Saturday, November 19, 2022

Tonight, 11/19: 'Her Sister from Paris,' final film of season at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

A poster promoting Constance Talmadge in 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925).

Tonight, a screening of the hilarious society comedy 'Her Sister from Paris' will mark the final show of the 2022 silent film series at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Showtime is 7 p.m., admission is free, and yours truly will be at the keyboard. The setting: Vienna, so expect lots of music in 3/4 time.

Lots more about tonight's screening is in the press release attached below. Hope you'll drop by if you're within driving distance. 

For now, a quick report on a screening of 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) the W.C. Fields silent that we screened at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center this past Wednesday night. 

Me under the Flying Monkey marquee.

A special guest was on hand for this event, at least in spirit. Prior to the screening, Harriet Fields (the granddaughter of W.C.) sent me a note to read to the audience.

So I did, and here's what I said:

Thank you for screening "So's Your Old Man" this Wednesday, November 16, the second W.C. Fields film added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (2008). "You're Telling Me" is the talking version filmed in Hollywood in 1934. In both these classic films, W.C. Fields scene on the train with Princess Lescaboura is an arrestingly tender and endearing portrait of the real W.C. Fields-my grandfather and spiritual inspiration. Thank you to the W. C. Fields Facebook Group for alerting us to your most appreciated screening. Warmest regards to all and special hug to our dear Jeff Rapsis, piano accompanist extraordinaire.
Dr. Harriet A. Fields

How nice of Harriet to provide a personal welcome to viewers of one of her grandfather's rarely screened Paramount silents. 

I'm pleased to report our audience enjoyed the film immensely. Perhaps the biggest laugh came when the wife of Fields' character is told he's done something simply marvelous, and her response (via intertitle) is.

"Did he die?"

Well, he didn't, and Fields himself lives on through the films and of course through the efforts of Harriet and her other family members. 

And now it's on to Brandon, Vt., where tonight we'll cavort with Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman in a very funny comedy, 'Her Sister From Paris.'

Hope to see you there! And here's the press release...

*   *   *

Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman in 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925).

TUESDAY, NOV. 8, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Her Sister From Paris' to screen on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Brandon Town Hall

Uproarious 'battle of the sexes' silent comedy to be presented with live music at historic venue

BRANDON, Vt.—The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Get swept off your feet by not one but two privileged ladies, both played by amazing actress Constance Talmadge, in this effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy.

Silent film with live music returns to Brandon Town Hall with a screening of the comedy 'Her Sister from Paris' on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

The program will be presented with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The screening is free and open to the public, with donations accepted and refreshments for sale.

In 'Her Sister from Paris,' Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge play a wealthy American society couple living in Vienna.

Due to an argument, she leaves to stay with her mother. At the railway station she meets her identical twin, a celebrated dancer in Paris (also played by Talmadge), who agrees to trick the husband to help rekindle her sister's marriage.

The fun starts when both the husband and his friend, an official at the British Embassy, fall in love with the sister, leading to a dizzying round of complications.

Among the most popular stars of the silent era, Constance Talmadge specialized in light "society" comedies. However, she had acting and pantomime skills that made her a versatile actress able to tackle any role.

In 'Her Sister From Paris,' Talmadge delivers a virtuoso performance playing both sisters. Although their appearance is identical, each woman is quite different from the other, which Talmadge conveys through body language and on-screen attitude.

Ronald Colman, whose career would go on to span radio and television, was already a popular leading man in films at the time 'Her Sister From Paris' was made. Colman more than holds his own as the two sisters conspire against him.

The screening of 'Her Sister from Paris' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country.

"By showing the films as they were intended, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

The feature-length 'Her Sister From Paris' will be preceded by a short subject from the silent era.

The screening of 'Her Sister from Paris' at Brandon Town Hall is sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

'Her Sister From Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are welcome to help support ongoing Town Hall renovation efforts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Checking in after a busy Halloween season; silent W.C. Fields on Wednesday night, Plymouth, N.H.

