Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Looking back at a RR double feature;
looking ahead to 'The Crowd' on Sunday, 10/5

Must be a screening coming up because here's the poster!

A much-anticipated screening (by me, and others, I hope) of 'The Crowd' (1928) in 35mm is coming up on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass.

I do hope 'The Crowd' draws a crowd. But before getting into that, first let me tip my engineer's cap to two great silent train melodramas I accompanied this past Sunday at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Both films were bottom-of-the-bill programmers intended to play theaters for maybe a week, and then be forgotten.

But the folks who put together this pictures knew what they were doing. Their work holds up today, judging by the huge reaction each got from our audience.

'The West-Bound Limited' (1923), released by Joseph P. Kennedy's company FBO, focused on a rivalry for the affections of the daughter of the railroad's president.

Opening with a dramatic action sequence, this hour-long flick played like a house afire, with one intense scene after another.

'Transcontinental Limited' (1926), from second-tier studio Chadwick Pictures, focused more on the human side of things, and had a lot more humor in it.

But it too came through with a rip-roaring railroad climax that sent our audience (and me) home breathless and smiling.

Both these pictures are great examples, I think, of how the value of a particular silent film is hard to know unless you show it before an audience in a theater with live music.

Time and time again, I've encountered films that seem like nothing special when viewed on my own, but which sprang to life when screened as originally intended.

In addition, both train pictures were of interest because they focused on an aspect of American life that's completely different from today.

Gone are the days when the nation's cities and towns were connected by a dense network of passenger rail services. So it's fascinating to see society arranged and functioning in such a different way.

One issue with accompanying 'Transcontinental Limited' was the prominent role played by a then-popular novelty song, "Mademoiselle from Armentières," better known as "Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous."

I took a snatch of the melody, and also the rhythm of the song (which I didn't otherwise know) and used it extensively as the score emerged.

But that wasn't enough for about a half-dozen people in the audience, who came up afterwards to sing the whole thing in an impromptu recital right there in the theater.

Sliding into 'The Crowd,' with cast members on location at Coney Island.

About 'The Crowd': this was one of the first films I attempted to score. At the time I only had access to a blurry digital transfer, but the power of King Vidor's vision still came through.

I haven't done it since, due mostly to the inability to get a decent-looking edition. Also, I wanted to make sure my technique was up to what this film required.

Well, the "good-looking edition" question was solved earlier this year when Ian Judge, manager of the Somerville Theatre, got access to a 35mm print of the film, and scheduled it as part of the theater's monthly 'Silents Please!' series.

So I'm really excited to see this film on the big screen as originally intended. Why? Plenty of reasons are found in the press release below, which has all the details.

And as for technique—well, I don't know. I'm planning on doing an "all strings" score, using material that will grow out of open fifths with a kind of "Fanfare for the Common Man" kind of feel.

I think one of the keys to having music help tie the film together is to have some specific and easily recognizable music for scenes with clowns in them.

I won't say why, because I don't want to spoil the picture if you haven't seen it. And also, there's one specific tune (played by record on a Victrola) that I need to have ready.

Still, no matter how much experience I get, when I sit down to accompany a film, it's like stepping into the batter's box. Anything could happen, from a home run to a strikeout.

But my confidence is growing. Just today (Tuesday, Sept. 30), I'm headed down to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to accompany a program of Chaplin films for a silent cinema course.

Harvard! As I've been joking lately, I might not have received that acceptance letter 32 years ago—but I knew if I waited long enough, I'd eventually get the call!

Hope to see you in the crowd at 'The Crowd' on Sunday, Oct. 5. More info in the press release below...

* * *

Tension is on the breakfast menu for James Murray and Eleanor Boardman in 'The Crowd' (1928).

MONDAY, SEPT. 29, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film masterpiece 'The Crowd' to be screened in Somerville


Program on Sunday, Oct. 5 features 35mm film print, live musical accompaniment

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—One of the first major Hollywood films to use the life of an average family to create intense and moving drama will highlight the next installment of the Somerville Theatre's "Silents Please!" series.

