Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Come visit our "silent film laboratory"
held monthly at Manchester's City Library

John Gilbert's never-screened final silent, 'Desert Nights' (1929). Delight or dud? We'll find out in August.

I've seen it happen again and again: a silent film that I've looked at by myself at home comes across as a real yawner, a tiresome dud.

But the same film, when screened in a theater, with live music and with an audience, snaps back to life and commands the screen!

I've found this occurs not just with well-known classics, but with obscure films that just never get shown.

Exhibit them as intended, and the whole experience comes together. The film somehow works.

This isn't always the case, of course. Truth is, you never know what kind of reaction an older film will inspire.

The only real way to know for sure is to get the film up on a screen and give it a chance with live music and with an audience.

That's what we've been doing at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library once a month for some years now.

Each month, I run an obscure film, usually one I've never accompanied before. Could be a drama, comedy, western, adventure—anything.

And together, we collaborate to find out if the film really has anything going for it.

It's kind of a laboratory for testing how much power remains in the batteries of these old flicks.

And there are a lot of films that survive. For every well-known silent such as 'Metropolis' or 'The General,' there are literally hundreds of other lesser-known flicks.

Overall, it's estimated that about 11,000 feature-length films were produced in the U.S. during the silent era.

Of those about 70 percent have been completely lost due to neglect, decay, and so on.

But that leaves something like 3,000 films out there, each potentially full of great artistic or cultural and entertainment value. Sometimes all three!

Over the years, our efforts have produced some surprise discoveries. Films that never get shown can still spring right back to life if shown as intended.

Among the stand-outs: John Ford's surprisingly intense Irish drama 'Hangman's House' (1928); the unexpectedly hilarious comedy 'Conductor 1492' starring Johnny Hines; and Greta Garbo steaming up the screen in 'Wild Orchids.'

We're on break this month, but we pick things up in August, and I hope you'll join us.

Together, we give forgotten films a chance to do what they were designed to do so long ago: to transport us, to entertain us, to inspire us.

Can they? Will they? Only one way to find out.

Below is a press release announcing the titles from now through the end of the year. See you at the library!

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Yes, I know we misspelled "Desert" in this promotional ad for the silent film series at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Live music means no "Shhh!" at Manchester City Library's silent film series

Monthly program features great films from cinema's early years shown free to the public

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The films may be silent. But the experience of seeing them is anything but.

That's because live music is always part of the show at the Manchester City Library's ongoing silent film series. And so is audience reaction.

The silent film programs are free and take place in the basement auditorium of the Manchester City Library, which is located at 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester.

The schedule for the rest of 2016, just released, includes a ground-breaking drama from acclaimed German director F.W. Murnau, a rarely-screened Lon Chaney feature, and action flicks featuring firemen, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a woman who transforms herself into a leopard.

Each month, the library runs a classic film from the time before movies came with synchronized sound and dialogue.

Instead, filmmakers told their stories visually, with live music creating a unique atmosphere when the movie is shown in a theater.

"These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates and performs live music for the library's series.

"At the time they were new, nobody thought of them as silent," Rapsis said. "They were pictures that moved, a brand new art form. And the stories they told had a universal appeal that captured the public's imagination all over the globe."

The films are popular with audiences of all ages, from children to senior citizens.

All screenings in the series take place in Carpenter Auditorium, located on the lower level of the historic Manchester City Library building.

Shows in the series are free and open to the public. Screenings take place on Tuesday nights and begin at 6 p.m.

The complete schedule for the remainder of 2016 includes rarely screened dramas, action adventure flicks, foreign films, and more.

• Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m.: "Desert Nights" (1929) starring John Gilbert, Ernest Torrence. A thieving couple victimize a diamond mine and kidnap its manager, but he gains the upper hand (and falls in love with the woman) when they flee into the hostile desert. Superstar Gilbert's final silent film, climaxed by an immense sandstorm.

• Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m.: "The Last Laugh" (1924) starring Emil Jannings, directed by F.W. Murnau. Engrossing character study of what happens when the head doorman at a posh Berlin hotel is ordered to give up his uniform due to encroaching old age. German film full of iconic images that stretched the expressive power of cinema.

• Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m.: "The Leopard Woman" (1920). Battle-of-wits jungle drama about an British explorer and a female spy from a rival goverment ordered to foil his mission. The fun begins when rather than killing the explorer, she falls in love with him―and then he goes blind!

• Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.: "The Third Alarm" (1922) and "The Coast Patrol" (1925). Fire and water mix in a double bill of classic low-budget melodramas, one about a firefighter forced to retire when the department switches from horses to motorized vehicles, and another about smugglers who threaten a lighthouse keeper's peaceful post.

• Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m.: "Mockery" (1927) starring Lon Chaney. During the Russian Revolution, a mentally challenged peasant saves a beautiful countess from invading Cossacks, then obsesses over her. Often overlooked Chaney drama with heavy helping of class warfare.

In addition to telling good stories and having entertainment value, these films are also of interest for what they show about daily life in the time they were made.

"Over the years, films from the silent era have picked up additional interest as a record of a way of life that's quite different from today," Rapsis said.

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

"Doing the music live is a bit of a high-wire act," Rapsis said. "But I find it's the best way to create music that reflects what's happening on screen and helps an audience connect and stay with a film."

The next screening in the Manchester City Library's monthly silent film series will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. Featured attraction is 'Desert Nights' (1929) starring John Gilbert and Ernest Torrance.

The program takes place in the Carpenter Auditorium, lower level of Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., downtown Manchester. Admission is free and the program is open to the public.

For more information, call the library at (603) 624-6550 or visit online at

For more about the music, visit

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summertime double-header: Hitchcock's
'The Ring,' then Fairbanks in 'Thief of Bagdad'

An original poster for Alfred Hitchcock's film 'The Ring' (1927)

They do it in baseball. So why not in silent film?

Today is one of those "two screenings in one day" days. A double-header, just like baseball.

Unlike baseball, today's screenings are in two different stadiums—er, theaters. And this being New England, they're in two different states, too.

This afternoon, I'll be at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre for the next installment of our summertime series of silent boxing movies.

This time it's Alfred Hitchcock's early drama 'The Ring' (1927), which I've never done before.

But in terms of music, I've found the Hitchcock silents lend themselves to a sort of reverse-engineered Bernard Herrmann approach. So that's what I'll be taking.

Today happens to be a spectacular mid-summer day (mid-80s, sunny but not humid), so we'll see what kind of turnout we get.

In our favor: the Hitchcock name, plus some good exposure in the local media.

The bell rings at 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome.

More details in the press release below.

And after the final punch is thrown in 'The Ring,' I then haul myself and my gear down to the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass., where we're running the epic Douglas Fairbanks Sr. film 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) at 8 p.m.

It's a great summertime flick: the granddaddy of all fantasy adventure movies. Flying carpets, magical spells, swashbuckling adventure, and more!

Artwork for the original release of 'The Thief of Bagdad.'

Doug was really firing on all cylinders in this big budget spectacular, which I think is the best of his 1920s epics.

I love presenting 'Thief,' in part because it always makes me feel like what a small kid in the 1920s must have felt like when he or she saw it in its original release.

I think of a small kid in some dusty plains town getting to go the moviehouse some hot Saturday afternoon, and seeing this.

I'm not a little kid, but 'The Thief of Bagdad' turns me into one every time.

And seeing it in a brewery with a big screen and a kick-ass sound system ought to be a really fun way to experience the movie.

The only issue is that because I'm a kid, I can't enjoy a few brews during the show, right?

Actually, I find I can't have any alcohol prior to accompanying a film. Even the slightest sip of wine seems to affect my ability to respond to a film musically.

Afterwards, it's another story entirely!

But back to tonight's show: We sometimes sell out screenings at the Aeronaut, which has limited capacity due to their occupancy permit.

But I just checked and it seems like there's room this evening for last-minute drop-ins. So come on down!

More info in the press release, which I'm posting below the one (below) about 'The Ring.'

* * *

A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Ring' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Early Hitchcock film highlights Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre summer series of vintage boxing movies

'The Ring' (1927), silent drama of two fighters in love with same woman, to be screened on Sunday, July 24 with live musical accompaniment

WILTON, N.H.—An early film directed by Alfred Hitchcock is next up in a summer series of vintage boxing movies at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

'The Ring' (1927), an intense tale of two fighters battling over the same woman, will be screened with live music on Sunday, July 24 at 4:30 p.m.

The boxing series is part of the Wilton Town Hall Theatre's monthly silent film program. Admission to the screenings is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested.

Live accompaniment will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'The Ring,' an early Hitchcock effort, was made when the director was still working in his native Great Britain.

The future "master of suspense" was just 28 years old when he helmed this silent drama set in the colorful world of English carnivals and fairgrounds.

'The Ring' is based on Hitchcock's only original screenplay, although he worked extensively alongside other writers throughout his career.

Silent-era boxing dramas are of interest to sports buffs because they're filled with scenes of the fight game at the height of its mainstream popularity.

At the time, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"As an elemental contest between two opponents, boxing inspired early filmmakers to do some some great work," Rapsis said. "It's a visual sport that doesn't require a lot of dialogue or commentary to understand, and so was perfect for silent movies."

The Wilton Town Hall Theatre has been showing films since 1912. In addition to running current releases on its two screens, the theater remains committed to alternative programming such as its ongoing series of silent films with live music.

