Saturday, September 14, 2019

Upcoming screenings, plus close encounters with the maker of Play-Doh & Mr. Potato Head

A still photo of Bronson Potter's railroad trestle fly-over in 1979. On Friday, Sept. 20, see newly rediscovered home movie footage (silent, but with music by me) at the Aviation Museum of N.H.

This Friday (Sept. 20) brings an unusual program at the Aviation Museum of N.H., then a spate of weekend screenings in three different states.

At the museum, we're doing a 'Movie Night' program that includes recently rediscovered home movie footage of a local pilot's daring stunt flight under a railroad trestle.

It's silent, but live music will be provided by the museum's executive director, who happens to be me!

We're rounding out the aviation-themed program with 'Flying Luck,' a rarely screened 1927 comedy starring Monty Banks as a wanna-be pilot inspired by Charles Lindbergh.

Although Monty isn't counted among the silent era's great comics, I think he's underrated, and 'Flying Luck' holds up pretty well. Come see for yourself!

Details below. But first, a few words about last night's planned outdoor screening of 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' in Pawtucket, R.I.

Planned an outdoor event, it had to be moved inside at the last minute over concerns about the EEE virus.

The new venue, Lyman B. Goffe Middle School, turned out to be in an interesting location: right across the street from the world headquarters of Hasbro, the iconic toy and game maker.

Yes! Our screening was next to hallowed ground: the maker of Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head, My Little Pony, and hundreds of other branded lines of playthings.

It's only the largest toy company on earth, as measured by sales volume, which in recent years has averaged about $5 billion annually.

I didn't notice this at first, because the HQ is in a renovated factory building with no obvious exterior signage at its front entrance on Newport Ave. I thought I was passing a plumbing supply warehouse, or something like that.

But later, when I was pulling out, night had fallen, and you could see the inside through the big glass windows: brightly colored displays announcing to visitors the company's mission and promoting its product lines.

Wow! It was like passing by Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. (Although I'm sure nothing Hasbro markets is actually made at HQ.) But rather than use Oompah-Loompahs, the company employs 1,600 people in the area, making it one of Rhode Island's largest employers.

Found online: it wasn't visible to me, but Hasbro does have a Mr. Potato Head statue outside its world headquarters in Pawtucket, R.I.

Looking online, turns out that there's a big question as to where Hasbro will move the corporate offices out of the area, where it was founded in 1923 by three Polish brothers named Hassenfeld. (Hence the name.)

Check out this news story for a slightly outdated look at the potential move.

Here's a more recent story about Worcester, Mass. being a potential new home for Hasbro.

Should Hasbro stay or should they go? I couldn't find anything more recent, but they were definitely still there when I drove by last night.

Okay, here's the press release about 'Movie Night' on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Aviation Museum of N.H. Hope to see you there! And after that, it's screenings in Vermont, Massachusetts, and then New Hampshire again, but more specifics on these later.

* * *

Original poster art for 'Flying Luck' (1927) starring Monty Banks.

MONDAY, SEPT. 9, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jrapsis@nhahs.org

Rediscovered film of N.H pilot's stunt flight under trestle to be screened at Aviation Museum


Live music to accompany footage; Movie Night program on Friday, Sept. 20 includes 'Flying Luck,' vintage aviation comedy

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — It was a highlight of the summer of 1979: an aerial stunt that attracted crowds from throughout the region.

It was a local pilot's daring flight under an enormous railroad trestle that once spanned Route 31 and the Souhegan River in Greenville.

Now, 40 years later, local residents can relive local inventor/pilot Bronson Potter's legendary aerial feat via recently rediscovered movie footage.

The long unseen 8mm home movie film, taken by Dave Morrison of Mason, N.H., will be screened on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H.

The Aviation Museum's 'Movie Night' program will also include a rare screening of 'Flying Luck,' a silent aviation comedy starring Monty Banks and Jean Arthur.

Live music for both films will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, the museum's director and also a musician who specializes in silent film accompaniment.

Admission to the screening, a fund-raiser for the museum's student plane-building partnership, is $20 for the general public; $10 for members.

Local pilot Bronson Potter in mid-fly-under.

Morrison's long-lost home movie footage received its "world re-premiere" last month at a packed house at Mason Elementary School.

The show led to requests to run the Bronson Potter film again, this time at the Aviation Museum.

