Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tonight Last night in Brandon, Vt.: the first of a quartet of 'Woman in the Moon' screenings

The journey to Brandon, Vt. is not quite as long as the lunar voyage in 'Woman in the Moon.' But sometimes...

This is a little late in posting, but it's been that kind of a month.

It was actually last night that I accompanied 'Woman in the Moon' in Brandon, Vt.

It was the first of four screenings of the Fritz Lang epic that I'm doing in honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

And I just realized: each of the screenings is in a different state!

Last night was Vermont; next Wednesday it's the Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine; then on Thursday it's Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., then next week it's the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

Last night, the Brandon screening went really well. It was a milestone of sorts, too, as it marked the first performance of a new keyboard I recently acquired.

I say new, but it's actually another Korg Triton LE 88, the same model I've been using since I started accompanying silent films regularly about 15 years ago.

The Korg Triton LE 88. Random pic from online. Right now mine's at home in the garage.

It's actually now regarded as a vintage synthesizer, having not been sold new since the mid-2000s. I've tried others, but nothing matches the Korg's weighted action keyboard. (Or maybe it's just that I'm used to it.)

And they're very durable, but then I really beat on mine. I play it aggressively, and I also drag it all around creation without a case.

So I'm guilty of Korg abuse. After a while, the screws holding the thing together begin to vibrate loose. I try to keep track of this, and tighten them as I go, but occasionally one falls out and I don't notice it.

Just last night, when setting up for Brandon, I found one of the screws on the floor from an earlier performance!

And also, because I don't put it in a case (as I've never had one), the keyboard gradually accumulates a patina of road dirt and pollen and God-knows-what that doesn't help things. (Unless this accumulated grime acts as a protective coating.)

So under my inept and unforgiving stewardship, a Korg has a lifespan of about five years at most. That's about how long I've had my up-until-now current model, and sure enough, in the last month it's been making signs of giving up the ghost.

For one thing, the main panel LCD display is lighting up only intermittently. Also tones are getting "stuck" with increasing frequency. By "stuck," I mean they keep sounding even when the key isn't pressed. The only way to stop is to switch to another sound patch and then back, hopefully without the audience noticing.

But if the LCD panel isn't lit up, I can't see which setting I'm on, and so during a live performance it's hard to make this switcheroo. During a recent 'Safety Last' screening, I tried the "switch out and back" maneuver, and with the display panel not lit, I came back with some kind of bossa nova setting—not what I usually go for when Harold is climbing a skyscraper.

So time for a new Korg. And amazingly, I found a practically brand new example on Craigslist, and with a hard case as well. It was in the Albany, N.Y. area, so I trekked out there last week and it was the real deal, so I bought it.

Thus do I have a "new" vintage Korg Triton LE 88, and a case, that I took with me to Brandon for the first time last night.

All went well: the instrument plays like a dream, with all buttons and dials working. It even has a full-sized "ON/OFF" button, which has been missing from my now-ex road model since I bought it from a guy in Rhode Island, and so it felt weird not putting my finger into the hole and pressing the model prong in there.

So the old Korg will be set aside and be cannibalized for parts as needed.

With the new one, it's great to have a case, but the whole thing is so enormously big and heavy, I'm not sure I'll be using it very often, except for long road trips. We'll see.

'Woman in the Moon' got a big-time reaction from the crowd last night at Brandon Town Hall, and stayed with it despite the lack of air conditioning. It wasn't quite Bikram Yoga-style silent film, but it was pretty warm in there. Credit Fritz Lang's film for holding an audience in less-than-ideal conditions.

If you'd like to see 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), I'm doing it three more times in the next couple of weeks.

Here's the press release for the screening this Wednesday, July 17 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. Hope to see you there, or at the others in Concord, N.H. and Arlington, Mass.


An original poster for 'Frau im Mond,' or 'Woman in the Moon.