The silent series gives local audiences to experience early cinema as it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Keaton in 'Battling Butler,' to be shown in August.

The series concludes on Sunday, Aug. 28 with 'Battling Butler' (1926), Buster Keaton's uproarious boxing comedy about a pampered millionaire mistaken for a champion fighter.

The Summer Silent Boxing Film Series continues with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Ring' (1927) on Sunday, July 24 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit For more info on the music, visit

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Douglas Fairbanks Sr. plays the title role in 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Aeronaut Brewing to screen 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) with live music on Sunday, 7/24

Epic silent film fantasy classic starring Douglas Fairbanks set new standards for Hollywood magic

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Silent film with live music returns to the Aeronaut Brewing Co. this month with a screening of one of early Hollywood's most exciting fantasy adventure movies.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars in 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), to be shown on Sunday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

Or here's a direct link to tickets.

The program is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance.

The athletic Fairbanks was the Harrison Ford of his time—a pioneering action hero among the first to entertain movie audiences with thrilling on-screen adventures.

Among his best work is 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), a timeless adventure boasting a great story, spectacular sets, and magical special effects.

In 'The Thief of Bagdad,' a bare-chested Fairbanks plays a crafty rogue who easily steals everything his heart desires—everything, that is, except the love of a beautiful princess, daughter of the powerful Caliph of Bagdad.

To win her hand, he must not only change his ways, but also convince her of his worthiness over many other highly placed suitors.

Doug flies carpet class in 'The Thief of Bagdad.'

In making the film, Fairbanks spared no expense for what some critics still regard as the most lavish fantasy movie ever made, a show-stopping adaptation of the traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" story in which a flying carpet is just one of many eye-popping sights that astounded movies audiences at the time.

Fairbanks, swaggering through massive marketplace sets and cavernous throne rooms as an incorrigible pickpocket, scales towering walls (with the help of a magic rope) and leads merry chases through crowded bazaars in his pursuit of loot—until he falls in love with the princess and vows to win her heart.

The jaunty opening is a preamble to the film's spectacular second half, in which the repentant thief embarks on an odyssey through caverns of fire, underwater palaces, and even outer space. Special effects range from a giant smoke-belching dragon to a magical flying horse, and still glow with a timeless sense of wonder from the early days of movies.

William Cameron Menzies's sets were among the largest ever created for a motion picture. Especially noteworthy is his design for a mythical Bagdad, a unique combination of Art Deco and Islamic elements—a dream city inspired by illustrations from story books.

Fairbanks, one of the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts. He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

More than 90 years after its premiere, 'The Thief of Bagdad' continues to be held in high regard. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Fairbanks himself considered 'The Thief of Bagdad' to be his personal favorite of all of his films.

Live music for 'The Thief of Bagdad' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

The screening continues the Aeronaut's silent film series, which aims to revive big-screen showings of great silent features that first caused audiences to fall in love with the movies.

"If you've never seen a silent film in a theater with live music and an audience, the Fairbanks pictures are a great way to experience the medium at its best," Rapsis said. "When you put all the elements together, silent film has an ability to stir up emotions in a way that no other medium can."

'The Thief of Bagdad' is appropriate for family audiences, although very small children may find some sequences frightening. The film runs 2 hours and 34 minutes.

'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks will be screened with live music on Sunday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info, visit

Here's a direct link to tickets.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

'Christmas in July' plus Mary Pickford feature
tonight (7/21) at Ogunquit's Leavitt Theatre

Mary Pickford in 'Tess of the Storm Country' (1922), playing tonight at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Busy lately, so I'm a little behind in the silent film postings.

But still, tonight's program at the Leavitt Theatre out in Ogunquit, Maine is a worthy one, so here goes.

Tonight at 8 p.m., we're running a 'Christmas in July' show that includes some shorter holiday silents and Mary Pickford's great 1922 melodrama 'Tess of the Storm Country.'

This program is one that's worked well during the actual holiday season.

People respond well to the early one-reel versions of 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' and Pickford's film (with its Yuletide ending) still packs a punch.

But this is the first time I've tried it out in mid-summer, decked out with a "Christmas in July" theme. So we'll see how it goes.

For more info, check out the text of the press release below. See you there!

* * *

Promotional ad for the 1914 version of 'Tess of the Storm Country.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Christmas in July' silent film program at the Leavitt on Thursday, July 21

Celebrate the season with holiday classics from a century ago, brought to life with live musical accompaniment

OGUNQUIT, Maine—What did people watch before special holiday TV programs such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" made their debut in the 1960s?

See for yourself with a special program of holiday classics from way back during the silent film era, all accompanied by live music.