An original lobby card promoting W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' (1926).

Up next: I'll accompany a screening of 'So's Your Old Man' (1926), a terrific W.C. Fields silent comedy, on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. and yes, it's a silent film starring W.C. Fields. You won't hear his nasal twang and he sports a mustache, but give it a chance. I've found from experience that the Fields silents (those that survive, anyway) are great for audience response.

More about 'So's Your Old Man' in the press release below. Hope to see you in Plymouth on Wednesday night!

For now, here's a brief report of this year's Halloween marathon of silent film screenings, which reached a crescendo with three separate screenings in three states on the Saturday prior to spook day. 

It got so busy that I really didn't have time to update the blog day-by-day. Hence this attempt to catch up.

The pre-show set-up in 'The Showroom' in Keene, N.H.

Let's see...on Tuesday, Oct. 25, it was 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the new Showroom venue of the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H. It's called the "showroom" because it actually was originally the showroom of a car dealer!

I've been doing 'Nosferatu' pretty regularly for a long time, and everything clicked that night. Great reaction from an enthusiastic audience made of mostly first-timers for the silent film/live music experience. 

Tools of the trade: the "dingy bell" I use to match the clock chimes in 'Nosferatu.'

I got specific kudos from a young boy for the way I matched the bell chimes for the two times in 'Nosferatu' that a clock strikes midnight. It's a little tricky because both times characters on screen hear the clock before it's seen on camera. 

 If I do it just right, I can get 12 chimes exactly, and that's what happened, thus helping me build the pre-teen fan base for the silent film experience.

Pre-show poster posing at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, it was 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H. Another strong turnout for this lesser-known but entertaining comedy-thriller—people seemed to get what director Paul Leni was going for, and reacted strongly throughout.

In introducing the film, in order to demonstrate the "fame is fleeting" principle, I asked if any members of the Laura LaPlante club were present. Two hands went up immediately!

This is another film in which a clock striking midnight is featured prominently. In this case, it's a big old grandfather clock, and when the hour comes, Leni fills the screen with a prolonged montage of hammers hitting various coils to make the sounds.

No mere dingy bell will do this justice, so instead I switch the synthesizer to a setting named 'Valerian Bells,' which sounds like something from 'The Exorcist.' Once again I won after-screening praise for my bell effects! I thought "Heck, I'm on a roll." 

But fate, and perhaps the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe, had other plans for me and my bells, bells, bells...

Loved this series poster at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, it was down to Newport, R.I., where the Jane Pickens Theatre was running 'Nosferatu.' To everyone's surprise and delight, well over 200 people crowded into the venerable venue to take in the vampire's exploits.

Having only started doing silent films this year in Newport, there's a great sense of discovery there, even with a film as familiar (to me, anyway) as 'Nosferatu.' The majority of attendees were first-timers, not just for 'Nosferatu' but for any silent film in a theater with live music.

Another poster in Newport. The Jane Pickens Theatre does a great job promoting screenings.

And so audience reaction was intense and gratifying. They even laughed at my weak joke about preparing by means of braving the scary traffic getting through Boston on Route 128. Har!

And the music once again came together to support, I hope, what F.W. Murnau and his collaborators had put into the film so long ago. Altogether, it was one of highlights of the season: a packed house and that in-the-moment feeling that a film is really connecting, creating a shared experience by everyone present. Wow!

Pre-show inside the Jane Pickens Theatre. My little Roland speakers (seen on stage) do a great job, filling this sized house with a big sound when needed.

Alas, it was this screening in which the bells got the best of me. After a half-dozen screenings of 'Nosferatu,' I screwed up both cues! Each time, I went to hit the dingy bell button, and literally missed the bell. 

The first time, I succeeded in nearly knocking the bell off the chair, and so managed to get maybe only six dings before the movie moved on. That unnerved me enough to muff the second cue as well. It was a case of "not saved by the bell."

