November is another full month of movie events in the Buffalo area including the Buffalo premiere of William Fichtner’s “Cold Brook,” to a slate of classic films, a few Oscar winners and a “Twilight Zone” celebration.
Here’s a look.
“Au Revoir les Enfants.” Director Louis Malle’s 1987 film based on his childhood in Nazi-occupied France will be shown as part of Buffalo Film Seminars. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Dipson Amherst.
“The Bikes of Wrath.” Buffalo premiere of documentary about five Australian friends who set out to bike from Oklahoma to California on the same route traveled in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Time: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Screening Room Cinema Café.
“Cold Brook.”Buffalo premiere of locally made film written, directed and starring William Fichtner. Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 8; 3 and 7 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10; 7 p.m. Nov. 11; 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 13; 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Aurora Theatre.
“Demon Wind.” A man haunted for years by his grandparents’ deaths visits their old farm with a group of friends. Nothing good can come of this. Times: 7:30 and 9:35 p.m. Nov. 21 in the Dipson Amherst Theatre. Part of Thursday Night Terrors film series.
“Elf.” Will Ferrell stars as the childlike title character in this holiday family comedy. Time: 1 p.m. Nov. 30 in the Regal Quaker Crossing and Walden Galleria.
“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Classic romantic fantasy about a widow who moves into a seaside home inhabited by the ghost of a sea captain. Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 15; 1 p.m. Nov. 16 (Mimosa Matinee) and 5 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Screening Room.
“The Godfather Part II.” The 45th anniversary screenings of the film considered to be the greatest sequel ever made. Times: 3 p.m. Nov. 10 and 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at Regal Elmwood and Transit. Also 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Dipson Amherst and Regal Elmwood and Transit. Part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series.
“Goodfellas.” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 7 p.m. Nov. 22 (with Scorsese trivia afterward). Dinner and a movie night, 6 p.m. Nov. 16 (advance purchase required); $30 in the Screening Room.
“Hoop Dreams.” Documentary on two high school basketball players in Chicago who dream of playing in the NBA. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.
“Murderous Trance.” Josh Lucas stars in film inspired by true events surrounding hypnosis crimes in 1950s Denmark. Times: 6 p.m. Nov. 2, 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and 8 p.m. Nov. 7 (with music by the Impostores at 6 p.m.) in the Screening Room.
“Rear Window.” Jimmy Stewart sees more than he bargained for when he watches his neighbors while convalescing with a broken leg. Grace Kelly and her wardrobe co-star. Times: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27, 29, 30 and Dec. 2 in the Screening Room.
“ROMA.” Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film about his youth in Mexico. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 26 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.
“Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear.” Called a “surreal meditation on faith and surfing,” this film has been popular on the midnight circuit. Time: 9:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Screening Room. $10.
“To Sleep With Anger.” Danny Glover stars as a drifter whose sudden appearance upends a family in South Central L.A. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.
“Twilight Zone: A 60th Anniversary Celebration.” This program features a new documentary short “Remembering Rod Serling” and six digitally restored episodes – “Walking Distance,” “Time Enough at Last,” “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “The Invaders,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “To Serve Man.” Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Regal Elmwood and Transit.
“Widow’s Point.”Locally made supernatural thriller features award-winning performance by Craig Sheffer as an author who plans a publicity stunt by staying locked in a haunted lighthouse overnight. Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 1; 5 and 9 p.m. Nov. 2; and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 6, 8 and 9 at the Screening Room. Filmmaker Gregory Lamberson will be on hand for all showings and participate in a Q&A session.
In October, the film schedule is full of treats for horror movie fans with black and white classics, cult favorites and even horror films that make you laugh.
There’s also another multiday film festival and a pretty cool event with some very special guests.
The 14thBuffalo International Film Festival returns Oct. 10-14 in the North Park Theatre. This year’s festival spotlights some notable films that were made in Buffalo or have a local connection including “A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, “The True Adventure of Wolfboy” at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 12 and “Clover” at 9:45 p.m. Oct. 12. With films coming from around the world, there are too many to mention here, so check out the full schedule at buffalofilm.org.
If you know the abbreviation MST3K, you are in for a treat. The just announced “Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Cheesy Movie Circus Tour” with Joel Hodgson is coming to the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda at 8 p.m. Oct. 22. That’s right – Joel will be here along with Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy. Tickets are $38.50 to $43.50. There are very cool VIP packages available, too. Here’s a link to the info. Continue reading “October classic films, movie events in the Buffalo area”
Like think twice before accepting an invitation to stay overnight in a mansion. Don’t visit an English village – especially in the 17th century. If an inheritance involves an old house or meeting relatives for the first time, you might want to politely decline. And Dracula is never really dead.