* * *
MONDAY, JULY 8, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Leavitt Theatre to mark Apollo 11 anniversary on 7/17 with vintage lunar voyage masterpiece

'Woman in the Moon,' early sci-fi adventure fantasy about mankind's first space mission, to be screened Wednesday, July 17 with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened at the Leavitt Theatre in honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening is open to the public. Tickets are $10 per person, general admission.

The screening, the latest in the Leavitt's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

"We felt it was worth marking this important milestone by sampling visions of space travel before the Apollo program put mankind on the moon," said Max Clayton of the Leavitt Theatre. "And what better way to do that than go back to the silent era and 'Woman in the Moon,' an epic fantasy about the German space program that never happened."

The rarely seen full-length version of 'Woman in the Moon' follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisers, anticipated many of the techniques used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later. For example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in actual space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.

Who needs mission control? Willy Fritsch gets ready to pull the lever.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi soap opera elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a female scientist and her two male crewmates; a plucky young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfire and treachery on the lunar surface.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

The film's showing at the Leavitt coincides with the 50th anniversary of the voyage that took Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon in advance of the landing, which occurred on July 20, 1969. It's also the 90th anniversary of the original theatrical release of 'Woman in the Moon.'

"This is a great and at-times bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the Leavitt's screening. "It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller. And as a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to be, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

Hey, why didn't NASA include picture windows for the Apollo astronauts?

Rapsis will improvise live musical accompaniment during the screening, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."

Director Fritz Lang, responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Bad timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an adviser on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle starting in the 1930s. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its detailed depiction of state-of-the-art rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find. For many years, the film was available only in cut-down 16mm versions that ran as short as one hour.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

"Although 'Woman in the Moon' is available for home viewing, this is a motion picture that should be experienced as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said. "There's nothing like it."

After 'Woman in the Moon,' other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Wednesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, François Villon. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating. For more information, visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Thursday, June 27: 'The Last Command'; film won Emil Jannings first-ever 'Best Actor'

Emil Jannings dominates a poster for 'The Last Command' (1928).

June may no longer be busting, but it sure is just about all over.

And what a month! Too much going on these days to find time to keep up with posting basic info about silent film screenings.

But then again, I've started a more methodical approach in sending out press materials, and it seems to be paying off.

Example: getting press materials out well ahead, and resending them at the beginning of each week, resulted in full-page play in some of the local newspapers promoting a screening of 'Metropolis' last Sunday afternoon.

And that paid off with perhaps the biggest turn-out ever for the monthly silent film series at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H. We had well over 100 people!

But it's time to get the blog back in action, starting with info about this weekend's screenings, which take me from a seaside Maine vacation resort out to the San Francisco Bay area and then back to gritty urban Somerville, Mass.

I feel like a boomerang!

First up: Emil Jannings in 'The Last Command' (1928) on Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine. (More details below in the press release.)

Then it's out to San Francisco to accompany Chaplin's 'Shoulder Arms' (1918) on Friday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m. It's all part of this year's "Charlie Chaplin Days" celebration at the Niles Essenay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif.

How strange to play a full program in Maine on Thursday night, and then another out in northern California. What an age we live in!

And then, it's BACK TO BOSTON, just like Buster Keaton as Willie Canfield, Jr., in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' although for me it's to accompany not Buster but Harold Lloyd. Thus: on Sunday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m., it's 'Safety Last' (1923) at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

More on that later this week.

For now, here's the press release all about 'The Last Command' (1928), which helped Emil Jannings win the first-ever Best Actor award. Hope to see you Thursday night in Maine!

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The lovely Evelyn Brent is romanced by the lovely-on-the-inside Emil Jannings.

TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent epic 'The Last Command' with live music at Leavitt Theatre on Thursday, June 27


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

OGUNQUIT, Maine—'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 Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $10 per person. The Leavitt's in-theatre lounge will be open for drinks and dining at 6 p.m., and will remain open after the movie.

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

'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.

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.

'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.

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.

Rapsis, the accompanist, 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 Leavitt is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies."

After 'The Last Command' on Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). In honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Fritz Lang's epic sci-fi adventure film about mankind's first-ever journey to the moon. See the German space program that never was! (Note Wednesday night screening date.)