"Because of demand, we're making it a highlight of our 'Movie Night' on Friday, Sept. 20, which will give more people a chance to experience the film with a large audience and live music," Rapsis said.

In the annals of N.H. aviation, Bronson Potter's fly-under stunt is an intriguing chapter, in part because no one is entirely sure why he did it.

"We've been trying to get the real story from local residents who knew Potter and were there," Rapsis said. "Some say it was done on a bet. Others say it was a tribute to his flight instructor, who had recently died."

Over time, the fly-under became subject to varying interpretations, somewhat like a piece of performance art, Rapsis said.

The trestle was taken down in 1984, and Potter died in 2004. But the legend of his stunt has endured.

The movie footage of Potter's flight was unearthed earlier this year by Mason resident Dave Morrison, who found the film in storage when the Aviation Museum was planning to celebrate the stunt's 40th anniversary.

"We had no idea anyone had filmed it," Rapsis said. "But when Dave's spectacular movie footage came to light, it quickly became the centerpiece of our program."

The film's first screening last month attracted the notice of WMUR-TV Channel 9's 'New Hampshire Chronicle,' which is scheduled to air a segment on Bronson Potter on Monday, Sept. 16.

"The Aviation Museum's screening will give people a chance to experience the film at its best—with an audience and with live music," Rapsis said.

At the museum's Movie Night, the Bronson Potter "Fly-Under" film will be preceded by a screening of 'Flying Luck,' a vintage aviation comedy from 1927.

A lobby card for 'Flying Luck' (1927), an aviation comedy starring Monty Banks.

In 'Flying Luck,' hapless aviator Monty Banks, inspired by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight over the Atlantic, joins the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Once enrolled, it's one aerial disaster after another in a movie filled with biplanes, stunts, and the flavor of aviation's early days.

The program is family friendly and all are welcome. Popcorn and drinks will be sold, with all proceeds to support the Museum's plane-building partnership with the Manchester School of Technology.

Guided by Aviation Museum volunteers, MST students are building a two-seat RV-12iS light sport aircraft during the 2019-20 school year.

The innovative program gives students a chance to apply math and science knowledge in the workshop with a unique hands-on experience.

For more information about 'Movie Night' and the student plane-build partnership, call the Aviation Museum at (603) 669-4820 or visit the museum's Web site at www.nhahs.org.

The Aviation Museum of N.H. is located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H. The museum is open Fridays & Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m.

The Aviation Museum is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization dedicated to celebrating New Hampshire's role in aviation history and inspiring the young aerospace pioneers and innovators of tomorrow.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pawtucket, R.I. 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' screening venue changed on account of...mosquitoes!

Original promotional artwork for 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

No joke!

Our outdoor screening of 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' on Friday, Sept. 13 in Slater Park in Pawtucket, R.I. has been moved inside—due to mosquitoes!

Earlier this week, Rhode Island saw its first death from Eastern Equine Encephalitis since 2007. The virus is borne by infected mosquitoes.

So out of an abundance of caution, organizers of this year's Pawtucket Arts Fest found indoor venues for many of this week's outdoor performances, including Friday night's silent film program.

And I must say, I'm relieved, as one downside to outdoor screenings is that, yes, the keyboard light always seems to attract lots and lots of insects.

Our new location is inside Lyman B. Goff Middle School, 974 Newport Ave. in Pawtucket. Doors open at 6 p.m., there's a presentation at 6:30 p.m., and Buster's adventures start at 7 p.m.

It's still free and open to the public—and I'm sure will be a great show, as Keaton always delivers, indoors or out.

For more info, check out the updated Pawtucket Arts Fest Web site.

And just as a precaution, bring a can of Off.

Just kidding!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Back on the silent film circuit: 'College,' 'Steamboat Bill Jr.,' and a carousel dedication

Close-up of the "Looff Carousel" at Slater Park in Pawtucket, R.I.

Labor Day weekend was a quiet time on the silent film calendar, but things heat up again this week.

On Wednesday night, it's off to 'College' via Buster Keaton's 1927 film of that title. The comedy starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey up in Plymouth, N.H. More details in the press release pasted in below.

And then down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Friday for an outdoor screening preceded by the re-dedication of a restored carousel.

