Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Up next: 'Underworld' on 1/23 in Plymouth; plus reports from three unusual recent shows

Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook in 'Underworld.' (1927).

It's one of the great silent dramas: 'Underworld' (1927), the gangster saga directed by Josef von Sternberg.

And I'm accompanying it on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Movie House in Plymouth, N.H.

Besides a small dramatic role by comedian Larry Semon (who would die just one year later), the film features a major part for Clive Brook, one of my favorite silent-era actors.

Brook plays 'Rolls Royce' Wentsel, an alcoholic attorney who becomes sidekick to gangster Bull Weed, played by George Bancroft.

It's a juicy role: a cultured, educated man who finds himself swept up in the world of hitmen and holdups.

It's kind of like the character of Tom Hagan, the "consigliere," that Robert Duvall played to Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in 'The Godfather' (1972).

More about 'Underworld' is in the press release below.

Here's a report on a trio of unusual silent film screenings that filled the recent three-day weekend:

Air mattresses being set up on stage for the 45th Annual Sci-Fi Marathon at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Saturday, Jan. 18: I don't know what you were doing at 7:15 a.m., but I was trying to find a place to park in a snowstorm in the University Heights area of Cleveland, Ohio.

How did I get here? Mostly by Interstate 90 the day before, all in a single gulp from New Hampshire to Ohio. (It's about 10 hours.)

But the larger answer to that question was found in the Case Western Reserve University Film Society's 45th Annual Sci-Fi Marathon, which ran from Friday night into early Sunday morning.

I was there to do music for 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924), an early Soviet fantasy film with sci-fi elements.

I arrived the night before, ending up on completely the wrong end of the beautifully maintained (and vehicle-free) Case Western campus.

But organizer Samuel Ramos was able to guide me by phone through security barriers to Strosacker Auditorium, where regulars were already packing the lobby waiting to get in and claim their turf for the 30-hour event.

Early-bird attendees about to enter Strosacker Auditorium for the sci-fi marathon. Passing through a security check, many with rolling luggage in tow, it was they were boarding an aircraft!

With the house due to open soon, we loaded in and set up my gear in record time. Because I wasn't playing until the next morning, we had to stow the keyboard and speakers backstage, but the trio of projectionists were able to tape down my cabling in place so we'd be ready to go quickly.

I was honored to find a young woman using painter's tape to mark the spot where my keyboard would go, including a big NO for emphasis.

I didn't get her name, but she was a CWRU grad who flew in from Texas each year to join in the marathon.

That's one thing I love about these types of events: they inspire a kind of fanatical devotion and spirit of community among attendees that's very special. No matter what else one does the year-round, when it's time for the CWRU Sci-Fi Marathon (or any other similar event), you know where you belong.

Here's a panorama shot from the stage as attendees began to enter and set up shop. Click to enlarge!

I woke up the next morning to find Cleveland enveloped in snow and sleet. I drove through deserted streets to find the Case Western campus shuttered, with no security people to open the gates. So I parked in a nearby hospital garage (FOR PATIENTS AND STAFF ONLY!) and trudged through the slush to arrive just in time for the 7:30 a.m. screening of 'Aelita,' which is the earliest start time I've ever played.

It was weird to return to an auditorium filled with people who'd been there all night. The sun hadn't actually come up yet, and people asked me not to refer to the actual time or the weather outside because they were still running on the illusion that it was just still kind of a late night.

But off we went, first with a surprise screening of a 'A Trip to Mars,' a 1924 Koko the Clown short cartoon, which got a nice reaction.

An example of Martian fashion in 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924).

Then came Aelita, and when I saw from the titles it was a version that runs a little slow (almost two hours!), I braced myself. Would it be possible to keep a fatigued audience engaged in this esoteric early drama for that length of time?

I'd decided earlier to resist the temptation to use the synthesizer to make "space age" sounds. Instead, I went into my "Rachmaninoff/Shostakovich" mode, which I thought was only appropriate for a Russian film.

The only recognizable tune that got used was the old Czarist national anthem (the one heard in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture), which turned out to be exactly right, I felt, for the allegorical rulers/oppressed sequences set on Mars.

