Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Taking a different approach to Halloween:
this year, no plan or pattern whatsoever!

Let's see. Tomorrow it's Frankenstein. Friday it's Houdini. On Saturday, it's Satan. And Sunday, a Hunchback.

With an appointment calendar like that, Halloween can't be far off. And sure enough, the big day itself arrives Wednesday next week, when I have a date with the Phantom of the Opera.

It's the busiest time of the year for silent film accompaniment. The calendar is packed with screenings for boys and ghouls in search of an other-worldly experience.

Hence I'm keeping appointments with everyone from the Vampire Nosferatu to Mephistopheles, a.k.a. Satan.

This variety is a change for me. For previous Halloweens, I've generally picked one film to concentrate on accompanying, and then taken it around to all the various venues looking for a silent film spook fix.

Also, I tried to focus on films that aren't shown as often as the two biggies: Murnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922) and Lon Chaney's 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

So one year it was Alfred Hitchcock's early silent thriller 'The Lodger' (1927). Another year it was 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), Paul Leni's Gothic haunted house picture. And another year it was Barrymore's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (1920).

By concentrating on one film for Halloween and taking it on tour, so to speak, I could really get to know the picture, and so burnish the improv-based accompaniment to a high gloss.

Well, not this year. This time around, it's a different title for nearly every screening. The only repeats: two Phantoms and two Hunchbacks. Otherwise, it's one-offs throughout the season.

Which I don't mind. It's a different kind of challenge to create music for a variety of films, one after another. And I've always felt that for me, the key to doing it well was doing it a lot.

That's what happened last week, which included a four-day stretch of shows in three different states. On Thursday in Massachusetts, it was 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' followed by 'Wings' (a non-Halloween title!) on Friday up in Maine. Then on Saturday, it was the German thriller 'Der Golem' (1921) over in Vermont then on Sunday 'The Phantom of the Opera' down in Massachusetts again.

And I have to say, but by the time I sat down at the keyboard on Sunday night at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass., I felt I was playing with a fluency and ease that simply wasn't present when I started the four-day run.

So doing it a lot, and mixing up the titles to challenge myself, really seems to work for me.

Does it work for you? Find out by attending one of the upcoming Halloween screenings on my calendar:

• Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, 7 p.m.: "Frankenstein program" at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 646-4849. A triple feature of Frankenstein films, including the early (and short) silent Thomas Edison version. Tickets $8 per person. For more info: www.regenttheatre.com.

• Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, 8 p.m. "Harry Houdini Celebration"; Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.; (781) 646-4849. Celebrate the birthday of Harry Houdini, legendary illusionist and escape artist, with an evening that combines live performance with a silent film starring Houdini himself as a James Bond-like action/adventure hero. Silent film with live music in a treasured neighborhood theater and performance space. Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at door. For more info: www.regenttheatre.com.

• Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, 7 p.m.: "Faust" (1926) directed by F.W. Murnau, starring Emil Jannings; Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; http://www.leavittheatre.com. Join us for another season of vintage cinema at the historic Leavitt Theatre. Emil Jannings stars in F.W. Murnau's terrifying version of the classic tale. A visual tour de force, full of creepy characters and frightening images. See great silent films with live music in a summer-only theater opened in 1923 and barely changed since. Admission $10 per person.

• Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, 4:30 p.m.: "Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) starring Lon Chaney; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Just in time for Halloween! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris. A moving and timeless drama filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax! Monthly series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

• Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, 7 p.m.: "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney; Colonial Theatre, 95 Main Street, Keene, N.H.; (603) 352-2033; www.thecolonial.org. Celebrate Halloween with one of the all-time classics. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Silent film with live music in a theater that originally opened as a silent movie house in 1924. Tickets: $6.50 per person, general admission.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The bells, bells, bells, bells, bells...
Accompanying 'Nosferatu' in Natick, Mass.

I will blink, and it will be Nov. 1.

That's what the last half of October feels like to a silent film accompanist.

Simply put, it's the busiest time of the year. And as you work your way through a calendar booked solid with screenings of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'Phantom of the Opera,' the days (and nights) begin to blur.

By the time Halloween itself rolls around, you begin to feel the way Max Schreck looks in 'Nosferatu.'

Speaking of which, that's the next one up: on Sunday, Oct. 14, I'll accompany the original vampire movie at The Center for the Arts in the Natick, Mass.

