this year’s Brandon silent film series include:
• Saturday, June 25: John Ford’s “The Iron Horse” (1924), a big, sprawling drama about the building of the transcontinental railroad. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.
• Saturday, July 16: Comic superstar Harold Lloyd in “A Sailor Made Man” (1921) plus comedy short subjects. Sponsored by Pam and Steve Douglass.
• Saturday, Aug. 27: Rudolph Valentino double feature, “The Sheik” (1921) and “Son of the Sheik” (1926) on the 90th anniversary of Valentino’s untimely death. Sponsored by Jim and Lyn DesMarais.
• Saturday, Sept. 17: Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid” (1921). In Chaplin’s breakthrough feature, a story with “a smile, and perhaps a tear,” the Little Tramp raises an orphan. Sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.
• Saturday, Oct. 15: Chiller Theater, “The Man Who Laughs” (1928). Get into the Halloween spirit with this creepy Gothic thriller starring Conrad Veidt. Sponsored by Omya, Inc.
Rapsis said it’s currently a new golden age for silent film because so many titles have been restored and are now available to watch at home or via online streaming. The Brandon series, however, enables film fans to really understand the power of early cinema, which was intended to be shown on a big screen, with live music and with an audience.
“Put those elements together like we do in Brandon, and films from the silent era spring right back to life in a way that helps you understand why people first fell in love with the movies,” Rapsis said.
A program featuring Buster Keaton’s comedy “Spite Marriage” will lead off this season’s silent film series on Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center on Route 7 in Brandon.
Admission is free, but free-will donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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