For the main character, a radio engineer obsessed with a mysterious signal that might just be from the Red Planet, I came up with a "signal" motif or repeated notes that kept recurring: two notes, three notes, and then four notes. DAH da. Da DAH da. Da DAH da da.

This, and a bunch of other stock themes for characters and situations, all came together to make a very effective score, I thought.

Audience reaction was strong throughout, with lots of shouted comments about the wild plot and strange images. I even got heckled at one big missed cue: a soldier character plays a small accordion on screen a couple of times, and at one point I misjudged when to have that sound ready—and he instead went over and hit a few notes on a piano!

"That's a funny sounding piano!" someone shouted. It sure was! I quickly went back to orchestra.

Gusev the soldier serenades a Martian gal with his pesky accordion late in 'Aelita.' (This time I was ready!)

To my surprise, people really did stay with it, and the film (as often happens) seemed to make a lot more sense in a theater with an audience. It holds up really well, with the only explanatory note necessary for modern audiences is to note that at the time, people with larger homes were compelled by the government to take in other people. All part of the glorious revolution, comrade!

The film ended with a rousing ovation for the accompanist, who couldn't stay because he was due back in New Hampshire the next day for a screening.

With the campus still closed and the snow still flying, I had to finally drive my car down some pedestrian walkways (sorry!) to get the service alley behind the auditorium to load in my gear.

Then off I went for the drive back to New Hampshire, only to find slow going due to the weather, which had shut down portions of the N.Y. State Thruway.

So an unexpected night in Syracuse, N.Y. and then an early morning departure put me back in the Granite State on Sunday in time for a 2 p.m. screening in Warner, N.H.

Warner (N.H.) Town Hall, which doubles as a movie theater.

Sunday, Jan. 19: This event was on behalf of the New Hampshire Telephone Museum ("Where History Talks!"), which this year is pursuing a "Telephone Goes To The Movies" theme.

Sunday's program was a nod to silent comedies that somehow feature the telephone: Harold Lloyd's short 'Number, Please' (1920) and Buster Keaton's feature 'Seven Chances; (1925).

Why 'Seven Chances?' Because the whole plot of the film depends on a missed phone call, plus it has several fun scenes in phone booths and with telephone switchboard operators.

The screening was held in Warner Town Hall, which I'd never been in before but which proved ideal for silent film screenings: wooden floors, great acoustics, a big built-in screen, big but not too big.

Laura French, executive director of the Telephone Museum, greets the audience.

And with the Patriots out of the playoffs, our Sunday afternoon start time attracted a full house, which surprised me for this kind of one-off screening.

One other surprise: as I drove into town on Route 103, a large portable sign used for highway directions had been commandeered to promote "SILENT FILM AND LIVE MUSIC WITH JEFF RAPSIS"' Wow, my name in lights, New Hampshire style! (Also, when I went back afterwards to get a photo, it had already been turned off. Frugality, New Hampshire style!)

Great response to both films, with lots of big laughs in all the right places. Thanks for Laura French and Graham Gifford of the Telephone Museum for organizing a stellar program!

Buster times an egg in 'The Navigator' (1924).

Monday, Jan. 20: And this was followed on Monday night with a screening of two nautical-themed comedies to benefit the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Mass.

A silent film program there last year was popular enough for us to try another, this time moved to the nearby (and more spacious) Firehouse Center for the Arts.

On tap (a water reference!) was Buster Keaton's 'The Boat' (1921) followed by 'The Navigator' (1924).

Alas, when we booked this date some time ago, no one realized it was the third day of the three-day weekend caused by the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

This might have cut into attendance somewhat. But still, about 40 people braved cold temperatures to see Buster on the high seas.

I had a good time doing music for 'The Navigator.' Using a handful of obvious sea-faring melodies (such as "Anchors Aweigh") to set the tone, I was able to build an entire score mostly out of variations of a simple tune that I've been developing as an all-purpose Keaton theme.

For the better part of an hour, the basic material of this melody was transformed in different ways into material that helped underline Buster's routines. Sometimes a graceful waltz, sometimes a steady march, sometimes arrhythmic doodlings — whatever seemed to suit the comedy on screen.

Afterwards, I received the highest complement possible: the museum's director told me for awhile she was so absorbed in the movie, she forgot the music was being made live.