Really! The "Looff Carousel" in Slater Park is being honored on Friday, Sept. 13 from 6 to 7 p.m., prior to an outdoor screening of Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928).

The rededication is part of this year's Pawtucket Arts Fest. (And so am I!) Here's a little background:
Built by pioneer craftsman Charles I.D. Looff in 1894 the carousel was relocated to Slater Park in 1910. The carousel features a functioning North Tonawanda Military band organ, as well as 44 standing horses, 6 menagerie animals (1 camel, 3 dogs, 1 giraffe, 1 lion), and 2 chariots. The 125-year-old carousel was restored in 1978 and again in 2019. Please join Mayor Don Grebien and Parks and Rec. Director John Blais as we reopen this incredible historic carousel to the public.
This seems to be some kind of carousel. It even has its own Wikipedia entry!

And with apologies to all the great composers, there's nothing that compares to the sound of an authentic carousel.

Can't wait to hear it, and maybe take a ride or two before settling in at the keyboard for 'Steamboat.' (Hoping to claim the giraffe!)

The screening, a presentation by the Pawtucket Film Festival, starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. See you there!

And bring a jacket: early forecasts call for evening temps around 60 degrees.

* * *

An original poster promoting Keaton's 'College.'

MONDAY, SEPT. 2, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'College' with live music on Wednesday, 9/11 at Flying Monkey


Celebrate back-to-school season in Plymouth, N.H. with screening of timeless classic send-up of campus life

PLYMOUTH, 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, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a graduation-time screening of 'College' (1927), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com or at the door.

'College' follows the story of a hopeless university bookworm (Keaton) forced to become a star athlete to win the attention of his dream girl. Can Buster complete the transformation in time to woo her from his rival? And along the way, can he also rescue the campus from sports-related shame?

Keaton the bookworm-turned-athlete in 'College.'

The film was released in 1927, at the crest of a national fascination with college life. In addition to being a great Keaton comedy, 'College' offers vintage glimpses into what higher education was like nearly a century ago.

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 'College.'

Keaton gets roughed up in 'College.'

In reviving Keaton's 'College,' the Flying Monkey aims 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 'College' 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.

Rapsis encouraged people unfamiliar with silent film to give 'College' a try.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films still do connect with cinema-goers. They retain a tremendous power to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

Upcoming silent film programs at the Flying Monkey include:

• Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923); 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!

• Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Wind' (1928) starring Lillian Gish; a frail young woman from the east moves in with her cousin in the west, where she causes tension within the family and is slowly driven mad. Towering, intense performance by Lillian Gish in one of MGM's last major silent dramas.

Buster Keaton's 'College' (1927) will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; tickets are available online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com or at the door. For more information, call the theater at (603) 536-2551.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Silent film at Tanglewood: mixing high culture with low comedy, or 'Where are the birds?'

Me at the Steinway in the Linde Center. Wow, that piano is so long it won't fit into the picture! Photo courtesy Joan Gallos.

During the last weekend of August, I took my silent film music thing to a new place: Tanglewood.

No, not the mobile home park in Keene, N.H. We're talking Tanglewood, as in summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Yes, this actually happened. Dressed in black, I got to play on a beautifully maintained Steinway concert grand piano as long as a limousine, and in a brand new performance venue opened earlier this summer.

And for a Buster Keaton film. In front of people! At Tanglewood!

Did I mention this was at Tanglewood?

As a silent film accompanist who often performs in church basements and middle school multi-purpose rooms, I'm still just a little gob-smacked that this took place.

But there I was, invited to be a part of the first-ever Film Weekend, a three-day program organized by the BSO's new Tanglewood Learning Institute.

And if this wasn't enough, I followed a Q & A with John Williams, whom you may recognize as only the world's foremost composer of film and symphonic music. Williams was on the grounds for Tanglewood's annual film music program that Saturday night, and so dropped in on the Film Music Weekend.

I'd like to report that John and I are now close friends, but really the most I can say is that Maestro Williams and I had adjacent dressing rooms. But then again, just having a dressing room was thrilling enough for me.

How did all this come about? I'm still not sure, but I'm grateful to the BSO's Eric Valliere and Tanglewood Learning Institute director Sue Elliott for the opportunity to play a part in this new initiative. Thank you!