Those are some of the recurring themes in the more than 70 horror films being aired in October by Turner Classic Movies.
TCM’s annual October scarefest returns with a night of themed horror movies every Thursday in October: “Betwitched” is the theme on Oct. 3, “Black Magic” on Oct. 10, “Ghost Stories” on Oct. 17, “The Undead” on Oct. 24 and “Horror Classics” on Oct. 31.
Friday nights are devoted to the TCM Monster of the Month, Godzilla (who brings along a few friends). You’ll find other horror films sprinkled throughout the schedule, too, with a horror marathon starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and concluding in royal fashion with “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” at 6:45 a.m. Nov. 1.
This is what we have to look forward to: at least 10 movies from Hammer Film Productions; 8 movies starring Christopher Lee; 6 films each that feature Vincent Price and Peter Cushing; 4 with Karloff and 3 films directed by Roger Corman. Multiple movies carry the names of Barbara Shelley, Val Lewton, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson and American International Pictures (AIP), another favorite studio for horror fans.
Silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis doesn’t use sheet music when he sits at the keyboard as a movie plays in front of him. He doesn’t have the score memorized either. In fact, it’s not even created yet.
Every time the New Hampshire-based musician, composer and educator performs with a silent film, he improvises the music.
That unique style came from a serendipitous moment about 15 years ago, the first time he performed with a silent film, the 1925 Lon Chaney classic “Phantom of the Opera.”
“I thought I would have it all planned out,” Rapsis said. “But the night of the performance I had to go in and wing it to see how it would go. I saw pretty quickly it was quite preferable to be there with a film and play what was right at the time instead of planning in advance.”
Rapsis enjoyed it so much he wanted to do it again. Understanding the great skills of other musicians/composers doing similar work, he decided the way to achieve the same strong performance level would only happen if he played – a lot. Not practice, mind you, but performing in front of an audience. And that’s what he did.
“I had to do a lot of shows,” Rapsis said. “The only way to get to that level was to do it a lot and for real with a film playing and audience there. So that’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years.”
Like ‘peanut butter and chocolate’
Rapsis remembers when he first fell for silent movies. He was a 7th grader in a study hall monitored by his music teacher who, to calm down the “rowdy” teens, brought in his 16mm films from his own collection. They were mostly old comedies that starred the likes of Charlie Chaplin.
“It was the first time I ever saw anything like it. I was fascinated,” Rapsis said about the movies in a recent phone interview. “It was a whole different world. I developed an interest in that era of filmmaking.”
He continued to study and play piano even as his life took him into a journalism career. (Rapsis later became co-owner of the New Hampshire HippoPress and remains a teacher of communications at the University of New Hampshire). Fast forward to that night of “The Phantom of the Opera” screening when his joint passion for music and movies finally collided in a way Rapsis now compares to the tasty combination of chocolate and peanut butter. (“Once I put them together,” he said about music and movies, “there was no turning back.”)
Today he is a well-regarded musical accompanist and composer for silent movies, performing about 100 shows annually around his home base of Northern New England, as well as annual appearances at the Kansas Silent Film Festival and the Western New York Movie Expo in Buffalo, N.Y., in addition to performances in San Francisco, at the Library of Congress and even London.
“I’m not a touring artist,” he said. “It’s a special thing I love doing it and I’m happy to do it anywhere.”
“I sometimes joke it’s my therapy – but it’s not a joke,” Rapsis continued. “To accompany a silent film program, it’s like meditation. I lose myself – I forget about any problem.”
A link to movie history
Rapsis said the idea of collaborating on movies created 100 years ago or more by people now long dead is incredibly special to him. “You’re contributing and bringing it to life for audiences today. It is very satisfying using my creativity to bring the visions of people from long ago to life.”
“In some cases, you have to try very hard to understand what filmmakers wanted people to feel and go in that direction. In drama, there can be moments of comedy; likewise, in comedy there can be moments of drama.”
A challenge in accompanying silent movies is that movie music has changed dramatically in the past century. While today we think of film scores written usually by one composer or a movie soundtrack that is a collection of pop songs, in the silent era, the music that accompanied films not only varied from theater to theater, but city to city.
