The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra Presents:
THE CLOWN PRINCES
Saturday, May 14th, 7PM
Rowland Theatre, Philipsburg
Saturday, May 14th I had the honor of going to our locally treasured Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg to see The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra conducted by Rick Benjamin that did a show there to a mix of silent films, entitled The Clown Princes. The performance included films by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as well as a selection of American theatre orchestra favorites. The show cost $20 and was filled decently well with fans of all ages, including some fun ladies in their flapper garb, feathers and pearls who really got into it. I went with my mother and my Aunt Peggy. It was a really good time!
Something about me…I have had a Buster Keaton thing since college. I love Charlie Chaplin, also; who doesn’t love the Little Tramp? But I, for some reason, was incredibly drawn to the Great Stone Face and his contribution to the silent film era so this was an exciting event. Silent films are pretty interesting. The acting had to be big enough to get the ideas and gags across with absolutely no sound, while also being entertaining and filmed from the best angles. It relied heavily on slapstick and stunts, most of which were done by the actors themselves who were, in many cases, directing the films as well. These guys were hard core. They were pioneers in filmmaking, our forefathers of visual comedy, acting and directing. It was such a cool experience to see these silent films on the big screen with live music from a real ragtime orchestra like it would have been at the time of their production. We were actually encouraged to hiss and boo at the bad guys, and ooh and ahh for the good guys.
The first selection was the 1922 film Cops starring Buster Keaton, directed by Keaton and Eddie Cline. Afterward, the band played an orchestral interlude for reel change music, as would have been traditional back in the day. Rick Benjamin, the conductor, spoke some about music history, and how most of the films were made around the year that the Rowland opened, in 1917, and also how rare music would have been back then. He spoke of today and how music has become a kind of “sonic wallpaper” as he called it, as in it’s everywhere in the background. He said he thinks that it actually devalues the music.
In the silent film era musicians, writers and publishers were all in high demand to create the musical scores for movies. People didn’t have access to music like they do now and they would only be able to hear music if a family member or a friend played an instrument, or if they were able to catch a live performance. It makes you think and it’s really true. Music has been devalued because it is so ubiquitous now. It’s everywhere from elevators, waiting rooms, cars, stores and commercials. He’s right, it IS sonic wallpaper! So much so that people probably don’t even realize a lot of the time that it is there sticking to the wall. In the silent film era, however, the music stood out and was more important because it wasn’t as prevalent. It was a luxury!
The second photoplay was the 1920 film Get Out and Get Under starring Harold Lloyd, who was a boxer turned actor. This film was directed by truck driver turned director, Hal Roach. Loyd’s “Glass” character was more like the common man. People loved Buster’s “Stoneface” and Charlie’s “Tramp” because they were goofy and different, Benjamin said, but they loved Harold Loyd because he reminded them of themselves. I wasn’t as familiar with Lloyd as the other two clown princes, so it was really neat to see this film.
After intermission we were treated to a selection of American theatre orchestra favorites, including 1921’s I’m Just Wild About Harry, 1904’s The Cascades, and W.C. Handy’s 1915 blues number The Hesitation Blues. The third photoplay section was 1916’s Easy Street starring and directed by Charles Chaplin! It’s amazing to think this film came out just one year before the Rowland opened its doors in 1917. The music to this film could actually not be found so the entire score for this one was reconstructed by Rick Benjamin based on musical settings of the time.
This was a very entertaining show. Benjamin asked the crowd if we would each bring “two and a half” people with us if they returned. We cheered that we would, of course. It was a great time; highly entertaining watching Joseph Ellis do the drums and sound effects along with the film. They pulled out all the bells and whistles, literally. Quacky noises for people talking or giving speeches, sobbing noises for when people cried. With just 11 members, The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra sounds pretty boomin’! I highly recommend it!
Also, interestingly, it is the eve of the Rowland Theatre’s centennial. The Rowland was opened on June 4th, 1917 by Charles Hedding Rowland and its very first offering was a silent film entitled “Within the Law”. Currently, the Rowland Theatre’s Board of Director’s is in the process of collecting funds to restore the marquee to the original glass structure that appeared in 1917. The original marquee apparently extended over the roadway about two feet. In conjunction, they will be designing a plaza in front of the theatre to protect the new structure that will be made of bricks, extending the sidewalk. People can order a personalized brick for $100 each. The Rowland Theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and really is a local treasure. I look forward to seeing the finished marquee in 2017 and supporting them in the future as they continue to bring entertainment to the Moshannon Valley area, just like this showing of The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s The Clown Princes!