'The Crowd' (1928), an MGM silent film that probed the dark side of the American dream, expanded the language of cinema and earned two nominations at the first-ever Academy Awards.

'The Crowd' will be screened on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. Admission $15 for adults; $12 for students/seniors.

The movie will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. 'The Crowd' will be shown in the Somerville Theatre's main theater using a 35mm print.

'The Crowd' follows one man's story from birth through young adulthood, marriage, and family life. Although a drama, the film embraces a wide range of emotions from comedy to tragedy. Above all, it used the then-new art form of motion pictures to transform an ordinary life into a powerful narrative and universal story that even today maintains its power to move audiences.

In addition, director King Vidor insisted on giving 'The Crowd' an unprecedented realism, shooting scenes on location on New York City streets. Unusual for a big studio production at the time, the film featured scenes shot in a small apartment's cramped and unglamorous bathroom, including Hollywood's first-ever on-screen flush toilet.

Irony Department: An New York apartment meant to be a cramped walk-up actually looks kinda spacious by today's standards.

"This is the one first pictures that compelled audience members to think hard about their own lives—where they were going, and what it was all about," said Ian Judge, manager of the Somerville Theatre. "It connected powerfully with audiences, and showed the power of the movies to really move people in ways that no art form had done before in the same way."

The film stars James Murray in the lead role as John Sims and Eleanor Boardman as his wife, Mary.

'The Crowd' mixes striking visual styles and moving camera cinematography, influenced by 1920s German cinema and F.W. Murnau in particular, with intense, intimate scenes of the family's poignant struggle. Vidor avoided casting big-name stars in the film to attain greater authenticity; Murray was a studio extra, and Boardman was a minor actress and Vidor's second wife.

Vidor's great financial success as a director at MGM in the 1920s allowed him to sell the unusual scenario to production head Irving Thalberg as an experimental film as the silent era was ending. MGM chief Louis B. Mayer reportedly disliked the film for its bleak subject matter and lack of a happy ending. In fact, several alternate upbeat endings were filmed and previewed at the studio's insistence, but Vidor persevered and the film was released with the original, logical conclusion.

At the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929, 'The Crowd' was honored with a nomination for "Unique and Artistic Picture" and Vidor nominated for Best Director.

James Murray in 'The Crowd.' After an amazing performance, Murray sank back into obscurity and died young in the 1930s.

With then-new talking pictures capturing the public's attention, 'The Crowd' was only a modest box office success upon its initial release. Since then, it has been consistently hailed as one of the greatest and most enduring American silent films.

In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Although 'The Crowd' was recognized as a brilliant achievement, few directors followed in Vidor's footsteps right away. Depression-era audiences sought escapist entertainment over the stark realism of 'The Crowd,' which filmmakers would not embrace again until after the end of World War II.

Director Jean-Luc Godard was asked in the 1960s why more films were not made about ordinary people, and his response was "Why remake 'The Crowd?' It has already been done."

Recent reviewers have found 'The Crowd' as compelling and timeless as ever.

"Certainly one of Vidor's best films, a silent masterpiece which turns a realistically caustic eye on the illusionism of the American dream. ... The performances are absolutely flawless, and astonishing location work in the busy New York streets lends a gritty ring of truth."
—Tom Milne, Time Out

"Perhaps the best silent film ever made and undoubtedly the most existential. If you don’t like the silent era, think again — and take a peek at The Crowd."
—AMC Movie Guide

'The Crowd' will be shown using a 35mm black-and-white print on the theater's big screen with correct lighting, speed, and aspect ratio. Although the Somerville, like most movie houses, recently installed digital projection for first-run pictures, the theater remains committed to keeping alive the experience of film in the 35mm format.

"For more than a century, movies were shot and edited and watched using 35mm film," said Rapsis, who will create live music to accompany the film. "Today, the chance to see a vintage film in its original format and in a theater is increasingly rare. The Somerville's screening of 'The Crowd' is a chance to experience this movie in the format and setting it was designed for."