Included will be the first-ever film versions of such popular tales as 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' the poem by Clement C. Moore; each are more than a century old and less than 10 minutes long.

The family-friendly program will be presented on Thursday, July 21 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. in downtown Ogunquit, Maine. Admission is $10 per person.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

The evening will be highlighted by a screening of 'Tess of the Storm Country' (1922), a full-length drama starring Mary Pickford that features a special Christmas-oriented ending.

"Even in the early days of cinema, the movies helped popularize classic holiday stories," Rapsis said. "So it's a real treat for us to turn back the clock and see where the tradition of holiday movies and TV specials first began."

The program will include the first known movie versions of 'A Christmas Carol' (1910) and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' (1905).

The films each run less than 10 minutes long and were both produced as novelties by Thomas Edison, the inventor credited with pioneering the motion picture.

'Tess of the Storm County' (1922), a full-length feature, has been hailed as among Mary Pickford's best pictures.

The film tells a story of conflict between residents of a poor fishing village who live near the the estate of a wealthy family.

As the feisty daughter of a village leader who is unjustly put in jail, Pickford plays a key role in a melodramatic plot that takes many surprising turns.

Pickford, a pioneering film superstar, was a major force in early Hollywood, helping establish the United Artists studio and serving as a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the annual Oscar awards.

However, Pickford's films receive comparatively little attention today, in part due to the myth that Pickford often played wholesome and traditional female characters that conformed with society's expectations at the time.

A slide promoting 'Tess of the Storm Country.'

In truth, Pickford's best movies often featured her in roles that required her to take action, challenge authority, and play strong roles uncommon for a woman of the era.

The "Christmas in July" Program at the Leavitt will give local audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—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 improvises a movie's musical score live as it screens. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today."

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

Critics review 'Tess of the Storm Country':

"The most insistently moving picture ever made, its climax is the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy."
—The New York Times

"The reason to watch is Pickford's elfin grace; she is at her criminally cutest here. Tess boasts rapturous pictorialism and an all-stops-out-climax."
—Richard Corliss, Film Comment

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies to summertime visitors for nine decades.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

Upcoming shows in this year's silent series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m.: 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926); comic Harry Langdon enters a cross-country foot race to impress his dream girl, Joan Crawford!

• Thursday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m.: 'The Sheik' (1921) and 'Son of the Sheik' (1926), two popular films of silent screen icon Rudolph Valentino on the 90th anniversary of his death.

• Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m.: 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1927); Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper compete for a woman's favor in this epic Western filmed on location.

• Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m.: 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928); celebrate Halloween with a creepy but riveting historical tale about a man forced to go through life with a maniacal grin.

A 'Christmas in July' silent film program featuring Mary Pickford in 'Tess of the Storm Country' (1922) will be shown on Thursday, July 21 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission $10 per person. For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit

Friday, July 15, 2016

Help restore MGM's 'Bardelys the Magnificent'
at Red River in Concord, N.H. on Friday, 7/15

John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman in the formerly lost film 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926). No, the candle is not part of Boardman's hat.

About 11,000 feature films were produced in the U.S. during the silent era. Of those, about 8,500 are now lost, meaning no copies are known to exist anywhere.

Wow! But the good news is that films thought to be lost are still being found, even at this late date.

We'll be running one of the most prominent "unlost" films, the MGM historical romance 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926), on Friday, July 15 at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

Showtime is 7 p.m. and there's more info in the attached press release.

Set in the France of King Louis XIII, it's a big-budget swashbuckling adventure film with an impressive pedigree: directed by King Vidor, and starring John Gilbert (MGM's top star at the time) and Eleanor Boardman, an actress who was Vidor's wife.

And in this case, it really shouldn't have been lost, because MGM generally took care of its back catalog of prints.

While other studios routinely junked release prints to recover the silver content, or just neglected films that had finished their theatrical runs, MGM from the beginning made an effort to maintain its "vault."

So what happened? In the case of 'Bardelys,' the film was based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini. When MGM's licensing deal with Sabatini expired in 1936, the studio opted not to renew.

As part of the deal, it was obligated to destroy the film's negative as well as all positive prints, which it did.

And that was that! Business is business.

Later, when people got interested in silent cinema, no copies of 'Bardelys' could be found anywhere.

So for decades, it was considered a lost film. All we had was the film's 'Coming Attractions' trailer, as well as a brief but tantalizing sequence that was used in a later MGM film directed by Vidor, 'Show People' (1928). And posters like the one at left.

But then, as sometimes happens, a nearly complete copy of the European version of 'Bardelys' was found in France in 2006. It had French intertitles and was missing most of Reel 3, but otherwise was intact and in pretty good shape.

Using MGM records, the original English titles were recreated, and the missing footage of Reel 3 was recreated using material from the trailer as well as still photographs and explanatory titles.