Friday, Oct. 28 saw me up at Warner, N.H. to accompany 'The Bells' (1926), an obscure thriller from obscure Chadwick Pictures that benefited from performances by the not-so-obscure Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff.

The screening, a fund-raiser for the Telephone Museum of N.H. (Yes, New Hampshire has a telephone museum. Doesn't your state?) and so 'The Bells' seemed an appropriate title. 

Not the largest turnout of the season but the hall was pretty full and the film worked in spite of my clumsy attempts to integrate some toy sleigh bells into the score when needed.

This is where the bells got the best of me—fittingly in a film called 'The Bells.' 

The bells referred to in the title are not telephone bells, but sleigh bells, the sound of which symbolize a murder that's committed during the picture.  

Well, the best I could do in advance of this screening was to find a set of toy bells glued to felt that we found in my basement with a lot of old Christmas stuff. 

I didn't have a chance to really test them out, and it turned out they were not even close to being up to the job. As I tried to shake them while playing keyboard with the other, they made virtually no sound. Instead of menacing, they sounded pathetic, at least to my ears.

Finally, one shake too many caused them to fly out of my hand and hit the floor, where I left them, getting my sleigh bell effects from the keyboard from then on. Strangely, a woman afterwards complimented me on how effective that was!

Dear Santa: please bring me a set of real sleigh bells. Also, while we're on the subject, a real boxing bell would be nice as well.

Saturday, Oct. 29 was the true one-day marathon: another 'Nosferatu,' this time a matinee at the newly opened Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H., then an evening screening of 'Der Golem' (1920) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, followed then by a midnight screening of the reconstructed 'London After Midnight' (1927) at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Brookline, Mass., just over the line from Boston. 

The Leavitt Theatre, like all of Ogunquit, does not do Halloween halfway.

Three states, three screenings, in 12 hours! And I had time for a piping hot bowl of bibimbap (see below) at the Korean Restaurant around the corner from the Coolidge, which thankfully stays open late on Saturday nights.

During this steeplechase, as far as the music goes, I was in kind of a trance. Sitting at the keyboard, it just flowed out of me. For 'Nosferatu,' it was a synthesis of all the material I'd been developing at the six previous screenings of the film I'd accompanied in the previous two weeks. 

For 'Der Golem,' it was largely a riff on the theme from Bach's "Little Fugue in G minor." And 'London After Midnight' was total seat-of-the-pants improv based on three descending notes, which I have to say became thrillingly effective as the film progressed.

Risky selfie of me and the distinctive Coolidge marquee, obtained by stepping into Harvard Street in front of the theater.

Besides the Korean food, it was powered by the adrenaline rush from seeing so many people in costume lined up for the Coolidge's annual Halloween overnight marathon, for which 'London After Midnight' was the opening film. 

Adding to that was the sight of several large rats outside my car! Really—after the crowd had filed in, the rats came out of a dumpster area in an alley behind the theater and were apparently scavenging spilled popcorn and soda.

Me with the line of Coolidge marathon attendees stretching back into the alley, the end of which is where I later encountered rats guarding my car.

This happened to be right where I parked my car for the load-in. Rather than be alarmed, my reaction was: "How cool to see this at Halloween!" Still, I had the presence of mind to make hissing noises to scare them off before moving the car out of there. 

It was well past 1 a.m., but I couldn't miss the Coolidge Corner's costume contest! 

And then Sunday, Oct. 29 saw me accompanying a non-Halloween program at a new venue: the Gloucester Meetinghouse in Gloucester, Mass., an imposing structure that rises majestically out of the seaport's crowded old center. 

The venue's silent film programs are usually accompanied by celebrated Boston-based organist Peter Krasinski, a good friend and colleague. But Peter was out of town and recommended me to fill in (thanks, Peter!) for a program of comedies: shorts by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and then Chaplin's feature 'The Kid' (1921).

A beautiful fall afternoon with the Gloucester Meetinghouse in Gloucester, Mass.