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Thursday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, François Villon. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

'The Last Command' (1928) will be screened with live music on Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating. For more information, visit www.leavittheatre.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Meeting a Gloria Swanson superfan,
and other tales from silent film music world


Who says fame is fleeting?

After yesterday's screening of 'Zaza' (1923), a costume melodrama starring Gloria Swanson, I was approached by a young woman with an unusual tattoo.

Covering a good portion of her left forearm was the image of, yes, Gloria Swanson. The bearer described her as an "inspirational figure, partly due to her proto-feminist roles in films such as 'Sadie Thomson' (1928) and also because of her enlightened ideas about diet and nutrition.

Frankly, I didn't absorb much of what she said, as I was too busy staring at her enormous tattoo. Let's see it again:


What a coup for Gloria! Nearly a century after the peak of her stardom, and now almost a half-century since her cameo in 'Airport 1975,' she lives on among the young, in tattoo form and otherwise.

And the Somerville did its part to pay homage to Gloria's enduring stardom. Check out this "top billing" on showtimes and listings posted in the theater's front window:


So all in all, it wasn't a bad weekend for 1920s celebrities, at least in my world.

Last Thursday at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, our opening night screening of 'Speedway' (1929) saw people cheering William Haines and Ernest Torrance, big stars of the era but who have all but disappeared from the public consciousness, or conscience, or something like that.

Mrs. Cullinan of Great Brook Middle School, Antrim, N.H. addresses her charges.

And last Friday, an old town hall auditorium packed with 150 middle school students cheered Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in his breakthrough role, the title character in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). (I think it helped that they'd performed a stage version of the tale, so they already knew how the story went.

Well, looking forward: the summer calendar is filling up with last-minute screenings. So if you're looking for a dose of silent film with live music, even at the last minute, there's a show near you!

Up next: Harold is hanging from that clock again, this time at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where we're showing 'Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m.

Press release below with all the info. Hope to see you there!

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Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Harold Lloyd!

MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Safety Last' on Thursday, June 13 at Leavitt Theatre


Thrill comedy climaxed by Harold Lloyd's iconic building climb; with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—It's an image so powerful, people who've never seen the movie still instantly recognize it.

The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a huge clock, from the climax of his silent comedy 'Safety Last,' (1923), has emerged as a symbol of the "anything goes" spirit of early Hollywood and the magic of the movies.

See how Harold gets into his high-altitude predicament in a screening of 'Safety Last,' one of Lloyd's most popular comedies, on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $10 per person.

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

The story of 'Safety Last' follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business and send for his small town sweetheart. His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea—hire a human fly to climb the building's exterior.

However, when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on. The result is an extended sequence blending comedy and terror that holds viewers spellbound.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is regarded as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Lloyd's character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s. While Chaplin and Keaton were always favored by the critics, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

The Leavitt opened in 1923 as a seasonal movie house that catered to tourists and visitors to the Maine coast. It has remained open continuously since then; under the longtime stewardship of the Clayton family, today it offers an eclectic mix of first-run movies and classic films, live entertainment, a lounge area with full bar, and a dinner menu.

The Leavitt Theatre's silent film/live music series gives today's audiences the chance to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who practices the nearly lost art of silent film accompaniment.

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

"Seeing 'Safety Last' with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound," Rapsis said. "Harold's iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released."

Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' (2011), which includes clips from 'Safety Last.'

After "Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m.: 'The Last Command' (1928) starring Emil Jannings. Intense drama about a former high-ranking officer in Czarist Russia now reduced to playing extra in 1920s Hollywood. His performance helped Jannings win 'Best Actor' at the first-ever Academy Awards.

• Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). In honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Fritz Lang's epic sci-fi adventure film about mankind's first-ever journey to the moon. See the German space program that never was! (Note Wednesday night screening date.)

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Thursday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, François Villon. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

See Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating.

For more information, visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Silent film thrills: 'Safety Last' followed
by 'Speedway' then 'Zorro' then 'Zaza'

A step ladder and 'Safety Last'...what could go wrong?