So three days, three screenings in three very different settings, but which all seemed to hold the screen. Accompaniment in the year 2020 is so far off to a good start!

Next up is 'Underworld.' Here's the press release. Hope to see you there in Plymouth, N.H.!

* * *

Original promotional art for 'Underworld' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Underworld' to screen with live music at Plymouth's Flying Monkey on Thursday, Jan. 23

Oscar-winning silent crime drama directed by Josef von Sternberg was forerunner of Hollywood 'gangster' movies

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—'Underworld' (1927), a silent drama that spurred a boom in 'gangster' movies, will be screened with live music on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The film will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $10 per person.

'Underworld,' directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, is notable for being the first major motion picture to portray a criminal in a sympathetic light instead of as a villain. Its popularity touched off a Prohibition-era boom in Hollywood gangster pictures that reached its peak following the stock market crash of 1929.

The story of 'Underworld' follows gangster Bull Weed (George Bancroft), who becomes entangled in a love triangle involving a reformed drunkard, “Rolls Royce” (Clive Brook) whom he takes on as his right-hand man, and Bull’s girlfriend “Feathers” (Evelyn Brent). Bull Weed's imprisonment leads to a dramatic climax.

Bancroft's performance in 'Underworld' set the stage for memorable characterizations of gangster protagonists by Jimmy Cagney ('Public Enemy,' 1931), Paul Muni ('Scarface,' 1932), and Edward G. Robinson ('Little Caesar,' 1930), which all follow directly on from the model created by 'Underworld.'

The film's script, by Chicago newspaperman Ben Hecht, earned an Oscar for Best Screenwriting at the first-ever Academy Awards. The film is also noted for director von Sternberg's innovative use of black-and-white photography, which presaged many film noir techniques in following decades.

Director Von Sternberg was obsessed by light, and developed methods of “painting” his compositions with the arrangements of lamps, scrims, and reflectors on the set. Today he is remembered most for having used that skill in a series of films he made with Marlene Dietrich, starting with 'The Blue Angel' (1930) and continuing in six more star vehicles made in Hollywood, including 'Morocco' (1930) and 'Shanghai Express' (1932).

A promotional poster for 'Underworld' (1927).

'Underworld' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

Using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra, Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Films such as 'Underworld' were created to be shown on the big screen and in a theater as a shared experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So silent film screenings at the Flying Monkey are a great chance for people to experience films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

'Underworld' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at the Flying Monkey. Upcoming programs include:

Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020: 'The Navigator' (1924). Buster Keaton sets sail in his classic sea-faring comedy about a spoiled rich couple marooned all alone on a drifting ocean liner.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020: 'Wild Horse Mesa' (1925). Adaptation of Zane Grey novel about a bankrupt rancher who tries trapping wild horses using barbed wire, with unforeseen consequences.

Thursday, April 9, 2020: 'Ben Hur' (1925). In the Holy Land, a Jewish prince is enslaved by the occupying Romans; one of the great early Bibical epics, just in time for Easter!

Thursday, May 7, 2020: 'Why Worry?' (1923). Rich hypochondriac Harold Lloyd gets more than he bargained for on a recuperative visit to a banana republic undergoing revolution.

Thursday, June 18, 2020: Harry Houdini Double Feature. Rare surviving films from the great illusionist's brief movie career: 'Terror Island' (1920) and 'The Man From Beyond' (1922).

'Underworld' (1927) will be shown on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Three sci-fi marathons in the next two months: Aelita; The Lost World; and Jekyll & Hyde

A scene from 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924), which I'll be accompanying on Saturday morning at the Case Western Reserve University Film Society's annual Sci-Fi Marathon.

They say good things come in threes. And I'm fortunate to be doing silent film music at no less than three different sci-fi marathons in the next few weeks.

Silent film at a sci-fi marathon? Yes! And surprisingly, not one of them is 'Metropolis' (1927), Fritz Lang's famous pioneering epic of the genre.

