Silent film with live music returns to Ludlow Town Hall in August with 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928), a classic comedy starring Buster Keaton, one of era's top performers. 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' will be revived for one showing only at the Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium on
The screening, sponsored by FOLA (Friends of the Ludlow Auditorium), will allow audiences to experience silent... film in the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience. The show, like all movies at the Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium, is free and open to the public.
In 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' Buster plays the bumbling son of a riverboat’s rough captain. When a rival brings a newer boat to the river, the family is forced to face competition, just as Buster is forced to ride out a cyclone threatening to destroy the community. Can Buster save the day and win the hand of his girlfriend, who happens to be daughter of his father's business rival?
The film includes the famous shot of an entire building front collapsing on Keaton, who is miraculously spared by a conveniently placed second-story window.
The Keaton feature will be proceeded by a Buster Keaton comedy short feature. For this opening film short, Ludlow resident Glenn Brown will provide the musical background using the 1906 upright grand piano that he donated to the Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium.
'Silent Film Night' at Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium aimed to recreate the era before movies were made with synchronized soundtracks. From about 1900 to 1929, films had no dialogue, and were accompanied by live music at theaters across the country to around the world. Accompaniment could range from a small ensemble or just a single piano in small towns to full orchestras in big city theaters.
The screening of 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.
Rapsis will create a score for 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' on the spot, making up the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the action on the screen as well respond to audience reactions. He will perform the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.
"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "Because most films at the time weren't released with sheet music or scores, studios depended on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.
Keaton, who grew up performing with the family vaudeville act, was known for never smiling on camera, an important element of his comic identity. A trained acrobat who learned at an early age how to take a fall, Keaton did all his own stunts on camera in the era before post-production special effects.
Critics continue to hail Keaton’s timeless comedy as well as his intuitive filmmaking genius. In 2002, Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton that “in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.”
Keaton, who never attended school, did not think of himself as an artist but as an entertainer using the new medium of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.