With the irony alarm going full blast, I couldn't help but snap a picture as Dennis Markaverich, longtime owner/operator of the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., hauled out the step ladder to change the marquee from 'The White Crow' to 'Safety Last.'

But all went well, and a crackerjack screening of Harold Lloyd's 'clock-hanging' comedy soon followed.

Turnout was nearly 100 people, even in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, and in the middle of a spate of terrific weather, too. They laughed, the screamed, and they had a great time!

This was quite a change compared to last month's turnout of about a dozen souls for a two-part screening of Abel Gance's 5½-hour drama 'La Roue.' Can you imagine?

But with Memorial Day weekend upon us, the pace for silent film screenings will quicken as the summer season heats up.

This coming week finds me accompanying 'Speedway' (1929), a vintage auto race drama, on Thursday, May 30 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine; presenting the original Fairbanks 'Zorro' to middle schoolers who staged a theatrical version of the story earlier this year; and then accompanying Gloria Swanson in 'Zaza' (1923) on Sunday, June 2 at the Somerville (Mass.) Theatre.

Wonder what a middle school stage production of 'Zorro' looks like? Here it is!

So that's three films in three states in four days, if you're keeping track. I'm certainly not, as it's more fun that way. (Just kidding.)

Later in the month brings more 'Safety Last' and 'Metropolis,' and another quick trip to California for 'Chaplin Days' at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

But first up is 'Speedway,' an MGM drama about auto racing filmed on location at the actual Indy 500 track as it existed in 1929. Accidental history! And yours to enjoy on Thursday night at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Read on..

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An original poster for 'Speedway' (1929).

TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Vintage auto racing thriller to be screened with live music on Thursday, May 30 at Leavitt Theatre


MGM's late silent drama 'Speedway' (1929) filmed at actual Indy 500 track; stars Hollywood's first openly gay leading man

OGUNQUIT, Maine—Fasten your seat belts! We mark the traditional running of the Indianapolis 500 with a vintage race car drama filmed right on the famed track—at speeds topping 115 mph!

In honor of this year’s Indy 500, MGM's vintage auto racing drama 'Speedway' will be screened with live music on Thursday, May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

Live music will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist. Tickets are $10 per person.

In 'Speedway,' MGM leading man William Haines stars as Bill Whipple, a cocky mechanic/race car driver in town for the "The Indianapolis Speedway" race.

He meets other participants, including Mac (Ernest Torrence), an old-timer with heart trouble who thinks of Bill like a son and has been trying to win the race for 17 years; and Renny, a rival driver not opposed to using dirty tricks to win.

'Speedway' also stars actress Anita Page in a leading role. (At left, that's her with William Haines.)

To lend an air of realism to the movie, many scenes were shot on location at the actual Indianapolis 500 track. Today, the footage provides auto racing fans a vivid glimpse of the sport as it was practiced in earlier generations.

Actor William Haines was one of MGM's biggest stars in the late 1920s, often playing the male lead romantic comedies. But off-screen, Haines was gay—and, unusually for the era, did not hide his homosexuality.

This led to friction with his bosses. MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer, convinced that movie audiences would not accept a gay leading man, urged Haines to keep his long-term relationship with actor Jimmie Shields a secret.

Haines maintained his star status at MGM during the move to talking pictures. But a publicity crisis arose in 1933, when Haines was arrested in a YMCA with a sailor he had met in Los Angeles' Pershing Square.

Mayer then delivered an ultimatum: Haines had to choose between a sham marriage to an MGM actress or giving up his career. Haines refused to submit, choosing to be himself rather than to pretend to be someone he wasn't. Mayer subsequently fired Haines, terminated his contract, and banished him from the industry.

A scene on location at the Indy 500 track from 'Speedway' (1929).