For those of you keeping score, here's the line-up:

• On Saturday, Jan. 18, I'll accompany for 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924) at the annual Case Western Reserve University Film Society Sci-Fi Marathon, now in its 45th year. For more info: http://films.cwru.edu/sfmarathon45/

• On Sunday, Feb. 16, I'll create music for the John Barrymore version of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' (1920) at the annual Boston Sci-Fi Marathon at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. More info: https://www.bostonscifi.com/

• And on Saturday, March 21, it's music for 'The Lost World' (1925) at the annual 24-Hour Ohio Science Fiction Marathon in Columbus, Ohio. Details: http://www.scifimarathon.com/

I first started playing silent films at sci-fi marathons in 2011, when the long-running Boston Sci-Fi Marathon screened a rare print of the original silent version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.' I was asked to do live music.

The audience discovered a film so strange and old that it seemed new. And I discovered an audience unlike any other I'd played for: one that screamed and hooted and hollered and talked back at the screen and was generally having an all-out love affair with the whole experience.

Since then, I've functioned as the house accompanist for the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon. They don't show a silent every year. But when they do, it's always one of my favorite gigs of the year.

So I'm delighted to now be getting asked to appear at similar festivals, such as the two upcoming marathons in Ohio.

And it makes sense, I think. In an age of everything-instantly-available, the sci-fi marathon endures because it's a group experience that can't be reproduced in the home.

And within that framework, there's definitely a place for silent film with live music.

The next couple of months include other road bookings that'll bring me far from my home base:

• February finds me at the annual Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka, Kansas, where I'll score 'Soul of the Beast' (1923), 'The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg' (1926), as well as a passel of shorts. This year's event is Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, Feb. 29; it's my 21st consecutive year of attending.

• On Sunday, March 8, I'll travel out to Utica, N.Y., where I'm accompanying the recently restored 'Mothers of Men' (1917) as part of an exhibit on Women's Suffrage at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, a terrific small museum that boasts a solid art collection and innovative programming.

• And Sunday, March 22 finds me at the Cleveland Cinematheque, where I'll do music for Ernst Lubitsch’s 'The Marriage Circle' (1924) and 'Hands Up!' (1926) starring Raymond Griffith. Many thanks to long-time Cinematheque director John Ewing for continuing to include silent film with live music in the programming mix.

See you at the movies—or with all this road time, maybe on the N.Y. State Thruway!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Dialing up Keaton's 'Seven Chances' on 1/19
for the New Hampshire Telephone Museum

Buster Keaton checks the time in 'Seven Chances (1925).

Later this month, it'll be my pleasure to bring silent film with live music to a brand new venue for me—the New Hampshire Telephone Museum!

Yes, New Hampshire has a telephone museum. And yes, we're screening a telephonic silent film program on Sunday, Jan. 19.

Actually, the screening will take place in nearby Warner (N.H.) Town Hall, as the museum itself (also in Warner) isn't quite the set up to hold a screening.

On the program: Buster Keaton's great comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925), in which the telephone plays a key role in the plot, and which includes scenes of vintage switchboards and phone booths.

Also: Harold Lloyd's phone-heavy short comedy 'Number, Please' (1920).

If reading this has made you realize there is such as thing as a New Hampshire Telephone Museum—well, then we've accomplished our goal already.

Located at 1 Depot Street, the Telephone Museum ("Where History Talks!") is worth a visit. Check them out online at www.nhtelephonemuseum.org.

And our screening? It's Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. at Warner Town Hall. More info in the press release below. Hope to see you at the movies!

* * *

A Swedish poster for 'Seven Chances' (1925).

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Sunday, Jan. 19 at Warner Town Hall

Silent film presentation by New Hampshire Telephone Museum features classic race-to-the-finish romantic farce with live music

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

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

See for yourself with a screening of 'Seven Chances' (1925), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Warner Town Hall, 5 East Main St., Warner, N.H.

The program starts at 2 p.m. and is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person; $5 for N.H. Telephone Museum members.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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

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

Buster surrounded by brides-a-plenty in 'Seven Chances' (1925).

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

"Also, a missed telephone call plays a key role in the plot, so 'Seven Chances' was of interest to the Telephone Musuem," Rapsis said. "It also had several scenes showing vintage telephone switchboards and phone booths that were common in that era."

The program also includes 'Number, Please' (1920), a telephone-themed short comedy starring Harold Lloyd.