And behold: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' was "unlost," and able to be seen for the first time since its original 1926 release.

I first encountered the film at the Kansas Silent Film Festival a few years ago, with live music by the wonderful Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

It plays very well, and is an important missing link in the silent film catalog.

And it's also a perfect summertime escapist film, which is why we're running it at Red River—a day after Bastille Day, I might add.

But no lost silent film is truly "unlost" unless it's screened as intended: in a theater, with live music, and with an audience.

And that's where you come in. Hope you can join us and help conjure up the excitement and adventure of early Hollywood as we screen 'Bardelys the Magnificent' at Red River Theatres!

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Before it got lost, it had to get made: shooting 'Bardelys the Magnificent' with Eleanor Boardman, cameraman William Daniels, and director King Vidor.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rediscovered silent film swashbuckler to 're-premier' in Concord, N.H. on Friday, July 15

'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926), epic long thought lost until a copy was found in Europe, to be screened with live music

CONCORD, N.H.—A major Hollywood feature—a film lost for decades until a copy surfaced in France in 2006—will soon get its local big screen "re-premier."

'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926), a big-budget MGM historical romance starring John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman, will be screened on Friday, July 15 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres,, 11 South Main Street in Concord.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

Based on a novel by prolific Italian/English author Rafael Sabatini, 'Bardelys the Magnificent' is an epic tale of love, honor, and derring-do set during the reign of King Louis XIII of France.

The story follows the adventures of French nobleman Bardelys, who assumes the identity of a dead man to be close to the woman he loves. The ruse backfires, however, when it turns out the dead man is wanted for treason against the King.

This propels Bardelys into a series of swashbuckling adventures as he must avoid being caught and executed, all the while pursuing his beloved.

The title role is played by legendary leading man John Gilbert, then at the height of his 1920s stardom. Gilbert was popular for his good looks, magnetic personality, and athletic stunts. Actress Eleanor Boardman plays Roxalanne, his love interest; the huge cast includes many silent film-era stars and supporting players.

'Bardelys the Magnificent' was directed by King Vidor, who was responsible for several well-known silent-era classics, including 'The Big Parade' (1925), 'The Crowd' (1928), and 'Show People' (1928).

The picture was a solid hit in its original release, enhancing the reputations of everyone involved. Later, MGM's rights to the Sabatini novel expired in 1936, and the studio destroyed all copies per the licensing agreement. It was only later that archivists released that no other copies of the film were known to have survived anywhere.

For six decades, the only footage of 'Bardelys the Magnificent' known to exist was a brief clip included in a movie theater scene in 'Show People,' another Vidor picture. 'Bardelys' was regarded as a major lost feature film from the silent era.

Then, in 2006, researchers in France discovered an almost complete copy of 'Bardelys the Magnificent' in a private collection. The print was missing about 10 minutes of footage, but was otherwise intact and in excellent condition.

The missing footage is replaced with still photos taken on the set, written descriptions, and by scenes recovered from a 'Coming attractions' trailer for the film. The story is now easily followed.

Restoration was completed in 2008; the film was subsequently released on DVD, and has since been screened at several festivals around the country—but not not in Concord until now.

"With it being the day after Bastille Day, we thought it would be a great time to screen this historical romance set in France," Rapsis said.

...and before it got made into a "photoplay" (meaning movie), it was a novel by Rafael Sabatini.

Silent films were produced until 1929, when talkies arrived. About 75 percent of all movies made during the silent era are now lost due to decomposition, carelessness, fire, or neglect. But copies of "missing" films still occasionally turn up in archives and collections around the world, so researchers and archivists continue to make discoveries.

For 'Bardelys the Magnificent,' Rapsis will improvise a score using original musical material that he creates beforehand. For a movie score to support 'Bardelys,' Rapsis will use a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'Bardelys the Magnificent' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at Red River Theatres. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again, it's surprising how these films jump back to life," Rapsis said. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

Upcoming silent film programs at Red River include:

• Friday, Aug. 12: 'The Yankee Clipper' (1927) starring William Boyd. Period drama set in the 19th century; two clipper ships race from China to Boston to compete for a lucrative tea contract.

• Friday, Sept. 16: 'Spies' (1928). Director Fritz Lang followed his futuristic saga 'Metropolis' with this pioneering espionage thriller that created the template for all future James Bond movies.

• Friday, Oct. 14: 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927). Creepy haunted house thriller set the stage for great Universal classics such as 'Dracula' and 'The Mummy.'

'Bardelys the Magnificent' will be shown on Friday, July 15 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

'Spite Marriage' (1929), Keaton's last silent,
on Thursday, July 14 in Plymouth, N.H.

An original lobby card for 'Spite Marriage.'