The fun (meaning "fun" as in "funeral") begins at 4 p.m. Better to run film before sundown in case any real vampires are lurking about.

The one tricky thing about doing music for 'Nosferatu' is a clock that strikes 12 to signal midnight's arrival. It happens twice, so I guess it's actually two tricky things.

It's a small clock, and has an external striking mechanism (a skeleton hitting a gong) that's clearly visible when the clock appears on camera.

However, in both cases, the clock begins striking 12 before it's seen by the audience. Rather, the characters on screen hear it first, before we in the audience get to see it.

So in both cases, you have to know when to start the chiming. And you have to pace it to match the slow, deliberate pace of striking depicted in the movie.

And in order to fit in exactly 12, you have to continue for a couple of strokes after the camera cuts away.

For this sound, I use what I call a "dingy bell," which is one of those small rounded bells mounted to hotel desks or store counters. Hit the button on the top, and it delivers a nice crisp 'Ding!'

If it all works out, and you actually do fit in exactly 12 dings, steadily and as the sense of terror grows around it, the effect is truly ominous.

So can I manage to start in time so that all 12 strokes fit in naturally? Only one way to find out!

For more info and details about 'Nosferatu,' please check out the press release below.

And don't blink, because then it'll be Nov. 1, and you'll have missed it.

* * *


WEDNESDAY, OCT. 3, 2018 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' coming to Natick's Center for the Arts on Sunday, Oct. 14


Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare

NATICK, Masss.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film!

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work 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 Red River 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. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

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 the 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 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' espisode.

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass. Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

You always remember your first time: The comedy calm before the Halloween avalanche

A Swedish poster for Keaton's 'Seven Chances.'

So I'm doing music for Buster Keaton's great comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Wednesday night.

And it's fitting that the comedy includes an avalanche, as it will be followed by an avalanche of Halloween-themed screenings starting this weekend.

But before we can get to 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom' and 'Hunchback' and 'Faust' (all of which I'm doing before the month is out), we first must see if Buster can find a bride no later than 7 p.m.—today!

It's a first-time screening for the nice folks up in Grantham, N.H., and for this situation I've found 'Seven Chances' is a dependable and crowd-pleasing intro into the world of silent film.

One of the first rules of show biz is to always leave 'em wanting more. And I've yet to encounter an audience that, after experiencing 'Seven Chances,' wants less of Buster.

The screening is free and open to the public. So if you happen to find yourself in Grafton County, N.H. tomorrow night and are looking for something to do, please join us!

Details in the press release below...

* * *

Buster checks the waning moments of his bachelorhood in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

TUESDAY, OCT. 2, 2018 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at Center at Eastman


Silent film presentation features classic race-to-the-finish romantic farce with live music

GRANTHAM, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Seven Chances' (1925), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Draper Room at the Center at Eastman, 1 Clubhouse Lane, Grantham, N.H.

The program starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Adapted from a stage play, the story finds Buster learning that he'll inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot on his own go awry, but then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who relentlessly pursue Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

Here come the brides...

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of the now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999), a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

The program will open with a short Keaton comedy as a warm-up to the main feature.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'Seven Chances.'

In reviving Keaton's 'Seven Chances,' organizers of the Music Department's concert series aim to show silent film 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 Hollywood such as 'Seven Chances' 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.

Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Draper Room at the Center at Eastman, 1 Clubhouse Lane, Grantham, N.H.

The program starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

And now, notes on a curiosity.

This still below from 'Seven Chances'...

...reminded me of this still from 'Wings' (1927)...


Was there a thing in the 1920s for despondent poses, or what?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

From Russia to Chicago: a geographically diverse double-header of silents this weekend


Let's hear it for cartographical diversity!

On Saturday, I'll accompany 'The Last Command' (1928), a Russian Revolution drama, at fitting venue: the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass. (More about that in a bit.) Showtime is at 2 p.m.; the press release with more info is pasted in below.

And then on Sunday, it's the original silent film version of 'Chicago' (1927), which is this month's silent film show at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.


For this one, I plan on using the theater's acoustic piano for some important scenes in which a player piano cranks along in the background. For the rest of the score, it'll be the usual full orchestra texture from the digital synthesizer. But in the "live effects" department, I'll also use jingly bells at a few points where they play a significant on-screen role.