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

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

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

In reviving Keaton's 'Seven Chances,' the Telephone Museum aims to present silent film as it was meant to be seen—using restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

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

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

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

Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Warner Town Hall, 5 East Main St., Warner, N.H.

The program is presented by the New Hampshire Telephone Museum and is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person; $5 for N.H. Telephone Museum members. For more information, call the museum at (603) 456-2234.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A big finish for 2019 with 'Four Horsemen,'
now a big start to 2020 with 'Metropolis'

Nigel De Brulier (upper left) gets ready to say his big line at the end of 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'

One reason I create music for silent films is that the experience allows me to commune with the big emotions of life: Love with a capital L, or Fear, or Joy, or Despair.

I don't get that from any other story-telling art form, with the exception of opera.

So silent film is my way to remind myself I'm still alive, and what the big emotions feel like. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it makes it all worthwhile.

Well, I'm pleased to say it happened in spades yesterday afternoon at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., where I accompanied "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921) before a near-capacity crowd.

There are things in this big, sprawling picture that greatly move me. And it all leads up to one very special moment right at the end, when the Nigel De Brulier character is asked if he knew a man buried in an enormous hillside cemetery.

"I knew them all," he cries in the graveyard, and at that moment I feel like I'm connected to all of humanity, to something great and wonderful and meaningful—something larger than myself.

The crowd seemed to get it as well, judging from the response throughout and the reaction afterward. I even earned a partial "Standing O" from one side of the room.

Thank you to everyone who joined the journey, both for this screening and for more than 100 others during 2019. It's been a great year and I'm looking forward to 2020.

Speaking of which...

My next screening (and first of 2020) is 'Metropolis' (1927), which will be screened on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

For complete info, here's the press release. Hope to see you at the movies!

* * *

'Metropolis' (1927) will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic film 'Metropolis' to screen at Colonial on Sunday, Jan. 5

Landmark early sci-fi fantasy epic, with half-hour of rediscovered footage, to be shown with live music

KEENE, N.H.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

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

Admission is $10 per person general admission. Tickets are available online at thecolonial.org or at the door.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a society where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live in poverty.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and underground cities, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.'

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Colonial aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality 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 improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at the Colonial is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927. The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

When first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

It was widely believed that this would be the most complete version of Lang's film that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see. But, in the summer of 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included not merely a few additional snippets, but 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery of such a significant amount of material called for yet another restoration, a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Center for the Arts.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who provides live music for silent film screenings throughout New England and beyond.

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened. Rather than focus exclusively on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. Admission is $10 per person general admission. Tickets are available online at thecolonial.org or at the door. For more information, call the Colonial at (603) 352-2033.


“'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world.”
—Roger Ebert, 2010, The Chicago Sun-Times

“If it comes anywhere near your town, go see it and thank the movie Gods that it even exists. There’s no star rating high enough.”
—Brian Tallerico, Movieretriever.com

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Coming on Sunday, 12/29 in Wilton, N.H.:
'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921)

Rudolph Valentino introduces the Tango in 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'

Final screening of the year is Sunday afternoon at the Town Hall Theatre at Wilton, N.H., and it's a doozy.

'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921) is one of my favorite silent dramas, and I'm not alone: it was the sixth-highest grossing picture of the era.

To me, it's one of the first mainstream Hollywood pictures to make full use of the visual and imaginative powers of cinema, which were still being discovered.

D.W. Griffith and other first-generation directors knew how to tell stories, which was often the main strength of their work.

But Rex Ingram, who helmed 'Four Horsemen,' and his collaborators were able to take it a step further by weaving visual allegory into their drama in a way that only movies could.

The Four Horsemen of the title aren't just abstract metaphors or symbols. In Ingram's realization of the tale, we get to see them on screen, brought to life before our eyes as they come to life in some kind of steamy underworld, and then ride together through the skies.

And with a giant fire-breathing dragon to boot!

None of this is part of the reality of War I in France, which the movie depicts with documentary realism. But the Four Horsemen are still seamlessly woven into the fabric of the tale, giving the narrative a visual impact that's part of the power of cinema, I think.

Come see for yourself! On top of everything else, 'Four Horsemen' also has Rudolph Valentino introducing the tango, launching a craze that endures to this very day.