And I have to say, it would have been nerve-wracking if I had been expected to do anything other than what I've done more than 1,000 times (literally) in the past decade: create live music for a silent film screening in front of an audience.

The film? Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), chosen because it's a crowd-pleaser. and also because it's short—just 45 minutes long. I had only 90 minutes, and this left time for an introduction, plus discussion afterwards.

It all went well, I'm pleased to relate. But interestingly, it was highlighted by things I hadn't planned for at all.

I had intended to start the presentation, titled 'Music, Motion, and Emotion,' by asking for a volunteer, like in a magician's act.

"Anyone at all! Step right up!"

I would then ask the person to simply walk across the space, back and forth, while I played different kinds of music: happy, sad, agitated, strip-tease, etc.

The goal, of course, was to show how different types of music can affect the perception of what is seen, even if it's the same thing seen again and again, with only the music changing.

But earlier that morning, upon entering the brand new Linde Center's Studio E for load-in, I first saw the facility's enormous glass wall that offers expansive views of the manicured Tanglewood campus.

And yes, people were walking around outside. And I realized then that I wouldn't need to ask for volunteers! People were already strolling by right outside, ready-made for accompaniment.

The interior of the Linde Center's 'Studio E,' with large glass wall. Photo courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra.

So that's how I started: by sitting down at the Steinway and creating music to accompany unsuspecting Tanglewood visitors who happened to wander into view.

"Look at that guy in the blue shirt," I said, launching into some minor key sad music. "He's just broken up with his girlfriend because she didn't like his cello playing. Oh, the humanity!" Or something like that.

I felt like Steve Allen on the old Tonight Show, where he'd spice up a "man in the street" segment by commenting on hapless passersby, sometimes to piano accompaniment, if I recall correctly.

To my delight, there seemed to be a ready appetite for such shtick. Nice! I was glad we could start with some pre-movie laughs, although Buster was the star of the day.

Later, I found that the glass wall has engendered some controversy. It was intended to create a more open environment and to link performances with the iconic campus—a kind of indoor/outdoor thing.

But now that the Linde Center is in use, some people feel the spectacular scene is distracting and detracts from the focus on performers in the hall.

By creating "music for passersby," I apparently demonstrated an important quality of the glass wall, even as I was mining it for comedy.

Afterwards, Sue Elliott told me that Mrs. Linde (from the donor family) was in the audience, and it helped reinforce the belief in the facility's design.

The Keaton film, which I accompanied on my digital synthesizer rather than the Steinway, produced a solid and sustained reaction. The Q & A that followed was lively and challenging, and probably could have continued for a lot longer.

And in another unplanned moment, I found myself relating a personal Tanglewood story that I'd been waiting more than 40 years for the right opportunity to tell, but didn't realize this until I was standing there in the Linde Center with a microphone.

When I was discovering classic music around age 12, one Sunday afternoon my mother tuned the radio to Boston station WCRB-FM, which was broadcasting a concert live from a place called Tanglewood.

And I listened to long-time patrician announcer William Pierce intone that the first work on the program would be George Gershwin's 'Concerto in F.' (In telling the story, I imitated Pierce's distinctive voice, probably not the first time that's been done at Tanglewood.)

Then came the music, and I remember being delighted to hear that every time the music got quiet or paused, you could hear birds chirping!

"Wow!" I thought. "Gershwin's Concerto in F has bird sounds!" I actually imagined a percussionist blowing into one of those bird call whistles to create the various tweeting sounds called for in the score.

So for a long time, I thought Gershwin's Concerto in F included bird-chirp accompaniment.

Then one day in high school, I borrowed a recording the work from the library and brought it home.

The music started, and I was completely disappointed.

"Where are the bird sounds?" I wondered. "I've been cheated!"

Where are the birds? They were at Tanglewood. And now so was I!

Monday, August 5, 2019

On the road in Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo: movies, skyscrapers, cheese, and canoes

Up next!

Greetings from Buffalo, where I'm awaiting tonight's screening of Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928) at the Western N.Y. Film Expo.

It's my fourth year of handling the accompaniment chores at this multi-day festival, which took the vintage film baton from Syracuse Cinefest after that storied gathering ended its run in 2015.

Chief organizer Alex Bartosh has kept it going, with a dealers' room and no less than three separate venues for screening everything from silents to vintage TV show episodes.