Weatherwise, it was a spectacular late October Sunday, but attendance was strong. One odd thing was that the church interior was noticeably warmer than it was outside. This was the result of a group using the building the night before accidentally leaving the heat cranked up to 85 all night long!

But the accidental combo of silent film and bikram-style yoga didn't stop the audience from enjoying the program, with many people afterwards praising 'The Kid' for its powerful emotional impact. Nice!

I perhaps lingered a bit too long, because I then found myself high-tailing it on Route 128 back to New Hampshire, where I just barely made it to the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. for a 7:30 p.m. screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927).

For this one, I know the film somewhat, but hadn't done it in a long time. And coming at the end of a long series of screenings, there just wasn't an opportunity to view it or a chance to prepare anything in advance.

But at the same time, I'd been doing films nearly every day for the past three weeks. So in my favor was a state of unusual fluency, I'd have to say, that comes from sitting at a keyboard and creating music several hours in a row day after day.

And with 'The Lodger,' I just plunged in with a kind of aggressively syncopated jazz motif that turned out to be remarkably versatile in catching the various ups and downs of Hitchcock's first real 'Hitchcock' film: a tale of murder, false leads, misdirection, blonde women, and all the other Hitchcockian tropes we cherish.  

It worked, and became one of the most satisfying accompaniment experiences of a busy stretch. No bells in this picture, but something similar: a cuckoo clock sounds twice, in close-up, at key moments, and both times I was ready. 

I think overall, this spooky steeplechase reaffirmed one of the basic principles of silent film accompaniment, at least the way I do it. For me, the only way to develop and maintain fluency at improv-based accompaniment is to do it a lot. 

When I do it a lot, I notice a difference. I'm able to get inside (and stay ahead) of a film in a way that seems almost effortless. The music just comes, and I find if I'm in that "zone" I can shape it to fit what the film seems to need at any given time.

But you can't keep this pace up indefinitely. So after 'The Lodger'—nothing! A whole note rest! The next week, including the weekend, I had no screenings—the first time since Labor Day. 

Now, two weeks later, I'm back at it: I accompanied a benefit screening of 'Wings' last Thursday for the Aviation Museum of N.H. (of which I'm director), and this past Sunday did music for the silent version of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1930) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The screening, in honor of Veterans Day, was well attended and the music came together in spectacular fashion. It was one of those shows where you're just in synch with everything—where an accompanist can feel the rhythm of the scenes and the editing and can anticipate, say, when there's a shell blast and can capture it as a big scene unfolds.

I had never scored the filim and had only previewed it once. But that was enough to be ready for a couple of big moments where the music seemed to really work well. One example: the scene where Raymond Griffith plays a dying French soldier.

Once he perishes, a character continues speaking to him, saying with increasing desperation he should have died instead. While that was going on, I kept to a moody ostinato in E minor.

But every so often, the camera cuts to Griffith's immobile face, just staring blankly ahead. And each time, I hit a C minor chord about an octave above, and held it for the duration of the shot. 

It happens three times, and each time I pushed the volume a bit, and also added notes to the top of the chord. (It ended up being C minor with G Major on top.) I have to say, it made my hair stand on end, and I knew what was coming. I hope it had a similar affect on the audience. 

And that's it for catching up. During the holiday season, the performance schedule often thins out, but not this year—I'm booked at venues pretty regularly into the next year, including two more gigs at the Coolidge in December and January. (No costumes, but more Korean food!)

But next up: it's W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' tomorrow night at the Flying Monkey. Press release is below. Hope to see you there!

*    *    *

A production still from 'So's Your Old Man' (1926).

TUESDAY, NOV. 8, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Flying Monkey to screen rare silent film starring comic icon W.C. Fields

'So's Your Old Man' shows legendary performer as younger man; program on Wednesday, Nov. 16 accompanied by live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He was a performer who could be recognized by just the nasal twang of his voice.

But prior to reaching iconic fame in talking pictures, W.C. Fields successfully starred in a popular series of silent feature films for Paramount Pictures and other studios in the 1920s.