Showtime for 'Chicago' is 4:30 p.m. and admission is free, with donations kindly accepted.

As different as these films are, I'm looking forward to both. 'The Last Command,' with a towering performance from Emil Jannings, is one of the best films of any period. it's always a thrill to accompany it, but it's especially cool to be doing so at the Museum of Russian Icons.


What is the Museum of Russian Icons, you may ask? Well, even if you didn't, let me tell you: it's a wonderful museum in an old mill building that houses a spectacular assemblage of Russian icons, the core of which was assembled by a local collector, as well as many other things.

They run a wide range of programming, and that includes movies. Earlier this year, I was approached by an Icon Museum staffer who asked about doing a silent film with live music. We got talking about the "Russian Revolution" sub-genre of silent dramas, romantic and otherwise, and here we are.

And what's great about this, I think, is that the audience is likely to be people who have never seen or experienced this film, or any silent film of any kind. What an introduction to the timeless power and eloquence of this art form!

Phyllis Haver tears up the screen—and the room—in 'Chicago.'

And then 'Chicago'—well, that's just going to be a hoot and a half. In this case, it's a story that most people know already from the long-running Broadway musical or the 2002 movie, which won 'Best Picture.'

So what a surprise to find that there's a silent film version of the story, and that it's a crackerjack ripped-from-the-headlines adaptation of the original play that started it all! What's more, it was made right in the era the story is set, so it has an unmatched immediacy and authenticity that's still palpable even today.

Hope to see you at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

And if you'd like more info on 'The Last Command' at the Museum of Russian Icons, here's the press release.

* * *

Emil Jannings won the first-ever 'Best Actor' Academy Award in part for his performance in 'The Last Command.'

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 19, 2018 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent epic 'The Last Command' with live music at Museum of Russian Icons on Saturday, Sept. 29

Russian Revolution picture from 1928 won 'Best Actor' for Emil Jannings at first-ever Academy Awards

CLINTON, Mass.—'The Last Command' (1928), a silent film drama that won Emil Jannings 'Best Actor' honors at the first-ever Academy Awards, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union St., Clinton, Mass.

Admission is $12 for members, $18 for non-members. Register by calling (978) 598-5000 ext. 121 or pay at the door.

'The Last Command,' directed by Josef von Sternberg, tells the sweeping story of a powerful general in Czarist Russia (Jannings) forced to flee his homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution. He emigrates to America, where he is reduced to living in poverty.

Evelyn Brent and Emil Jannings in 'The Last Command,' the 'Before' picture...

Finding work as an extra at a Hollywood studio, the former general lands the part of a commanding officer in a movie about the Revolution, causing flashbacks to his traumatic experiences. The conflict leads to a spectacular climax and a towering performance that earned Jannings 'Best Actor' honors.

The film takes audiences on a journey through big emotions as well as issues of history, time, power, and especially a man's duty to his country and to his fellow citizens—and what happens when the two obligations diverge.

...and now, the 'After' picture.

'The Last Command' is also one of early Hollywood's most creative and challenging looks at the global conflicts that contributed to World War I, which ended 100 years ago this fall.

The film also stars a young William Powell as a Hollywood movie director who crosses paths with the general during the Revolution, and 1920s starlet Evelyn Brent as a seductive Russian revolutionary.

Live music for the screening will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician recognized as one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists.

Rapsis will create the film's score live as the movie is shown by improvising music based on original melodies created beforehand.

"Making up the music on the spot is kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But there's nothing like the energy and excitement that comes with improvised live performance, especially when accompanying a silent film."

Rapsis accompanies films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra.

Critic Leonard Maltin hailed 'The Last Command' as "a stunning silent drama...a fascinating story laced with keen observations of life and work in Hollywood." Time Out of London called it "the first Sternberg masterpiece, expertly poised between satire and 'absurd' melodrama. The cast are fully equal to it; Jannings, in particular, turns the characteristic role of the general into an indelible portrait of arrogance, fervour and dementia."

Director Sternberg, a master of lighting and black-and-white photography, created 'The Last Command' as a visual tour de force. The film is often cited as a prime example of the emotional range and visual accomplishment of silent films at their height, just prior to the coming of pictures with recorded soundtracks.