'Spite Marriage,' Buster Keaton's last silent feature, is often looked at as his 'transition' film.

It came after the brilliance of 'The Cameraman' (1928), and led directly to the alleged mediocrity of his MGM talkies, which in turn led to his career unraveling.

For me as a teenager, this was reinforced by a book on Keaton I found in the public library of my hometown of Nashua, N.H.

David Robinson's 'The Films of Buster Keaton' was an eye-opener. It introduced me to the basic plots and settings of all of Keaton's feature films, none of which I had seen.

(At age 13, I was just beginning to order 8mm prints of Keaton's short films such as 'Cops,' which in 1977 was the only way you could see them.)

Robinson's book, published in 1971, focused on the features Keaton produced independently for producer Joseph Schenk up through 1928's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.'

Keaton signed with MGM after that, and for some reason Robinson glossed over Keaton's two MGM silents, 'The Cameraman' and 'Spite Marriage.'

Of the two, at least 'The Cameraman' got some analysis and commentary. But 'Spite Marriage' merited barely a mention, with Robinson admitting it wasn't available for viewing and that he'd never seen it.

So this planted on my impressionable mind the idea that 'Spite Marriage' was somehow a lame horse, a misfire, a mistake that wasn't up to Keaton's standards and perhaps not even a real "Keaton" film at all.

And this didn't change until many years later, when I finally, actually saw the picture. And I was surprised to find it quite polished (it was MGM, after all) and with no shortage of what seemed to be great Keaton sequences and gags. It was like discovering Beethoven had written a symphony that no one knew about.

This was confirmed when I ran the picture with an audience a few years ago. People roared!

Pretty good for Buster's "transition," film, I thought. But I've accompanied it several times since, and it always kills. Maybe I'd been selling 'Spite Marriage' short all this time.

Well, I'm now delighted to accompany Buster's last silent feature whenever and wherever. And that means tomorrow night (Thursday, July 14) at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in downtown Plymouth, N.H.

Hope you can join us! More info in the press release below.

* * *

Dorothy Sebastian and Buster in 'Spite Marriage.'

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Classic Buster Keaton farce 'Spite Marriage' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, July 14

Pioneering comedian's final silent feature film to be screened with live musical accompaniment

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 and timeless visual humor, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Spite Marriage' (1929), Keaton's last silent feature film, on Thursday, July 14 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.

The program will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

'Spite Marriage' finds the poker-faced comic smitten by stage actress Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian)—so much so that he joins the cast of her current production, a Civil War melodrama.

The fun begins when she unexpectedly asks Buster to marry her, but only to get even with an old flame. Complications with gangsters lead to a climax at sea, making for a classic Keaton comedy full of memorable routines.

Buster in the play-within-a-movie in 'Spite Marriage.'

The program opens with short comedy films Keaton made earlier in his career.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great comics of the silent screen. Many 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."

"Buster Keaton was the stone-faced comic who never smiled on camera, so he's sometimes thought of as the most silent of the silent clowns," Rapsis said.

"But seen today, his films are remarkable for their effective story construction, their innovative cinematography, and their ability to still produce gales of laughter," Rapsis said. "A chance to see a Keaton film as originally presented—in a theater, with live music and an audience—is not to be missed."

'Spite Marriage' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Flying Monkey. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

Rapsis said it's currently a new golden age for silent film because so many titles have been restored, and are now available to watch at home or via online streaming.

However, the Flying Monkey series enables film fans to really understand the power of early cinema, which was intended to be shown on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put those elements together like we do at the Flying Monkey, and films from the silent era spring right back to life in a way that helps you understand why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

Upcoming programs in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: Rudolph Valentino Double Feature! On the 90th anniversary of the heartthrob's shocking and untimely death, we pay tribute with 'The Sheik' (1921) and 'Son of the Sheik' (1926). Bring tissues!

Buster Keaton's comedy 'Spite Marriage' will be shown on Thursday, July 14 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 For more info on the music, visit

Godfrey Daniels—W.C. Fields a humanitarian?
But that's what we found out last Sunday

Dr. Harriet A. Fields, granddaughter of W.C., outside the Somerville Theatre, with her visit noted on the marquee.

More than a century after his first appearance on film, W.C. Fields still packs 'em in. And he still sends 'em home happy!

That's one thing I learned from our show this past Sunday at the Somerville Theatre: a double bill of two Fields silent features, plus some rare clips and short films.

A big turnout of nearly 200 fans, some wearing Fields hats, roared at the films, which are rarely screened and have been overshadowed by his later work in talkies.