His movie career over, Haines recovered by launching an interior design firm, using his connections to become the most sought-after decorator in the Hollywood movie colony. The business prospered over the decades, with a client list of A-list celebrities as well as political figures such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Haines remained with his partner Shields for the rest of his life. Joan Crawford, who co-starred with Haines in several pictures, described the pair as "the happiest married couple in Hollywood." In recent years, Haines has been recognized as a courageous pioneer in gay rights in the early Hollywood community.

'Speedway' was one of the final silent movies released by MGM prior to the studio's conversion to making talking pictures.

'Speedway' is the first in this summer's series of silent films presented with live music at the Leavitt. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

After 'Speedway' (1929) on Thursday, May 30 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Thursday, June 13, 7 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923) starring Harold Lloyd. The iconic image of comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is only one small piece of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences.

• Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m.: 'The Last Command' (1928) starring Emil Jannings. Intense drama about a former high-ranking officer in Czarist Russia now reduced to playing extra in 1920s Hollywood. Performance helped Jannings win 'Best Actor' at the first-ever Academy Awards.

• Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). In honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Fritz Lang's epic sci-fi adventure film about mankind's first-ever journey to the moon. See the German space program that never was! (Note Wednesday night screening date.)

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Thursday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, François Villon. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

'Speedway' (1929) will lead off this season's silent film series on Thursday, May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating.

For more information, visit www.leavittheatre.com.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

'The Flying Fleet' coming in for a landing at Aviation Museum of N.H. on Thursday, May 23

Ramon Novarro stars in 'The Flying Fleet' (1929), MGM's silent drama about U.S. Navy aviators.

For me, one of the great joys of presenting silent film is showing vintage movies to people with interests outside cinema itself.

People really into cars, for instance, get a kick out out MGM's late silent 'Speedway' (1929), an auto race drama filmed on location at the actual Indy 500 track.

In my adventures accompanying silent film, one of the best examples of this unexpected interest was a program I did up in Vermont some years ago.

A local woman who attended was so taken by the horsemanship displayed on screen that she agreed to financially back a silent film series as long as the films had plenty of horses.

And so it came to pass. And although the benefactress is no longer with us, the series continues to this day, and in her memory I always try to program titles in which horsemanship is on display.

So another great example of this "interest other than cinema" phenomenon is coming up this week, when I'll accompany 'The Flying Fleet' (1929), an MGM drama about U.S. Navy aviators, at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.

The screening is Thursday, May 23 at 7 p.m. More information is in the press release below. I encourage you to attend, even if you're not a naval history buff, as it's a well-made but rarely screened late silent drama that holds up pretty well, I think.

For me personally, this promises to be an unusual show because it combines my silent film musical moonlighting with my day job, which happens to be director of the Aviation Museum.

So it's a convergence of sorts. Maybe I won't have to clone myself after all.

Okay, press release below. Hope to see you filling out the ranks at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire's screening of 'The Flying Fleet'!

* * *

The USS Langley, the nation's first-ever aircraft carrier, makes several appearances in 'The Flying Fleet'(1929).

MONDAY, MAY 13, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jrapsis@nhahs.org

Aviation Museum offers vintage Hollywood-style Memorial Day tribute


'The Flying Fleet,' MGM silent drama about U.S. Navy aviators, to screen with live music on Thursday, May 23

LONDONDERRY — Get in the spirit of Memorial Day weekend with a vintage silent film drama about U.S. naval aviators that's a window into what it was like to serve one's country between the World Wars.

'The Flying Fleet' (1929), a star-studded MGM drama filmed on location at key U.S. Naval bases, will be screened on Thursday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H.

The movie, made with the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy and filled with scenes of vintage air and seaplanes in action, will be shown with live music provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Admission for this special event is $20 per person; $15 for Aviation Museum members. The screening is a fund-raiser for the Aviation Museum's partnership with the Manchester School of Technology that will enable students build an actual airplane in the 2019-20 school year.

"As we approach Memorial Day weekend, this is a terrific way to remember those who served by looking back at what it was like for the generation between the two world wars," Rapsis said.

Ramon Navarro (center) and fellow cadets show plenty of 1920s beefcake in 'The Flying Fleet' (1929).