Rapsis said great silent film dramas such as 'The Last Command' told stories that concentrate on the "big" emotions such as Love, Despair, Anger, and Joy. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended—in a theater on the big screen, with a live audience and live music.

"Dramas such as 'The Last Command' were created to be consumed as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they come to life as their creators intended them to. This screening at the Museum of Russian Icons is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies."

'The Last Command' (1928) will be screened with live music on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union St., Clinton, Mass. Admission is members $12, non-members $18. Register by calling (978) 598-5000 ext. 121 or pay at the door. For more info, visit visit www.museumofrussianicons.org. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Blisters and ciphers and stops, oh my! The exhilaration of accompanying 'Wings' on the Orpheum's Mighty Wurlitzer in Sioux City, Iowa

'Wings' on the Orpheum's big screen, with tiny me playing the mighty Wurlitzer. (Click to enlarge.) Photo by Dave Gross.

Last weekend I had the privilege of playing an enormous Wurlitzer theatre organ in Sioux City, Iowa. But that's not all!

I also ran 6.2 miles in North Sioux City, South Dakota, thus bagging No. 38 in my quest to run at least 10K in all 50 states.

You can read about that project here.

But about the organ: what a thrill to return to the beautifully restored Orpheum Theatre as part of the Sioux City International Film Festival.

The annual festival is focused on new and emerging filmmakers from all around the world.

But in recent years, they've included a silent film/live music component. This is in part, I gather, because the Orpheum and its Wurlitzer pipe organ are just too special to be left out.

Checking out the Wurlitzer prior to the show.

And I would agree. Not many communities can boast of a restored 1927 movie palace AND a working theatre organ in its original installation.

But the Orpheum can. And one of the reasons for this is a dedicated community of supporters that keeps the organ playable.

As you can imagine, anything with thousands of moving parts all in need of constant calibration is bound to need some regular attention.

This is mind-numbing to me. I mean, I can't keep up with maintaining my lawnmower!

So Sioux City is blessed with some folks who look after the Wurlitzer year in and year out, which enables people such as me to drop into town and play it.

One is Rick Darrow, whose company Darrow Pipe & Organ maintains church organs all over the Midwest.

Rick lives right in Sioux City, and seems to have adopted the Orpheum's Wurlitzer. He and his son Tom maintain it, tune it, and keep it in working order.

You can tell Rick is the organ go-to guy. When I sat down at the console and pulled out one of the "trays" with arrays of control buttons on them, I found a piece of ornate molding painted in gold, with a note addressed to Rick that it was a piece of trim that somehow got loose and fell off a side of the bench.

Rick Darrow at the console of the Orpheum's Mighty Wurlitzer.

Rick was kind enough to show me around the console when I first came out to Sioux City last year. And Tom was on hand last time to pull any ciphers (meaning pipes that get stuck in the open position) and troubleshoot during the performance.

This time around, I came in Sunday prior to the show. Sure enough, a big low D flat in a bass pipe got stuck open. I called Tom and he said he'd be right over, but then Orpheum manager Tim went into the pipe chamber and fixed it. That's a well-loved organ with a lot of people looking out for it!

Inside the Orpheum: the organ and the screen.

And then there's Dave Solberg, a local guy who's played the organ for 63 years and is still going strong. Dave, who knows the Wurlitzer inside out, showed me his custom settings, which I used during the performance.

And how about Irving Jensen, a local businessman and philanthropist whose financial contributions have kept the Orpheum and its Wurlitzer in tip-top shape?

I had the privilege to meet Mr. Jensen, a delightful gentleman who takes great pride in seeing the theater and organ in action, as it was last Sunday.

A hasty selfie threesome of me, Irving Jensen, and Dave Solberg.

For me, last Sunday was a chance to use this wonderful instrument to create live music to accompany 'Wings' (1927), the 2½-hour long winner of 'Best Picture' at the first-ever Academy Awards.

I know the film pretty well, and I've developed some solid musical material to go with it. So I was able to concentrate on what Rick Darrow calls the "orchestration," finding the right stop combos and volume levels and settings, and managing so many other variables to create a satisfying musical score.

A couple of hours isn't enough time to even begin to assimilate everything a big theatre organ can do. But once the film started, I found I was able to anticipate key scenes in 'Wings' and make use of some of the Wurlitzer's capabilities.