“It was up to local people to create the music for their audiences and that makes sense,” Rapsis explained. “Back then, there wasn’t a national culture – there was no internet, no TV. And music would sound different in different parts of the country. People in Boston would want different music than people in New Orleans.”
Today, he said, that approach doesn’t work.
“Now you expect the music to be cemented in place – can you imagine ‘Star Wars’ without John Williams? It’s part of the experience. Back then it was part of the creativity, live and local.”
Another difference in modern film music is the use of short musical “snippets” or a motif that may simply signify a character or emotion. Think about composer Marco Beltrami’s signature monster theme in “A Quiet Place” which is more of a terrifying sound than a song.
To illustrate the point, Rapsis likes to use the example of one of the most famous motifs in movie history – the shark theme in “Jaws.”
“In the film ‘Jaws,’ people are familiar with how John Williams was able to create this mood of impending terror with those low notes when the shark was going to attack. That’s not a melody, it’s not a popular tune. But it’s music that does a lot to create an overall experience for a movie,” Rapsis said. “In the 1920s they didn’t know how music could do that.”
Rapsis takes all of this into consideration when he composes.
“We’ve had 100 years of film scoring music. I use all of that vocabulary to make an older film come to life – not just what was heard in the 1920s, I use the whole box of crayons,” he said, adding there is an ongoing debate on if there is a right way to accompany a silent film.
For his own creativity, the right way is to improvise.
“I’m more interested in creating my own music, my own chord progressions that I use to bring a film to life. It’s my outlet for music I have within me in and that’s how it comes out in in the dark with a movie.”
“It’s actually quite exciting. It’s a test of your skill, like a final exam.”
When he prepares too much for an event, he said he can think too much about what he created previously, and it takes him out of the film.
“I found if I prepare less, I’m not being lazy, I’m setting myself up to be my best with the film. No sheet music, I have a bag of ideas I can draw from. If it sounds good or right, I’ll do more of it, if it doesn’t, I’ll stop.”
His passion for the silents comes from what they give us, the viewers, in return.
“Even though these films were made at the beginning of cinema, some have the most sophisticated visual sense. It had to be that way. They didn’t have dialogue. They go for the big emotions. Love with a capital L or joy or envy. It’s all in primary colors.
“Silent film stories allow us to commune with big emotions and remind us what we are capable of experiencing,” Rapsis continued. “Falling in love is a physical experience that really consumes you – if you could do that a few times in life, what more could you ask? So instead of falling in love, you can go to the movies.
“The silent film allows us to bring out these big emotions if you let the film in and let it do its work on you. That’s why people fell in love with movies.”
The return of the Niagara Falls International Film Festival in September will be of special interest to classic movie fans.
The second NFIFF, which runs from Sept. 18 to 21, opens with a red carpet event on Sept. 18 in the Rapids Theatre (1711 Main St., Niagara Falls) and continues with screenings in the Regal Cinemas Hollywood 12 in Niagara Falls through the end of the festival.
Highlights include a celebration of the career of director Samuel Fuller with his wife and daughter – Christa and Samantha Fuller – in attendance. The event will show such Fuller classics as “The Naked Kiss” (1964), “Hell and High Water” (1954), “Shock Corridor” (1963) and “The Big Red One” (1980), which will be the closing night’s film. Samantha Fuller’s documentary about her father, “A Fuller Life,” will be screened as well.
NFIFF also includes a visit from Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr. who will attend with his film “The Reason,” as well as Xander Berkeley (“The Walking Dead,” “24”) and Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”), who will be on hand for Magdalena Zyzak’s “The Wall of Mexico.”
For the full list of films and more info, visit nfiff.com.
Another Capitolfest is in the books and it was a wonderful immersive weekend of watching rare silent and early talkies and hanging out with a great group of classic movie fans (and friends) at the Rome Capitol Theatre in Rome, N.Y.
Again this year, the Capitolfest audience was one of the first groups to see some of the films in many decades or in their restored versions.
In the case of “Sally, Irene and Mary,” an uneven 1925 silent starring Constance Bennett, Joan Crawford and Sally O’Neil, Capitolfest was only the second screening of the new restoration.
The delightful Alice Howell two-reeler “Her Lucky Day” (1920) was being shown to a movie theater audience for only the second time since the 1920s. The first time? Last November at the American Film Institute, putting Capitolfest in esteemed company.