Rediscover the non-talking W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) one of his best silent pictures, in a screening on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person, general seating. Live musical scoring will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

In 'So's Your Old Man' (1926), Fields plays Sam Bisbee, inventor of a new shatter-proof windshield glass and regarded as a crackpot by the townsfolk.

After a demonstration of his glass to auto executives goes awry, he faces ridicule and shame. On the way home, Bisbee encounters a woman he thinks is trying to commit suicide, and so prevents her.

The woman is really Princess Lescaboura, member of a family of European royalty, who later arrives in Bisbee's home town to thank him, upending Bisbee's life and setting the small town aflame with gossip. The film includes a version of Fields' famous "golf" routine.

The film was remade as a talkie in 1934, with W.C. Fields again starring, under the title 'You're Telling Me!' In 2008, 'So's Your Old Man' was added to the U.S. National Film Registry.

W.C. Fields remains famous today for his comic persona as a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist with a snarling contempt for dogs, children and women.

Although Fields achieved lasting fame as a movie star in talking pictures of the 1930s, his long career encompassed decades on the vaudeville stage as well as a series of silent film roles in the 1920s.

"People find it hard to think of W.C. Fields in silent films, but he was actually quite successful," Rapsis said. "As a vaudeville performer and juggler, Fields cultivated a form of visual comedy and pantomime that transferred well to the silent screen.

"Also, as a middle-aged man during the silent film era, he was able to play a family father figure—the kind of role that wasn't open to younger comic stars such as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton," Rapsis said.

In all, Fields starred in 10 silent features in the mid-1920s. Several are lost; in those that survive, Fields sports a thick mustache, part of his vaudeville costume as a "vagabond juggler" which he dropped in later years.

The film was made not in Hollywood, but at the Paramount studios in Astoria, Queens, a popular production facility for New York-based stage performers who also appeared in film.

For the music, Rapsis improvises in real time, while the film is running, using a digital synthesizer that allow him to recreate the "movie score" texture of a full orchestra.

"Improvising a score live is a bit of a high-wire act, but it allows me to follow and support the film a lot more effectively than if I was buried in sheet music," Rapsis said.

"Instead, I'm free to follow the film right in the moment. Each time it's different, which lends a certain energy and immediacy and excitement to the experience."

'So's Your Old Man,' a silent comedy starring W.C. Fields, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Tonight! Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff in 'The Bells' (1926) in Warner (N.H.) Town Hall

A lobby card promoting 'The Bells' (1926).

The pre-Halloween silent film marathon continues with a screening of 'The Bells' (1926) tonight (Friday, Oct. 28) at the old Town Hall in Warner, N.H.

Showtime is 7 p.m. for what's a fund-raiser for the Telephone Museum of New Hampshire, which is located in Warner. (Yes, New Hampshire has a Telephone Museum!)

And what better silent film to show in support of a telephone museum than one called 'The Bells'?

Live music (plus some nifty bell sound effects) will be provided by yours truly. 

The movie itself has nothing to do with telephones, nor does it concern the famous Edgar Allen Poe poem. 

Despite the A-list cast (which also includes silent film mainstay Gustav von Seyffertitz), the film is a low-budget murder thriller from obscure studio Chadwick Pictures. 

I recorded a score for it several years ago for a DVD reissue by Reel Classics Video. But tonight's music will all be freshly improvised.

For more information, check out the N.H. Telephone Museum Web site.

And while I'm at it, thanks to everyone who turned out to pack the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I. for last night's 100th anniversary screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922).

A total of 216 tickets were sold—the most so far for any silent film program since I began performing in Newport earlier this year. 

Despite the DCP version of the film being noticeably different from the DVD transfer that I usually use, all went well. After a half-dozen 'Nosferatu' screenings in the past two weeks, I'm getting pretty good at synchronizing the chime noises when the clock strikes midnight. 

Your final chance to see 'Nosferatu' this Halloween season, at least with music by me, will by on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 2 p.m., when I accompany a screening at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H.