I attempt to blend in with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers.

For instance: in the scenes where it's important that Clara Bow's dress truly sparkles, I was able to set up the solo keyboard (the top of three) so it played all the "tinkly bell" stops such as glockenspiel, etc.

And in the medal-pinning scene, I made use of the Wurlitzer's snare drum effect, which is triggered by a separate foot pedal way off to the right.

Speaking of pedals: I'm still fairly new to playing theatre organ, and so I still have to really think about what my feet are doing down there with all the pedals.

What happened Sunday was surprising: after 2½ hours of continuous playing, plus several hours of warming up, I developed unexpected blisters on the top of my smaller toes on my left foot.

Occupational hazard? I think it was mostly a function of wearing the wrong socks and shoes, and also from not stretching beforehand. Duly noted.

And it wasn't that serious, as after a couple of hours, I was able to get out on the road and run those 6.2 miles.

But the best part of the whole experience was what happened afterwards. Dozens of people, mostly families with kids, came down to the console to learn more about the instrument and ask questions.

And it reminded me how unearthly bizarre and complex an organ console looks like to most people: a cross section between the cockpit of a 747 and a carnival midway. People are genuinely in awe!

A future organist checks out the Wurlitzer.

It's times like these that really bring home to me how privileged I am to be able to work with such a great instrument—a direct physical link to the entertainment era that produced art that has a lot to teach us, now more than ever. I think.

A few brave folks climbed up on the bench to try out the organ, playing impromptu duets and perhaps sparking an interest that might bloom into music lessons or more. And I couldn't be happier.

Another young organist, with me trying not to be too much like Lon Chaney.

Many thanks to Rick Mullin and everyone with the Sioux City International Film Festival for their hospitality, and all the work that made this year's festival a great success.

Hope to see everyone next year!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In this corner, 'Her Sister From Paris,' then later a true heavyweight: 'The Last Laugh'

Ronald Colman proves no match for Constance Talmadge in 'Her Sister From Paris.'

If silent films were classified like boxers, the next two evenings will see action in the lightweight and heavyweight divisions.

• On Wednesday, Sept. 12, I'll accompany a screening of 'Her Sister From Paris' (1925), a frothy society comedy starring Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge.

Although both stars are in peak form, I'd say the fluffy nature of the story puts the film squarely in the lightweight division.

However, it's often described as a "battle of the sexes" comedy, so expect lots of quick action and fancy footwork—typical of the lighter weight classes.

The screening starts at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine. Admission $10 per person.

For more info, visit the Leavitt Theatre online.

Emil Jannings ponders his fate in 'The Last Laugh' (1924).

• Then, on Thursday, Sept. 13, it's down to Arlington, Mass. for a true heavyweight experience: Emil Jannings in F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924).

In a silent film "main event," Murnau takes a simple situation and uses the then-new medium of cinema to depict a man's emotional journey with immense power.

I'll accompany Jannings as he does battle with a formidable opponent: his own sense of self-worth.

Showtime is 8 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.

An original 'Wings' poster featuring Clara Bow.

• And then this weekend brings me to the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, where I'll accompany a screening of the great WWI classic 'Wings' (1927) on the Mighty Wurlitzer.

It's part of the annual Sioux City International Film Festival, and I'm thrilled to be going out again to do live music in this incredible venue.

Showtime for this one is Sunday, Sept. 16 at noon. For more info, visit the Sioux City International Film Festival online.

More screenings at the end of the month, including Josef von Sternberg's amazing 'The Last Command' (1928) at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass. and the original silent film version of 'Chicago' (1927).

Stay tuned, or check the schedule: there's a link at the top right of every page!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Back to the beginning: the original 'Sherlock Holmes' on Friday, 9/7 in Brandon, Vt.

Nothing like the original: William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes.

Next up: creating live music for the original 'Sherlock Holmes' movie, made in 1916 with legendary stage actor William Gillette in the title role.

The first-ever 'Sherlock' will run on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free, with any donations used to aid ongoing restoration work.

(Please note that the Friday night screening is different from our usual Saturday night date for silent film programs in Brandon.)

Since its rediscovery a few years ago (after being missing for nearly a century), the original 'Sherlock' has enjoyed many screenings across the country and around the globe.

Not only is it the first time Holmes was depicted on the big screen, but it's the only film appearance by Gillette, who created the role of Sherlock on stage for more than 30 years.