This year, I got here by way of screenings at Cinema Detroit and the Cleveland Cinematheque, which ran silent film programs earlier this week. This allowed me to string together something like a Lake Erie Vintage Cinema Tour 2019. I should have had t-shirts made!

First, thank you to everyone for including silent film and live music in their programming: Paula and Tim Guthat at Cinema Detroit; John Ewing and Genevieve Schwartz at the Cleveland Cinematheque; and Alex Bartosh and Dave Barnes at the Western New York Expo.

Such support for keeping these films on screen gives local audiences access to a rich cinematic world. And it also gives audiences in my home area of New England a break from what I inflict on them.

Here's a brief run-down on the adventure so far:

Warming up while the Fisher Building looms over me.

- At Cinema Detroit, a Buster Keaton double feature took a surprising turn when the theater unexpectedly won a prized booking for the new Quentin Tarantino film.

"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" had to run continuously. So what to do about the Keaton screenings planned for Wednesday, July 31?

Paula Guthat reached out to folks at New Center Park, an urban oasis in Detroit that happens to run a summertime outdoor movie program.

Could they host an evening of Buster Keaton?

Yes, they could. And so the whole program got moved outdoors to a park directly beneath the amazing Fisher Building, a 30-story 1920s Beaux Arts masterpiece from a much earlier era of prosperity.

This was all done about a week before the show, with Paula displaying improvisation skills worthy of any silent film accompanist.

Set-up was a snap, with me rolling into town that evening with my gear to be met by a park staff that knew exactly what to do. In no time at all, I was set up under a roofed structure with my keyboard hooked into a booming sound system.

The New Center Park Pavilion's custom-made screen, engineered by projectionist Jon Hudson, kneeling at right.

Even the weather cooperated, with evening temps falling into the 60s and a welcome breeze, which seemed to keep the bugs away. (They're always a hazard at outdoor screenings. I've had enormous beetles land on my arm that I'm sure that scientists have yet to catalogue.)

We had to wait until well after 9 p.m. for the show to start, as the sun sets much later here (in the Eastern Time Zone) than back home in New Hampshire.

I played for about an hour before the show, hoping to attract interest from the few passersby. I'm not sure if I actually scared them off, or if everyone was at the Democratic Presidential debate happening elsewhere in town.

Alas, by showtime only a relatively small group had assembled in the lawn chairs set out under the trees.

But we went ahead with what turned out to be a great show: a double bill of 'Our Hospitality' (1923) and 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928), Buster's first and last independent features.

'Steamboat Bill' was notable because in the film's final reels, as Buster rides out the film's climactic cyclone, a steady and stiff wind began blowing, knocking over my plastic cup of popcorn and causing a noticeable ripple in the park's huge outdoor screen. (An impressive and custom creation by projectionist Jon Hudson, complete with sturdy rigging to tie it down like on a sailboat.)

So it was 'Steamboat Bill' in Sensurround. This actually worked quite well! I recommend installing large fans in any theater that programs this picture.

But what really made it was that our audience included a family blessed with two young girls who greeted all of Buster's adventures with continuous and uproarious laughter. Really! They weren't that far from me and I could hear them clearly, and so could everyone else.

They contributed far more to the soundtrack of Buster than any mere accompanist could. What a joy to hear their joy of discovery. Our show ran almost to midnight, making me wonder what the kids were doing up so late, but no matter: they made my day, or night, and made the screening more compelling than anything I contributed with my keyboard.

John Ewing slices into the Cinematheque's birthday cake.

- The next day (Thursday, Aug. 1) brought me to the Cleveland Cinematheque, where long-time head honcho John Ewing was celebrating the theater's 33rd anniversary in part by screening a 35mm print of 'The Crowd' (1928), a title he'd never run before.

The print, from the Library of Congress, looked great, and a healthy crowd turned out to watch 'The Crowd.' I hadn't accompanied the film in awhile, so previewed it the week earlier to refresh my memory. The parts where protagonist John Sims plays his ukulele are tricky because he keeps starting and stopping, but it all seemed to come together nicely.

I greatly enjoy accompanying films at the Cinematheque because over the years the venue has cultivated a sophisticated audience for a wide range of cinema from all over the globe. Many are passionate silent film fans, and not afraid to let you know it.