After that, the film goes back into its coffin until the next resurrection. 

Hope to see you at tonight's screening of 'The Bells' in Warner! In the meantime, enjoy some "atmosphere" shots from 'Nosferatu' last night in Newport, where they do quite a good job on the posters.




Thursday, October 27, 2022

Tonight: 'Nosferatu' flies into the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I. for 100th anniversary

 
The vampire mounts the stairs in 'Nosferatu' (1922.)

 If you're looking for the "big audience" experience of silent film, look no further than tonight's screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

I'm told that already well over 100 tickets have been sold for tonight's show. Wow! So it should be a packed house, which I think always makes for a screening.

The fun starts at 7:30 p.m.; more details in the press release below.


Last night's screening of 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) drew a good-sized crowd to the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H.

Most had never seen (or heard of) the film; indeed many were first-timers at the Rex, which was recently renovated and reopened by the Palace Theatre, the city's main downtown performing arts organization.

For this film, I make a point of describing it as it was originally promoted: as a "comedy thriller." 

I think it's important for people to know that's what director Paul Leni was going for, thus giving them permission to laugh. Which they did!

Okay, here's info on tonight's screening of 'Nosferatu' in Newport, R.I. 

By the way, yesterday's Newport Daily News carried an extensive write-up of the screening. Nice job by writer Robert Duguay!

And I can't help but observe that for me, it's the second-to-last 'Nosferatu' of this 100th anniversary Halloween season.

Accompanying it repeatedly is beginning to feel like silent film aerobics: "Two more, one more..."

*    *    *

The creature emerges: Nosferatu disembarks from his shipboard accommodations..

MONDAY, OCT. 3, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' to screen at Jane Pickens Theater on Thursday, Oct. 27

Prepare for Halloween with 100-year-old silent horror movie with live music—see it if you dare!

NEWPORT, R.I.— Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film celebrating the 100th anniversary of its release.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online or at the door.

The screening will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by," said Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H. who accompanies silent film screenings at venues across the nation.

"It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places," Rapsis said.

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' episode.

In screening silent films at the Jane Pickens Theater, organizers aim to show early cinema as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early cinema such as 'Nosferatu' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

The classic early horror thriller ‘Nosferatu’ will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online at www.janepickens.com or at the door. For more information about the JPT Film & Event Center, call (401) 846-5474. 

Have a nice trip!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Tonight: Halloween screenings continue with 'The Cat and the Canary' in Manchester, N.H.

Character actor Tully Marshall faces peril in 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

'Tis the week before Halloween, and the silent film screening calendar is as packed as a medieval graveyard after the plague.

Next up: the 1927 comedy thriller 'Cat and the Canary' tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 26) at the Rex Theater in downtown Manchester, N.H.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Lots more info in the press release below.

From now through Halloween, the screenings are continuous, with at least one each day—and in the case of Saturday, Oct. 29, three!

Really—this coming Saturday it's 'Nosferatu' at 2 p.m. at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H.; then 'Der Golem' at 6 p.m. the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine; and then the reconstructed 'London After Midnight' for, yes, a midnight showing at the Coolidge Corner Theater down in Boston.

Three screenings in the span of 12 hours might seem like a lot, but I appreciate the interest at this time of year. Something about Halloween brings out people to silent film screenings. 

So as a silent film accompanist, I'm willing to make hay while the sun shines, although that's a terrible expression to use regarding Halloween, which is about anything but sunshine. 

The story this year is, of course, 'Nosferatu' and the 100th anniversary of the film's original release. In the two weeks prior to Halloween, I'm accompanying a half-dozen screenings in four different states!

The most recent was last night in Keene, N.H., at the Colonial Theatre's new "Showroom" venue. (That's it at left, prior to the screening.) Despite it being a Tuesday night, a near-capacity crowd turned out to experience 'Nosferatu,' with many first-timers in the audience. 

Last week, I accompanied the film in Natick, Mass. and Brandon, Vt. On Thursday, I'll do it again in Newport, R.I.  No matter how many times I accompany it, the film never seems to get old—kind of like the vampire himself. 

