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Wilton Theatre hosting week of silent films with music

  • Charlie Chaplin stars in ‘The Kid on Wednesday in Wilton. Courtesy photo

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    1928: Buster Keaton in "Steamboat Bill, Jr."

  • ‘The General’ (1926) starring Buster Keaton will kick off five straight days of silent films with live music at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Monday. Courtesy photo

Published: 8/6/2020 1:06:52 PM

A lack of current Hollywood releases has prompted the Wilton Town Hall Theatre to pivot to something completely different: proven box office hits from the cinema’s golden age of comedy

In August, the independent moviehouse is forsaking first-run movies for an entire week of 1920s silent comedies, all screened with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Instead of Steve Carell in “Irresistible” (2020), movie-goers can catch Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid” (1921). Rather than Anya Taylor-Joy in “Emma” (2020), film fans can see Buster Keaton in “Steamboat Bill Jr.” (1928).

“If today’s Hollywood won’t support independent moviehouses, then we’ll try turning to yesterday’s Hollywood,” said Dennis Markaverich, the Town Hall Theatre’s longtime owner/operator.

This year’s lack of theatrical releases, plus continuing public fear of COVID-19, has made it difficult for small independent moviehouses such as the Wilton Town Hall Theatre to attract audiences this summer.

Markaverich reopened his two-screen theater in early July after being closed nearly four months due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

The theater made every effort to comply with COVID-19 public safety guidelines: attendance was limited to half-capacity, face coverings were required, social distancing was enforced, and show times were staggered to keep people from congregating in the lobby and to enable thorough cleaning between screenings.

But audiences didn’t come. On many weeknights, not one person showed up for the evening shows. The one big summer hit Markaverich was hoping to book, “Hamilton”, was released via streaming over the Fourth of July weekend, bypassing movie theaters entirely.

“We’ve been ready to go, but we can’t run a movie theater without movies,” Markaverich said.

The one bright spot was the theater’s silent film series, which also restarted in July. A screening of “The Three Musketeers”, a 1921 silent swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks, drew about 50 movie fans – the Town Hall Theatre’s largest turnout since reopening.

With few new releases in the pipeline, and with audiences reluctant to attend, Markaverich decided to pull the plug on first-run movies in late July.

Instead, he’ll open the theater on a limited basis, relying on silent comedies and other fare until new releases become available, and people feel motivated again to come out to the movies.

“I hope we’ll be back to showing first-run features after Labor Day,” Markaverich said. “In the meantime, it says a lot about the state of Hollywood’s output, and the lack of support for independent cinemas, that we have to turn to century-old comedies to keep from going dark or closing for good.”

Silent Film Comedy Week runs from Monday, Aug. 10 through Friday, Aug. 14, with a different show every night at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per person, with proceeds to support the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

The schedule for Silent Film Comedy Week includes:

■Monday, Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m.: “The General” (1926) starring Buster Keaton; Keaton’s Civil War-era masterpiece that tells the story of a Confederate railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies.

■Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m.: “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” (1926) starring Harry Langdon; rediscover forgotten comedian Langdon in a quirky comedy about a cross-country foot race. Co-stars Joan Crawford (unbelievably) as Langdon’s love interest.

■Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.: “The Kid” (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan; landmark comedy/drama about a man who raises an infant against all odds. Highlighted by four-year-old Coogan, who matches Chaplin pratfall for pratfall.

■Thursday, Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m.: “Grandma’s Boy” (1922) starring Harold Lloyd; A cowardly young man must learn to conquer his fears before dealing with a larger menace to his community. Riotous small town comedy.

■Friday, Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m.: “Steamboat Bill Jr.” (1928) starring Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence; as the son of a gruff steamboat captain, Keaton tries to make the grade even as storm clouds gather – and romance brews with the daughter of a rival ship owner.

The Silent Film Series continues Sunday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. starring in “Robin Hood”, the original blockbuster movie adaptation of the legendary tale. Admission is free for Sunday’s showing, but a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. The screening will also be accompanied with live music by Rapsis.

It’s part of a summer season of silent swashbucklers starring the charismatic Fairbanks, one of early cinema’s most popular stars. Also in August, as part of the series, “The Mark of Zorro” will be shown Saturday, Aug. 29, and “Don Q, Son of Zorro” will be screened Sunday, Aug. 30. Both showings will be at 2 p.m.

For more, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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