I also learned a lot from Dr. Harriet Fields, the comedian's granddaughter and our guest for the weekend. (Harriet, who has her own career in health care and education, serves as Vice President of W.C. Fields Productions, Inc., which maintains a Web site at

All along, I assumed Fields' popularity rested on his acerbic response to life: the retorts, the cynicism, the kicking of children, and—later in his career—threatening the wooden ventriloquist's dummy Charlie McCarthy with bodily harm during their prolonged radio feud.

Fields with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in the golden age of radio. Yes, Bergen's ventriloquist act was a big on-air hit.

I had lumped Fields into the same category as, say, Groucho Marx. W.C. was an outrageous figure who did and said stuff we'd all like to do.

But Harriet opened my eyes to a crucial facet of Fields that underpins the way we respond to what he does. It's the warmth and humanity that lies just below the surface.

This is what really drives the comedy in most of his roles.

And you know, she's right.

In most of his roles, Fields is at heart a good man faced with a giant-sized helping of the obstacles all of us face, then and now.

And a big part of the comedy that ensues comes from the empathy this generates. We've all been there. And we know what he's thinking, because we've thought those thoughts ourselves.

So the comedy of Fields transcends insult and cynicism, and is actually rooted in character. It's his desire to achieve respect of those around him, or to not lose it, that make the comedy timeless.

This was certainly the case with the two rarely screened silent features we ran on Sunday, July 10 at the Somerville.

An original lobby card for 'So's Your Old Man' (1926).

In 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) Fields plays a small town inventor whose unbreakable auto glass proves an epic flop, exposing him to scorn and ridicule of his friends and neighbors.

In 'It's the Old Army Game' (1926), he's a pharmacist (again in a small town) who gets caught up in a real estate scam that threatens to bankrupt the entire community.

(Both films were shown via beautiful 35mm prints on loan from the Library of Congress. I can't say enough about what a difference this makes in recreating the silent film experience.)

Interesting how both films place Fields in that most-demanding of milieus, the repressive small town where gossip seems to be a varsity sport.

And yes—as Dr. Fields pointed out, in both films a daughter who believes in him and supports him despite all that happens.

The dynamic is especially strong in another silent, 'Running Wild' (1927), in which Fields lacks the respect of his shrewish second wife, but has a daughter from his first wife who worships him.

In each of these stories, Fields shows he's capable of inspiring loyalty in at least someone. So you want him to triumph, if only to validate the faith of his loyal daughters.

When screened as intended (in a theater, with live music), these comedies produce gales of laughter. And after our screenings on Sunday, people told me they were surprised at how good they were.

Well, I think that's in part because the laughter is related to the universal human condition. It's a close relative of the work of Laurel & Hardy. There's a warmth present that drives the comedy, and also makes it timeless.

It's also capable of crossing cultural boundaries. Harriet is fond of recounting how she recently screened vintage Fields comedies to audiences in the African nation of Rwanda, where she's done a lot of professional work in the field of health care education.

Despite the complete lack of a shared culture, people loved the movies.

Why? Because the comedy of Fields, at its heart, is derived from things that transcend cultural differences, and qualities that unite us as humans: family, friendship, loyalty, perseverance.

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

In the medium of silent film, the way Fields handles these issues seem even more universal. And that was one reason that Sunday's program was such a delight.

And it was loooong! We started at 2 p.m., and didn't finish until about 6:30 p.m.!

In addition to the two features, we ran rare 35mm prints of some Fields sound films: 'The Pharmacist' (1932), an excerpt from 'Tales of Manhattan' (1942) (which featured Phil Silvers with hair), and a curious educational film from 1933, 'How to Break 90 #3, Hip Action' in which golf pro Bobby Jones explains how improper hip motion adversely affects the backswing.

In 'Hip Action,' Fields is seen wandering a golf course, and at one point juggles golf balls. But most of the film was devoted to detailed advice on improving one's golf swing, so I'm glad it came near the end of the program.

Many thanks to Harriet for being such a wonderful guest, and such an eloquent advocate for her grandfather's work.

Dr. Harriet Fields greets fans following our marathon program on Sunday, July 10.

In case you missed the Somerville show, Harriet is scheduled to be a guest at the next Kansas Silent Film Festival, slated for late February, 2017. And yes, at least one (and maybe more) of the Fields silent features will be on the program. I'll be there, and I hope you'll make it, too.

Or if you're in Rwanda, check your local listings. Either way, mark your calendars!

Harriet and me outside the Somerville Theatre, posing in traffic.

(P.S. For another perspective, check out this blog post by an attendee.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hosting W.C. Fields' granddaughter for show
at Somerville Theatre on Sunday, July 10

Dr. Harriet Fields, granddaughter of W.C.

One of the perks of doing silent film music is that you occasionally get to rub elbows with descendants of the on-screen luminaries.

Yes, the stars themselves may be gone, but their families are with us—living links of a sort to the vanished era of movies without soundtracks.