The Library of Congress restoration of “Helen’s Babies” (1924), a Baby Peggy silent comedy, opened Capitolfest. At the end of the movie, we were treated to a 3-minute alternate sequence created from a nitrate print from Cineteca Italiana where the filmmakers simply had Baby Peggy play with a “collar box” without giving her direction. It was adorably hilarious. This was the first time I saw Baby Peggy on film and I fell in love with her expressive face.
It would be unwieldy for me to give my thoughts on every short and feature I saw at Capitolfest (which was all of them). Instead, here are some films that stood out to me. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed them all (two were so grim, they were depressing), but they resonated with me. I’m also giving a few highlights of some of the Capitolfest guests.
Star struck moment
Before I talk more about the movies, there was a once-in-lifetime magical moment at Capitolfest that lingered with everyone.
Peter McCrea, the youngest son of Capitolfest 2019 spotlight stars Frances Dee and Joel McCrea, introduced his mother’s film “Caught.” The gasp in the audience was extraordinary when he walked out looking every bit like his father. I loved how we all looked at each other in disbelief – and with big smiles. You could hear whispered variations of “I’m looking at Joel McCrea!” throughout the audience. (Yes, me too.) He was incredibly nice to everyone and shared wonderful, detailed stories about his parents. Other film festivals, including Turner Classic Movies, should book Peter so he can share his stories with a wider audience.
We also heard from Victoria Riskin – the daughter of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin – who returned to Capitolfest, and former child actress Cora Sue Collins. More on all of the guests will be found throughout this story.
On the first day, there were two films that explored dark, family dynamics. They weren’t enjoyable (I wonder if I would have finished watching them at home), but they had powerful performances and cut through to your heart.
The harsh “Rich Man’s Folly” (1931), from director John Cromwell, starred George Bancroft as a father so consumed with the need for a son to carry on his shipbuilding legacy that he destroys his entire family in the process. Francis Dee played his adult daughter, who possessed an unwavering love for her father. It was difficult to watch as the father emotionally shut down his daughter at every moment. A scene where she overhears her father wishing her dead drew audible gasps from the audience.
“The Strange Case of Clara Deane” (1932) was also difficult to watch. In this case, a talented seamstress and designer (played by Wynne Gibson) marries the wrong guy and spends 15 years in jail, wrongly accused of being his accomplice in a robbery. When she is released, she tirelessly works to find her little girl (played by Capitolfest guest Cora Sue Collins), despite any personal toll it takes on her.
An early scene where she is forced to say goodbye to her daughter is gut-wrenching as the child runs crying and screaming alongside a fence separating the two. Just thinking about it as I write this is unsettling. When an audience member later asked Cora Sue how she did that scene, she told us this story. Two policemen came to the set and took her mother away. Little Cora Sue kept yelling “Bring my mother back” and they refused. She finally said “If you want me to cry, just bring my mother back.” (She clearly was much older than her years.)
It was the first time Cora Sue saw “Clara Deane” and she told us “I loved it. I didn’t figure out the ending.”
I was excited to see the restored 1924 silent version of “Captain Blood” with musical accompaniment by Dr. Philip C. Carli. Ultimately, the 110-minute movie dragged a bit for me in some spots. Others didn’t feel that way and fully enjoyed it. (I know many were Googling star J. Warren Kerrigan afterward.)
George Willeman, the nitrate vault manager at the Library of Congress (is that the greatest job title ever?) discussed the restoration and explained that for many years the only available prints were missing key action scenes (some were removed for the 1935 remake!). Willeman said it was “a big deal” when they found scenes from various sources (including a 9.5mm print), especially “the money shot” – an amazing sequence of the tall ships sinking.
There is still more work they want to do with tinting and the color scheme, with plans to show a fully restored version of “Captain Blood” in 2020. Still, it was a treat to see this “restoration in the works.”
I would like a do-over on “The Unseen” (1945, directed by Lewis Allen). I had read in several places that the film was a sequel or a follow-up to one of my favorite movies “The Uninvited.” If I hadn’t gone in with those expectations, I would have enjoyed “The Unseen.” Instead, I was so geared up to see a continuation of the story that when I realized that the two films were not related, I was so bummed out that I couldn’t enjoy “The Unseen.”
Talking with others afterward, I realized I actually enjoyed the film more than I thought. A young governess (Gail Russell) takes a job watching two children (whose father is played by Joel McCrea) and notices mysterious things happening around her. An opening murder, the recurring sight of a light moving between two buildings and a boy repeatedly talking to an unknown person on the phone, built up the suspense quite nicely. On that merit, “The Unseen” was a good mystery thriller. But its quick-to-resolve happy ending made it feel like someone on the set yelled “it’s a wrap, we’re out of money.” I am definitely trying to find “The Unseen” to watch it again with fresh eyes.