With that in mind, it was not unexpected for 'The Crowd' to be followed by an extended Q & A session that covered a wide range of topics. I saw it as good practice for my upcoming seminar at Tanglewood later this month.

I sometimes joke that the main reason I return to the Cleveland Cinematheque is to eat at L'Albatross, a French restaurant not far from the venue.

But it's not entirely a joke. I mean, take a look at their cheese board:


Be honest: wouldn't you come to Cleveland to accompany silent films if this was around the corner?

- It wasn't around the corner, but about three hours up the lake: Buffalo, home of the Western N.Y. Film Expo and Movie Memorabilia Convention, an annual gathering for which I again served as resident accompanist.

You never know what kind of silent titles will be screened at this event, and last-minute schedule changes made that more true than ever this time around.

Originally, the schedule called for something like a half-dozen silent feature films, including Von Stroheim's 'The Wedding March' (1925), Eddie Cantor in 'Special Delivery' (1927), and Louise Brooks in G.W. Pabst's 'Pandora's Box' (1929) from Germany.

When the dust settled, however, the balance had shifted to several blocks of short comedies starring the greats and near-greats. The only features were W.C. Fields in 'The Old Army Game' (1926) and Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928).

I didn't mind the free time, as it provided a chance to catch up with other attendees as well as see something of Buffalo, including this outdoor sculpture made entirely from aluminum canoes:



"Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here," was created in 2011 by artist Nancy Rudin and stands outside Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

This outrageous work spoke to me for a very personal reason: the canoes were the same make and model as my father's old canoe, which my older brother now has: an aluminum canoe made by the Grumman Aircraft Co. in the 1950s.

Inside the gallery I found several works by the American abstract artist Joan Mitchell, including "George Went Swimming in Barnes Hole, But It Got Too Cold" from 1957:


Just as the canoes out front remind me of my Dad, any work by Mitchell reminds me of the late May Gruber, a philanthropist and noted patron of the arts in my home area who purchased 'Cous Cous,' an enormous Mitchell canvas, directly from the artist in Paris, eventually donating it to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, where it's on permanent display.

Big paintings! But small world.

Okay, 'The Cameraman' beckons. And then it's back to home base in New Hampshire until the next "Lake Erie" tour. Perhaps next time I'll go by aluminum canoe.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Tonight (Wednesday, 7/24) in Arlington, Mass.: One last voyage to the moon at Regent Theatre

Prepare for launch, 1929-style.

Never mind the Apollo astronauts. I've been to the moon no less than four times in the last 10 days!

Take that, Richard Branson and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and all you other billionaire wannabees!

And I make my final voyage tonight, when the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass. screens Fritz Lang's epic moon journey pic, 'Woman in the Moon' (1929) at 7 p.m.

Details are in the press release below.

Yes, it's the fourth time I've blasted off for the moon since earlier this month: Saturday, July 13 in Brandon, Vt.; Wednesday, July 17 in Ogunquit, Maine; Thursday, July 18 in Concord, N.H., and now tonight in Ahh-lington, Mass.

That's a lot of space travel. Wish I got frequent flier credit for all these journeys.

Lots more coming up but wanted to make sure: your last chance to travel with me to the lunar surface (until anyone asks me to accompany 'Woman in the Moon' again) is tonight at the Regent in Arlington.

See you there! We blast off at 7 p.m.

* * *

Original German poster for 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

THURSDAY, JULY 15, 2019 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Regent Theatre to mark Apollo 11 anniversary with vintage lunar voyage masterpiece

'Woman in the Moon,' early sci-fi fantasy about mankind's first space mission, to be screened Wednesday, July 24 with live music

ARLINGTON, Mass.—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened this month at the Regent 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 24 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.

The screening is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person in advance, or $12 on day of show. Tickets may be booked online at www.regenttheatre.com.

"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 Leland Stein of the Regent Theatre. "And what better way to do that was to 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 large 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.

Visiting the moon is no day at the beach, although both places features a lot of sand.

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 Regent coincides with the 50th anniversary to the day (July 24) that Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins splashed down after their successful voyage to the moon. 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 Regent'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."

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.

When traveling to the moon, big windows make a lot of sense.

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."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 24 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass. The screening is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person in advance, or $12 on day of show. Tickets may be booked online at www.regenttheatre.com.

For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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.