Many take an active role in tending the legacy of their famous fore-bearers, the family of W.C. Fields being one of the best examples.

The four Fields grandchildren collectively manage W.C. Fields Productions, Inc., and they continue to cultivate interest in their grandfather's long and storied career.

Part of that legacy was the substantial amount of work Field did during the silent film era. Few people realize it today because his later "talkie" appearances are what ensured his immortality.

But the silent films hold up well, and I'm pleased to say they'll be front and center of a program we're running at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday, July 10.

And I'm ever more pleased to say our special guest will be Dr. Harriet Fields, the only granddaughter of W.C., who will be on hand to speak of her granddad's achievements and answer questions.

The program is highlighted by pristine 35mm prints (from the Library of Congress) of two of the best Fields silents: 'So's Your Old Man' and 'It's the Old Army Game,' both from 1926.

But, courtesy the detective work of master projectionist David Kornfeld, we also have prints of Fields' first-ever movie appearance in 'Pool Sharks' (1915) as well as other goodies.

It promises to be a memorable program. And the lousy weekend forecast (rainy and damp) in these parts bodes well for attendance.

So I hope you can join the Field-centric fun, which starts at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 at the Somerville Theatre. More info in the press release below.

* * *

A lobby card for W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Somerville Theatre to screen rare silent films starring comic icon W.C. Fields

Program on Sunday, July 10 hosted by Dr. Harriet Fields, comedian's granddaughter and advocate for his work

Double feature shows legendary performer in earlier prime as younger man; program accompanied by live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—He was a performer who could be recognized by just the nasal twang of his voice.

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

Rediscover the non-talking W.C. Fields in and 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) and 'It's The Old Army Game' (1926), two of Fields' best silent pictures, in a double-bill screening on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

Both films will be screened using 35mm prints from the U.S. Library of Congress. General admission to the double feature is $15 per person.

Special guest for the event will be Dr. Harriet A. Fields, granddaughter of W.C. Fields. Dr. Fields, a longtime advocate of her grandfather's work, will share stories of her family and answer questions about W.C. Fields, his achievements, and his films.

Dr. Fields currently serves as vice president of W.C. Fields Productions, Inc., which maintains a Web site at

Live musical scoring for the movies will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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

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

W.C. Fields co-starred with a young Louise Brooks in 'It's the Old Army Game.'

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

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

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

The Fields double feature is the latest installment of the Somerville Theatre's monthly "Silents, Please!" series, designed to showcase the silent era's best feature films the way they were intended to be shown—using actual 35mm film prints projected on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all these elements together, the films come to life in a way that's surprising to modern audiences," said Ian Judge, the Somerville's general manager. "Our silent film series has been very successful at attracting an audience, we're thrilled to continue it on a monthly basis."

In 'So's Your Old Man' (1926), Fields plays Sam Bisbee, inventor of a new shatter-proof windshield glass and regarded as a crackpot by the townsfolk. After a demonstration of his glass to auto executives goes awry, he faces ridicule and shame. On the way home, Bisbee encounters a woman he thinks is trying to commit suicide, and so prevents her.

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

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

A lobby card for 'It's the Old Army Game.'

In 'It's The Old Army Game' (1926), Fields portrays Elmer Prettywillie, a small-town pharmacist beset with large-scale frustrations—his nagging sister and her brat of a kid; annoying customers; self-centered, middle-aged women; and uncooperative inanimate objects of all kinds.

Prettywillie’s lovely shop assistant (legendary silent beauty Louise Brooks) gets the harried shopkeeper even further over his head, when she encourages him to take part in a land-selling scheme being promoted by a slick salesman (George Parker).

The druggist helps the salesman make a heap of cash, selling his parcels of land; but when a detective hauls the salesman out of town, it’s Elmer who is left holding the bag.

The result is a timeless domestic farce that foreshadows Fields' later talking films and continues to delight audiences when screened as intended: in a theater, with live music and an audience.

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

Fields appears as an even younger man in 'Pool Sharks' (1915), a short comedy also on the program. The film marks the first appearance of Fields on screen, and will be included as a bonus extra in the Somerville's program.

The program will also include rare 35mm prints of several Fields short subjects with synchronized sound.

Fields (at left) during the golf routine that concludes 'So's Your Old Man.'

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

"Improvising a score live is a bit of a high-wire act, but it allows me to follow and support the film a lot more effectively than if I was buried in sheet music," Rapsis said. "Instead, I'm free to follow the film right in the moment. Each time it's different, which lends a certain energy and immediacy and excitement to the experience."

A W.C. Fields silent double feature, with special guest Dr. Harriet A. Fields, will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission is $15 adults, $12 students/seniors; general admission seating. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit For more info on the music, visit