The performance of Gillette, who worked directly with creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to bring Holmes to life, is about as close to the original source that Holmes buffs can ever hope to get.

I've had the good fortune of accompanying 'Sherlock' several times, and I'm of two minds. I'm thrilled that the film was discovered in the Cinematheque Francais after all these years, and the restoration was done with taste and sensitivity. Nice!

I just wish it was a better film.

And by that, I wish it was better in terms of what a contemporary audience expects when it goes into a movie theater.

Some silents do indeed rise to that challenge. Later this month, I'm accompanying Josef von Sternberg's 'The Last Command' (1928) at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., and I'm sure most people who attend will be bowled over by it. It's that good.

But 'Sherlock' came too early—an Essanay drama from the mid-teens, I think parts of it are rough enough to reinforce certain stereotypes about silent cinema: that it's technically primitive, that it can be hard to follow, that it suffers from static camera placement, and so on.

Whether or not that's the case, I try to create music that helps convey the narrative line, shows the changing emotional temperature of each scene, and generally helps an audience stay with the picture.

Although the musical score on Friday night will be improvised, I do have a theme I developed for Holmes that I'll probably employ throughout, transforming it as the story unfolds and things happen to the Holmes and other characters.

Despite my misgivings about the film itself, every 'Sherlock' screening I've been involved with is carried by the sheer energy of audience interest and excitement, both from silent film fans, Holmes aficionados, and the general public. If it's enough to generate interest in later screenings, then what more could you wish for!

So if you're within driving distance of Brandon, Vt., please join us on Friday night and see something no one was able to watch for nearly a whole century.

Below is a press release with more info. See you at the movies!

* * *

The lighting of the pipe. Gillette began using a calabash pipe for Holmes on stage so that audiences could see his face.

THURSDAY, AUG. 23, 2018 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

It's elementary! Rediscovered 'Sherlock Holmes' movie at Brandon Town Hall on Friday, Sept. 7


Original film adaptation, missing for nearly a century, on the big screen with live musical accompaniment

BRANDON, Vt.—The first-ever movie adaptation of 'Sherlock Holmes,' a silent film released in 1916 and recently rediscovered, will screen next month at Brandon Town Hall

The original 'Sherlock Holmes' will be shown with live music on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

The program is free and open to the public. Free will donations are encouraged, with all proceeds to aid ongoing Town Hall restoration efforts.

Please note that the screening of 'Sherlock Holmes' will take place on a Friday night instead of the usual Saturday night date for silent film programs at Brandon Town Hall.

Like many films from the silent era, the 'Sherlock Holmes' movie was long considered lost until a nearly complete copy was discovered in 2014 at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.

The film has since been restored, allowing movie-goers to again see the only screen appearance of stage actor William Gillette.

Gillette originated the role of Sherlock Holmes in a popular stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of the legendary British detective.

Gillette performed as the brilliant Holmes more than 1,300 times over three decades, touring the nation and popularizing Conan Doyle's sleuth.

A popular stage actor, Gillette made no other known movie appearances. But his interpretation of the Holmes character laid the groundwork for all actors who would later play the role, including Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Set in Victorian-era London, the original 'Sherlock Holmes' is an episodic crime drama that incorporates the plots of several Conan Doyle tales.

Running about 90 minutes, it features all major characters of the Holmes stories, including companion Dr. Watson and nemesis/rival Prof. Moriarty.

It was filmed in 1915 in the Chicago studios of the Essanay Film Co., with exterior shots of the Windy City doubling for Victorian London.

The restoration was premiered at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The screening at Brandon Town Hall will be the first time the restoration has been shown in Vermont.

The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

Rapsis improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

The program is sponsored by Sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis, in memory of Maxine Thurston; also an anonymous donor.

Upcoming titles in Brandon Town Hall's summer silent film series include:

• Saturday, Oct. 20: Chiller Theatre, 'Der Golem' (1920). In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution, but then complications ensue. Early German fantasy movie anticipates Frankenstein story. Sponsored by Jan Coolidge, Lucy and Dick Rouse, Marc & Arlyn Briere, Dorothy Leyseth and Edward Loedding.

The original ‘Sherlock Holmes' (1916), starring William Gillette in the title role, will be shown with live music on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.