The one special effect I use in scoring 'Nosferatu' is what I call a "dingy bell," which I employ to match the scenes of a clock chiming during the movie.

Two such scenes appear in the movie, and it's a bit tricky because each time, the chiming starts off screen. The characters hear it, and only then does the camera show the clock, which both times is striking midnight.

In order to make it work exactly, you need to know when to start the chiming (in my case, hitting the dingy bell) in order for it to add up to 12. After so many times, I'm usually able to do it exactly, but I'm always on edge in the moments leading up to it. 

Should I start now? Or now? Or maybe...oh crap, I'm too late!

I happened to nail it last night, as I learned from the father of a young boy who attended. Afterwards, he said his son was most impressed with how I matched the bell hits to the on-screen action.

Hey, I'll take it!

Hope to see you at 'Cat in the Canary' tonight, or at any of the upcoming Halloween shows. Check the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at upper right for the full slate.

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An original release poster for 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

TUESDAY, OCT. 4, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Cat and Canary' (1927) to play Rex Theatre with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 26

Just in time for Halloween: Creepy haunted house silent film thriller to be shown after sundown

MANCHESTER, N.H.—'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), a haunted house thriller from Hollywood’s silent film era, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 20 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $10 per person.

The show is the latest in the Rex Theatre's silent film series, which gives audiences the opportunity to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'The Cat and the Canary' stands as the original movie thriller—the first picture to feature the reading of a will in a haunted mansion complete with clutching hands, a masked killer, disappearing bodies, and secret passageways.

Silent film starlet Laura LaPlante leads the cast as a young heiress who must spend the night in the creepy old mansion, which is filled with relatives who all have motives to frighten her out of her wits. Meanwhile, a dangerous escaped lunatic is loose on the grounds. Can she and the others make it through the night?

Martha Maddox and Laura LaPlante in 'The Cat and the Canary.'

Created for Universal Pictures by German filmmaker Paul Leni and based on a hit stage play, 'The Cat and the Canary' proved popular enough to inspire several remakes, including one starring Bob Hope. It was also the forerunner of all the great Universal horror classics of the 1930s and '40s.

The Rex Theatre screening will use a fully restored print that shows the film as audiences would have originally experienced it. 'The Cat and the Canary' will be accompanied by live music by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in silent film scoring.

Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Silent film is all about the audience experience, and this one is a perfect Halloween crowd-pleaser," Rapsis said. "It has something for everyone—spooky scenes, some good comedy, and it's all fine for the whole family."

Critics praise the original 'Cat and the Canary' for its wild visual design and cutting edge cinematography.

Film reviewer Michael Phillips singled out the film for using "a fluidly moving camera and elaborate, expressionist sets and lighting to achieve some of the most memorable shots in silent film, from the amazing tracking shots down the curtain-lined main hallway to the dramatic zooms and pans that accompany the film's shocks."

Leonard Maltin called the original 'Cat and the Canary' a "delightful silent classic, the forerunner of all "old dark house" mysteries."

'Cat and the Canary' will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 20 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person. Tickets may be purchased online at www.palacetheatre.org, by phone at (603) 668-5588 or at the door.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Change of venue! Tonight's screening of 'Phantom of the Opera' now at Derry (N.H.) Public Library

Join me this evening for a scary pre-Halloween screening of 'Phantom.'

It's just before show time but wanted to post this to get out the word that the location of tonight's screening is the Derry Public Library.

It was originally another venue, but had to be moved. So come to the library and enjoy the show!

Complete details in the press release below...

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TUESDAY, OCT. 4, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Derry Public Library on Friday, Oct. 21

Just in time for Halloween: Pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music

DERRY, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a spooky silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the silent big screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Derry Public Library, 64 East Broadway, Derry, N.H.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is free and the program is open to all.

The show will allow audience members to experience 'Phantom' the way it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.  

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screenings.