Starring MGM heartthrob Ramon Novarro, 'The Flying Fleet' follows the story of six graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis who make a solemn pact to all become Navy pilots.

The film follows the cadets through training with scenes filmed on location at bases in San Diego, Calif., and Pensacola, Fla. Scenes were also filmed aboard the USS Langley, the nation's first aircraft carrier. The Langley, an aging coal transport ship, was outfitted with an enormous upper-level deck in 1922.

But it's not just airplanes and ships. In 'The Flying Fleet,' two of pilots fall for the same gal (Anita Page) off base, causing a rivalry that plays out in dramatic plot twists and action both on the ground and in the air.

Promotional art for 'The Flying Fleet,' starring Anita Page and Ramon Novarro.

Page, a young MGM starlet who had appeared in Laurel & Hardy comedies, would soon retire from the screen, only to return late in life in several low budget horror films released after 2000. She died in 2008 at age 98.

The teaming of up-and-coming Anita Page and heartthrob Ramon Novarro was considered good box office. In a 2002 interview, Page recalled that Novarro was "... something to dream about. I mean he was so good looking."

A highlight of 'The Flying Fleet' is an appearance of "The Three Sea Hawks," a famous aerobatic team of the era. Drawn from a U.S. Navy squadron at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, the team used three Boeing F2B-1 and F2B-2 fighters. Its first demonstration in January 1928 at San Francisco gave rise to a popular nickname: "Suicide Trio" although officially the team was called "Three Sea Hawks."

Look! In the sky! It's a cameo appearance by 'The Three Seahawks.'

'The Flying Fleet' was made with U.S. Navy cooperation, with the note appearing in the opening credits: "Dedicated to the officers and men of NAVAL AVIATION whose splendid co-operation made this production possible." The film was the first major Hollywood production to use Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego.

Popcorn and drinks will be available for purchase, and the screening will mark the debut of the Aviation Museum's vintage candy concession counter.

The Aviation Museum of New Hampshire is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving aviation history in the Granite State, providing educational outreach programs that encourage student interest in aeronautics and related fields, and organizing programs that bring together the state's diverse aviation community.

The Museum is located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H. The museum is open Friday & Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call (603) 669-4820 or visit the www.aviationmuseumofnh.org.

'The Flying Fleet' (1929) starring Ramon Novarro and Anita Page will be screened with live music on Thursday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Way, Londonderry, N.H. Admission $20 per person; $15 for members. The screening is a fund-raiser for the Aviation Museum's partnership with the Manchester School of Technology that will enable students build an actual airplane in the 2019-20 school year.

Ralph Graves and Ramon Novarro undress each other in 'The Flying Fleet' (1929). Want to see more? Attend the screening!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Three birthday parties were celebrated,
but yours truly received the best gift of all

Future fans of past movies at the Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif. this weekend.

The big news this weekend at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum was not one but three kids' birthday parties at the Saturday night comedy show.

So I got to play 'Happy Birthday' three different times, with each version up a key for dramatic emphasis.

Really, it was a joy to see so many young folks in attendance at a silent film program. And what's more, they reacted.

Chaplin's 'The Cure' (1917) and Keaton's 'Neighbors' (1920) started things off strong.

But the films of the second half — Charley Chase in 'Dog Shy' (1926) and Laurel & Hardy's early 'The Second Hundred Years' (1927) — provoked a reaction that truly soared off the Richter Scale for laughter.

The Chase film, which I'd never accompanied before, is a crackerjack comedy that brought the comedy pot to a high boil.

That set the stage for 'The Second Hundred Years,' which I've always felt was Laurel & Hardy lite, or at least unformed, as it's from the time before their characters had been fully developed.

Well, that didn't matter last Saturday night. Seldom have I heard such laughter in a theater! And right from the very start, too. Everything the two did was capital F FUNNY! And everything everyone else did was funny, too.

I love it when this happens, just for the sheer joy of conjuring up laughter from the ghosts of comedians who worked nearly a century ago now. There's nothing quite like it.