Here's the press release with more info about the film and our screening:

* * *

A scene from 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rudolph Valentino in 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' on Sunday, Dec. 29 at Town Hall Theatre

Ground-breaking silent film epic launched 'Latin Lover' to stardom, started tango dance craze; to be screened with live musical accompaniment

WILTON, N.H.—An epic drama that launched the career of silent film heartthrob and megastar Rudolph Valentino will be shown this month at the Town Hall Theatre.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921), a multi-generational family saga that climaxes during World War I, will be screened with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free and open to the public; a donation of $5 per person is requested to defray expenses.

Based on a novel by Spanish author Vicente Blasco IbaƱez, 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' tells the story of an extended Argentine family with mixed ethnic background: one side is German, while the other is French.

The family get drawn into World War I in far-off Europe, with members ending up on opposing sides. With brothers pitted against one another on the battlefield, the destruction of war changes lives forever.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' had a huge cultural impact, becoming the top-grossing film of 1921, beating out Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid,' and going on to become the sixth-best-grossing silent film of all time.

Also, the film turned then-little-known actor Rudolph Valentino into a superstar, associating him with the image of the Latin Lover. In addition, the film inspired a tango craze and fashion fads such as gaucho pants.

Directed by Rex Ingram for Metro Pictures (an ancestor of MGM studios), 'Four Horsemen' grew into a mammoth production: over $1 million was spent in making it and more than 12,000 people were involved. The film was hugely successful at the box office, grossing nearly $5 million during its initial run, an enormous sum at the time.

The film was notable as one of the first major Hollywood productions to include World War I (then known as the 'Great War') in its storyline, and also in that it did not glorify the recent conflict or look past the tragedy that it brought. It's also among the first U.S. feature films to make full use of the unlimited visual power of the new motion picture medium.

Although Valentino dominates the film, other actors of note are featured. Alice Terry, the billed star as well as Ingram's wife, was a popular actress of her day. She would be cast in the next Ingram/Valentino flick rushed out in the same year before Rudy's jump to Paramount, The Conquering Power (1921).

Alan Hale Sr. appears in a supporting role; he was perhaps best known as Errol Flynn's sidekick in numerous films, his role of Little John in several Robin Hood flicks, and as the father of Alan Hale, Jr., who played the Skipper on the television series Gilligan's Island.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' was the brainchild of Metro screenwriter June Mathis, who went on to become one of the most powerful woman in early Hollywood, helping Valentino manage his career until his untimely death of peritonitis at age 31 in 1926.

The film was remade as '4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in 1962, with the setting changed to World War II.

In 1995, the silent version of 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Regarding the title: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

"This is a big sprawling drama, and a great chance to see Rudolph Valentino in the picture that launched his celebrity," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the screening.

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

"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.

‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Tonight: Harold Lloyd way up on that building and me way up in Maine paper mill country

The paper mill in Rumford, Maine.

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Rumford, Maine tonight, then come join us for a screening of 'Safety Last' (1923).

Rumford, home of the biggest paper mill I've ever seen, is just up the road from Dixfield, Maine, home of the Tuscan Opera House, site of tonight's show.

It's not the first time the Tuscan Opera House has served the community as a makeshift cinema.

Years ago, before television, the grand multi-story structure doubled as the town's moviehouse, showing features and newsreels to keep backwoods Maine connected to the world.

But that was then. The movies stopped a long time ago, and for many years the place was a restaurant.

In more recent years, I've come there do silent film programs with live music.

This has been at the behest of Dirigo High School teacher Kurt Rowley and his students, who hold an annual silent film night to raise funds for the local historical society.

Tonight's show is Harold Lloyd's great comedy 'Safety Last,' which is best seen with an audience.

So a good time will be had by all, including you, if you're within shouting distance of Rumford, Maine. So get in the car. It's only an eight-hour drive from New York!

Here's the press release with more info:

* * *

Harold Lloyd in 'Safety Last' (1923).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Safety Last' on Saturday, Nov. 9 at Tuscan Opera House

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

DIXFIELD, 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 Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Tuscan Opera House, 11 Main St., Dixfield, Maine.

The program, organized by Dirigo High School students as a fund-raiser for the local historical society, is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person.

