Brandon Town Hall to host summer silent film series
BRANDON — Classics from the silent film era return to the big screen beginning in May at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, which hosts another season of vintage cinema with live music in the historic facility.
This year’s offerings include classic comedy from Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton as well as a pioneering sci-fi epic about mankind’s first voyage to the moon.
Titles also include the original silent film version of “Chicago” (1927), a swashbuckling historical adventure starring 1920s screen idol John Barrymore, and a spooky German version of the “Faust” legend for Halloween.
It’s the ninth 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 meant 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 running 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 handicapped 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 and presenting silent films.
In accompanying 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.
“It’s a real treat to return to Brandon for another season of great silent film,” Rapsis said. “If you’ve never seen one of these movies in a theater, take a chance and check it out. You might be surprised.”
First up is Harold Lloyd’s iconic thrill comedy “Safety Last” (1923), a film made famous by Lloyd’s climb up the side of a tall building. The screening is sponsored by Tracey Holden and Kirk Thomas.
The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above downtown Los Angeles has emerged as a symbol of the “anything goes” spirit of early Hollywood and the magic of the movies.
The story of “Safety Last” follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business and send for his small-town sweetheart. His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea — hire a human fly to climb the building’s exterior.
However, when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on. The result is an extended sequence blending comedy and terror designed to hold viewers spellbound.
“Seeing ‘Safety Last’ with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound,” Rapsis said. “Harold’s iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released.”
Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” (2011), which includes clips from “Safety Last.”
Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is regarded as one of the silent screen’s three great clowns. Lloyd’s character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s, when his films reigned as the top-grossing films throughout the period.
In recent years, Lloyd’s family has taken steps to restore Harold’s popularity. They’ve released his work on DVD, and arranged for more frequent screenings of his films in the environment for which they were made: in theaters with live music and a large audience.
Nearly a century later, audiences continue to respond just as strongly to his work as when the films were new, with features such as ’Safety Last’ embraced as timeless achievements from the golden era of silent film comedy.
Other silent films will be screened monthly. Stay tuned to learn more or visit brandontownhall.org.
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