“Internes Can’t Take Money” (1937) was a highlight. Considered the first in the Dr. Kildare series, it starred Joel McCrea who did a great job as the caring Kildare. Barbara Stanwyck is luminous as the female patient who makes a big impact on his life. The supporting cast is amazing – especially a young Lloyd Nolan who plays a surprisingly multidimensional gangster. The film also has a mother desperately trying to find her child – clearly a theme in movies of the time.
“The Men in Her Life” (1931) was one of the most talked about films at the festival. The consensus was that it was a wonderful movie with an awful title. (The title was so bad, everyone kept forgetting it.) Charles Bickford played a bootlegger who pays a woman (played by Lois Moran) to teach him how to become a gentleman. Yes, it’s the “Pygmalion” story in reverse, and I liked that. On the surface it would seem odd to cast Bickford as a romantic lead, but that’s exactly why it worked. His wiry hair is always a mess, he’s gruff and does not possess “matinee idol looks,” but I felt – and fell -for him watching how hard he tried to become a better man.
“The Curse of a Broken Heart” was an unexpected delight and a definite Capitolfest fan favorite. This 1933 spoof of old-time melodrama was so on-key it could have been spoofing movies today. The hissing, moustache-twirling villain quickly recalls the dastardly Snidely Whiplash of decades later. The hero – True Blue Harold – is a hoot, primping to the point he grooms his eyebrows. The short had not been made available by Columbia since its original release, but Capitolfest was able to obtain a print.
Some quotes from Capitolfest
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Capitolfest guests.
Cora Sue Collins on Pat O’Brien: “He was the most wonderful man, the sweetest dearest man. They kept casting him as a gangster and murderer, but he was the antithesis. I called him Uncle Pat and his wife Aunt Eloise all my life.
Victorian Riskin on her father, Robert Riskin: “My dad felt if people fell in love with American movies, they would fall in love with America and that turned out to be true.”
Peter McCrea on the 57-year marriage of his parents Frances Dee and Joel McCrea: “They had a rocky, wild marriage, it wasn’t smooth. They used to joke the divorce didn’t work out. They credited living on the ranch and Christian Science for keeping them together.”
Cora Sue Collins on Louis B. Mayer: “When Mr. Mayer issues you an invitation, it’s not an invitation, it’s a command performance.”
Victoria Riskin about her father’s writing: “A hallmark of his writing was that he cared about his characters, women are smart and most people are good. Humor is good but it’s best to avoid it if it’s at someone’s expense.”
Peter McCrea on his father, Joel: “Pops said he never liked to be higher off the ground than on a horse.”
Cora Sue Collins on her 1932 film debut in “The Unexpected Father” with Zasu Pitts: “We were walking down the street and a car came up and asked, ‘Would you like to be in pictures.’ … At casting, they lined up all the girls – they were looking for the smallest appearing child with a memory. In three days, I had my first starring role.”
Victoria Riskin on what drew her mother, Fay Wray, to writers, including her father Robert Riskin: “They were the smartest, most interesting and intellectual people. And she was very, very smart. She could finish a New York Times crossword puzzle in 20 minutes.”
The next Capitolfest
Capitolfest 18 is set for Aug.14 to 18, 2020 and showcases spotlight stars and sisters Constance and Joan Bennett. Watch the festival’s Facebook page for ticket availability and more details.
Before I get to the list of classic and repertory movies showing in the Buffalo area for August, I’d like to share info on the fourth annual Western New York Movie Expo and Memorabilia Show, a four-day event starting off the month with more than 100 movies and shorts from Hollywood’s Golden Age, along with vintage TV episodes.
The Expo is held from 10 a.m. to midnight Aug. 1 to 4 in the Buffalo Grand Hotel, 120 Church St. Tickets are $35 to $40 for the full event or $12 a day ($6 Sunday). There is a dealer’s room that is so big they call it a dealer’s emporium. Highlights include shorts and features from the greats of early comedy including W.C. Field, Charley Chase, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy; silent movies and shorts with musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis including the 1929 film “Pandora’s Box”; a celebration of Rod Serling and the “Twilight Zone’s” 60th anniversary; and retro TV episodes from the series starring Donna Reed, Danny Thomas, Red Skeleton and more . For full info, visit wnymovieexpo.com.