The screening will feature live music by New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

The show will allow audiences to experience silent film the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

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 screening in the historic Tuscan Opera House 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.

The Tuscan Opera House dates from 1905, when it replaced an earlier hall that burned in 1901. The building's first two floors housed a movie theater for many years until the advent of television in the 1950s. It later housed the Opera House Restaurant and now hosts occasional shows and programs.

"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."

Harold Lloyd in 'Safety Last' (1923).

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.'

See Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Tuscan Opera House, 11 Main St., Dixfield, Maine.

Admission is $10 per person; tickets and concessions will be available at the door.

For more information and advance tickets, please contact Dirigo High School teacher Kurt Rowley at (207) 680-0113.


"Impossible to watch without undergoing visitations of vertigo, Safety Last's climactic sequence is all it's reputed to be.”
—TV Guide

"Harold Lloyd manages to make the characters sympathetic enough to carry the audience's concern on his journey of crazy stunts and mishaps. One of the best of this era."
—David Parkinson, Empire Magazine

"The climb has both comic and dramatic weight because it is both a thrilling exercise in physical humor and a thematically rich evocation of the pressures men feel to succeed, lest they be viewed as less than a man."
—James Kendrick, Q Network Film Desk

Sunday, October 27, 2019

One more 'Man Who Laughs' followed by two 'Nosferatus,' but please hold the 'Phantom'

An original lobby card for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), which I'm accompanying today at 4:30 p.m. in Wilton, N.H.

Halloween: the busiest time of the year for a silent film accompanist!

It's mostly because people who otherwise aren't into the genre still enjoy seeing 'Nosferatu' and the Lon Chaney 'Phantom' this time of year.

And the inherent other-worldliness of silent cinema lends itself to a kind of out-of-body experience that fits well with the Halloween zeitgeist.

So each year, I do a certain number of 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom' screenings. But I also try to work in some other worthy pictures to give them exposure.

This weekend, I did Murnau's 'Faust' (1926) up in Brandon, Vt.—not strictly a Halloween film, but it has all the needed elements. It was well received.

And this year has been a big one for Paul Leni's 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), mostly because the appearance of the title character inspired the look of 'The Joker' of Batman fame, currently being reinterpreted by Joaquin Phoenix and Co. in the just-released "back story" picture.

I've done it twice already, and will be tackling it again at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H., where I've done a monthly silent film program for more than 10 years now.

Oddly, this year prompted only a single 'Phantom of the Opera' screening: a week ago in Natick, Mass.

Coming up this week: A double dose of Nosferatu. One of these years I'm going to get screenings sponsored by a cosmetic dentist.

And I haven't yet done 'Nosferatu,' although that will change quickly with back-to-back screenings this week: one on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Townsend, Mass. and then on Thursday, Oct. 31 (Halloween itself!) at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

It's appropriate that I'm playing the Colonial on Halloween, as this is the very same theater where I was scared out of my wits in 1971 by the original 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' starring Gene Wilder.

Really! I was seven years old, and when tubby German boy Augustus Gloop gets stuck in a factory pipe, I remember running up the aisle to get out of there.

I was found in the ladies room and brought back into the theater just in time to see the Blueberry Girl rolled off to the juicing room.

Never mind Nosferatu and Phantom. In my book, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka beats them all!

Scarier than any vampire.

Hope to see you at 'Man Who Laughs' this afternoon. And if you need a last final blast of creepiness to get into the Halloween spirit, I'm doing 'Nosferatu' on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Townsend (Mass.) Library, and again on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theater in Keene, N.H.

For more info, the press release for the Keene screening is below. Wishing all boys and ghouls a deadly Halloween!

Just hoping no trick-or-treaters show up at my place as Gene Wilder.

* * *

Definitely not a time to play 'Me and My Shadow.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic vampire thriller 'Nosferatu' flies into Colonial Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 31

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

KEENE, N.H. — Celebrate Halloween this year with a classic silent horror film that gets scarier as the years go by.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

General admission is $8.50 per person.

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

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

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

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as time goes by," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician who accompanies silent film screenings at venues across the nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. General admission is $8.50 per person; for more info, call (603) 352-2033 or visit www.thecolonial.org/.