But for an accompanist, it's also a gift because once the laughter barn starts burning, there are stretches where it doesn't matter what you play due to the uproarious, sustained laughter.

Really. I couldn't believe the laughs that Stan Laurel could get from using a spoon to chase a cherry around a saucer, again and again and again. Amazing!

So a good time was had by all, including the many young folks who crowded the front rows. What a pleasure to bring a silent film program to life for tomrorow's film fanatics. There may have been three birthdays being celebrated, but I felt like I was the one getting the gift.

Speaking of which, this weekend's performance resulted in a much-appreciated shout-out on Twitter from L.D. Writer, who was in attendance:
"@jeffrapsis was incredible by the way. Easily some of the best silent film accompaniment I've ever enjoyed. Thanks for flying out West!"
No, thank you for such kind words!

I'll be back on the West Coast on Friday, June 28 to accompany a Chaplin program at the Niles museum.

But right now it's time to focus on what's coming up later this week. Performances include a special pre-Memorial Day program on Thursday, May 23 at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, and then Harold Lloyd's classic comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

More info coming!

You know you've arrived when your name gets written on cardboard! In permanent ink!




Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A long trip to accompany short films at the Niles (Calif.) Essanay Silent Film Museum

On this weekend's California-style menu: short comedies, including Chaplin's 'The Cure' (1917).

Before we talk film, let's hear it for frequent flier miles!

And also for cutthroat competition in the Boston-to-San Francisco market, where no less than four airlines are duking it out. Delta, United, JetBlue, Alaska. And I might be leaving one out.

That means something like 15 daily non-stops each way (I'm not kidding) between the two cities. And that in turn means low fares.

But who actually pays cash? Instead, I cross the continent with a paltry outlay of frequent flier miles. Take that, Lewis & Clark!

And this confluence of competition and machines that travel at 550 mph enables me to occupy a semi-regular schedule at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, across the bay from San Francisco.

Why Niles? Well, it's the only theater I can think of that runs a different full-evening program of silent films (shorts and features) each and every week all year round. And they've kept that pace going for more than a decade!

So just as religious pilgrims follow Spain's Camino de Santiago, as a silent film accompanist eager to practice the craft, I make my own pilgrimage to silent film holy ground. Plus, they often run William S. Hart features than never get shown anywhere else.

I love sitting in the dark and getting absorbed by an obscure drama that might have thrilled my great-grandparents.

By semi-regular, my visits work out to twice a year: usually May and then November. But this year, a scheduling quirk has enabled me to also be at Niles for their annual "Chaplin Days" festival in June.

But first up: Saturday, May 18, where I'll sit in for a program of comedy shorts starring many of the big names: Chaplin's 'The Cure'; Keaton's 'Neighbors'; Laurel & Hardy's 'Second Hundred Years,' and Charley Chase in 'Dog Shy.'

It's an honor to do music for these pictures, which for me and so many others were the gateway drug that got us into silent film. I love to think that the audience for Saturday night's show might be a few folks who will make their own discovery of this unusual art form.

That's important to remember. The films may be familiar, or even old hat, to long-time silent film fans (although I don't think I've ever accompanied the Chase comedy), but not to most other people. So a key part of accompanying them, I think, is to remember the spirit of surprise and delight that often also accompanies seeing them for the first time.

Well, if you're in the Bay Area, please stop in for a visit. And if you miss this weekend, I'll be back on Friday, June 28 to accompany Chaplin's 'Shoulder Arms' (1918) as part of the Museum's annual "Chaplin Days" celebration.

See, while under contract with the Essanay Film Co., everyone's favorite tramp filmed several comedies (including 'The Tramp') at the firm's studio in Niles, in and around the neighborhood. (Hence the "Holy Ground" reference above.

It's really quite a connection to Chaplin's early years, and the museum makes the most of it. And I'm delighted to be helping out with this year's edition.

For more info on the Niles Essanay museum, visit http://nilesfilmmuseum.org/. And for an idea of what "Chaplin Days" is like in Niles, check out the photo below: