“Way Down East,” D. W. Griffith’s 1920 silent film will be shown at Harbor Theater (free for members) on Saturday, March 7 at 2 p.m., as part of the “Maine in the Movies Festival,” a project of the Maine Film Center, the organization that sponsors the annual Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.
The festival is screening more than 30 films in 16 venues across the state March 5-15. The selection includes stories set in Maine, films based on works written by Mainers, and films shot here.
Griffith’s famed silent melodrama, based on an earlier 19th century play, stars Lillian Gish as an innocent “Down East” country girl who falls in love with a smooth-talking city man. He dupes her into a sham marriage ceremony, gets her pregnant, and then abandons her to her fate.
After the baby dies, she is desperate and moves in with a farming family in Maine who reject her when they find out about her past. Off she goes to the river in a blizzard; the son of the family finally rescues her and brings her home, but not without great difficulty.
Watch for the famous scene in which Gish nearly lost her life as she attempted to leap across an iceberg in the middle of a frozen river. The day of the stuntman was yet to come, and the genuinely perilous stunts were performed by the stars themselves.
To accompany the film, Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician who specializes in creating musical scores for silent film screenings, will bring his keyboard to Harbor Theater to provide live background music for “Way Down East.”
Rapsis is obviously crazy about silent films. He doesn’t want people to see them without the proper background music, most of which has been lost to history. But thanks to his research and musical ability, he has reconstructed this critical part of the silent film experience for all to enjoy.
The musician is rearranging his busy schedule to be in Boothbay Harbor that day because, he said, “I'm eager to help as 'Way Down East' is a great film, and using just a recorded score (or worse, none at all) does not allow an audience to experience its full impact.” Yet he wants to be in the background, making the music integral to the film experience. “The best compliment I can get is that people forget I’m there,” he said.
As a silent film accompanist, Rapsis performs at venues throughout New England and around the world. In the Boston area, he appears regularly at the Somerville Theatre, the Harvard Film Archive, and the Coolidge Corner Theatre. This past August, Jeff made his Boston Symphony debut with a silent film program at the Tanglewood Learning Institute and has also appeared recently in San Francisco, Detroit, Toronto and London. His recorded work includes a piano score to a recent Kino Lorber re-issue of 'Zaza,' a 1923 Gloria Swanson drama.
“Way Down East” is 2 hours 29 minutes. This is a FREE for members event. Reservations may be made by writing firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up at the concession desk at the theater. Just give us the name and number of members attending and your name (s) will be put on a list at the door. No reserved seats. Doors open at 1 p.m. Free popcorn for all.
IF space is available tickets may be purchased at the door the day of the film for $10, no discounts.
The Harbor Theater is a non-profit, independent theater located at 185 Townsend Ave. in Boothbay Harbor. For more information, go to www.boothbaycinema.org or call 633-0438.