"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who frequently accompanies films throughout the nation. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.

The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.

Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).

The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including 'Dracula' (1931), 'Frankenstein' (1931), and 'The Mummy' (1932).

The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Derry Public Library, 64 E. Broadway, Derry, N.H. Admission is free. For more information, contact the Derry Public Library at (603) 432-6140 or at lizr@derrypl.org.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Tonight in Plymouth, N.H.: Emil Jannings as 'Mephisto' in Murnau's dark epic 'Faust' (1926)

Emil Jannings doesn't hold back as 'Mephisto' (a.k.a. Satan) in 'Faust' (1926). 

As the days grow shorter, and the list of screenings for Halloween grows longer. 

Tonight, it's Murnau's 'Faust' (1926), which I'll accompany at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.  Showtime is 6:30 p.m. 

See you there! Lots more info in the press release below.

For now, a brief report on the first of several 'Nosferatu' (1922) screenings coming up in the next two weeks.

With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the film's release, interest is heavier than usual.

Last Sunday afternoon, I accompanied 'Nosferatu' to the largest crowd we've attracted so far to the silent film series at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The Center for the Arts screening room just before 'Nosferatu.'

About 40 people took in the film, with many staying afterwards for an extended question-and-answer session.

Most had never seen 'Nosferatu,' so I need to keep that in mind when I start thinking that the film gets programmed too often. 

'Faust' certainly doesn't run as often, so if you're interested in seeing Murnau's last film made in Germany prior to his move to Hollywood, join us this evening. 

Here's the press release:

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An original German poster for F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust' (1926).

TUESDAY, SEPT. 20, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rarely shown 'Faust' adaptation on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Flying Monkey

Silent film thriller starring Emil Jannings to be shown on the big screen with live music for Halloween program

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It's been a novel, a stage play, and an opera. When movies first appeared a century ago, it was only a matter of time before they tackled 'Faust,' the tale of a man who consigns his soul to the devil to obtain power in the present.

At the height of the silent era, German director F.W. Murnau created a cinematic version of 'Faust' filled with stunning images that maintain their power to astonish.

See for yourself with 'Faust' (1926), the original silent film adaptation of the classic legend, to be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person, general seating.

'Faust' is a 1926 silent film produced by German studio UFA, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman as Faust, Emil Jannings as Mephisto, and Camilla Horn as Gretchen.

As the film opens, the demon Mephisto has a bet with an Archangel that he can corrupt a righteous man's soul and destroy in him what is divine. If he succeeds, the Devil will win dominion over earth.

A scene from F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust.'

The Devil delivers a plague to the village where Faust, an elderly alchemist, lives. Though he prays to stop the death and starvation, nothing happens. Disheartened, Faust throws his alchemy books in the fire, and then the Bible too. One book opens, showing how to have power and glory by making a pact with the Devil.

Faust goes to a crossroads as described in the book and conjures up the forces of evil. When Mephisto appears, he induces Faust to make a trial, 24-hour bargain. Faust will have Mephisto's service till the sand runs out in an hourglass, at which time the Devil will rescind the pact.

At first, Faust uses his new power to help the people of the village, but they shun him when they find out that he cannot face a cross. They stone him and he takes shelter in his home. Mephisto then uses the lure of restored youth and love to convince Faust to sign over his soul once and for all.

The remainder of the film follows the grim consequences for everyone, all depicted with vivid visual imagination in the last film Murnau made in Germany before making the move to Hollywood.

'Faust' continues to impress modern critics, including Roger Ebert.

"Murnau had a bold visual imagination, distinctive even during the era of German Expressionism with its skewed perspectives and twisted rooms and stairs," Ebert wrote in 2005. " 'Faust,' with its supernatural vistas of heaven and hell, is particularly distinctive in the way it uses the whole canvas."

A scene from F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust.'

In screening F.W. Murnau's version of 'Faust,' the Flying Monkey aims to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.

"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.

"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

F.W. Murnau's ‘Faust' will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.