The screening is the latest in a series of silent film events celebrating the recent 100th birthday of the Somerville Theatre, where movies have been shown since 1914. Upcoming screenings in the 'Silents, Please!' series include:

• Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.: 'The Strong Man' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. With World War I over, baby-faced soldier Harry Langdon searches for the girl who sent such moving letters to him in the trenches. Directed by a very young Frank Capra, 'The Strong Man' is today hailed as Langdon's best feature, and also one of the great comedies of the silent film era.

'The Crowd' will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission $15 adults, $12 students/seniors. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Friday, September 26, 2014

One track mind, two railroad pictures:
Railroad flicks on Sunday, 9/28 in Wilton, N.H.

The passenger depot still stands in Wilton, N.H., but the tracks are only used for freight.

Two railroad melodramas are on the bill for a silent film program Sunday, Sept. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

For more info about the flicks, please check out the press release included below.

Pondering this program, I think it's a great example of how silent films, rather than fading into irrelevance as decades pass, can sometimes become more interesting over time.

In this case, both films show how not long ago, railroads played a crucial part in the day-to-day lives of most people in this country.

Really. In the United States, before the Interstate Highway system and modern air travel came into being (starting after World War II), if you wanted to go anywhere, you went by train.

Silent cinema reflects this reality. In picture after picture, characters hop on and off trains to make journeys with a frequency that's just completely alien to us today.

At the time, the nation was honey-combed and criss-crossed with rail lines connecting small towns and big cities across the land. This network was no accident, but the result of a century of railroad building all over the continent.

The dense rail network in New Hampshire in 1898. Several more lines were built as the network expanded up until the 1920s. Today, almost all these lines are gone.

But with the rise of highway and air travel, the U.S. essentially abandoned its robust passenger rail system. And this in turn greatly affected how town and cities were developed.

You know the story: with the rise of auto-dependent decentralized suburbia, city centers declined into centers of poverty, etc. Over time, fewer places in the U.S. looked like, say, downtown Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946), and more of us wound up living in Dick Van Dyke's New Rochelle, N.Y., just to pick an example.

The merits of this transformation can be debated. What silent film gives us, almost by accident, is a vivid window into how society functioned a century ago, before all these changes. And it turns out to be an incredible record.

Think of it: even the most preposterous low budget silent film program filler, in theaters for maybe a week and then forgotten, is filled with images of society and how it functioned: the clothes we wore, how we worked, where and how we ate, and, yes, how we traveled.

Seen today, such images have a layer of interest their creators never anticipated. It's accidental history. And I think it will become even more compelling as time passes.

Again, think of it: what if we had films from the time of Shakespeare, or from the Roman Empire? They'd contain a wealth of information, even just in terms of the backgrounds.

With silent film, we're not there yet. But the time will come, I think, when vintage cinema of all types will be routinely seen as unique and vital historical record, regardless of its entertainment or artistic value.

So that's one reason to preserve the films, good or bad, and keep showing them today—so that they will not be forgotten, and so future generations will be able to wonder at the unintentional revelations embedded within them.

For now, Sunday's double feature of railroad melodramas will certainly give you a sense of how much has already changed in just the past 100 years, at least in terms of how we regard railroads.

Today, railroads are regarded with such disdain (and are so disconnected to our regular lives, except when we're stuck at a crossing), that companies such as CSX find it in their interest to run public service advertising just to explain what they do.

But in the 1920s, railroads were the highly respected lifelines of the nation. They were also the subject of romance, adventure, drama, and thrills, as our two pictures will demonstrate.

And once more, think of it: in the 1920s, you could have taken a train to Wilton, N.H., where the station (still standing) is just a short walk from the Town Hall Theatre. By a miracle, the tracks are still in place (most in N.H. were torn up decades ago), but today the line only sees freight service to a quarry the next town over. Not much glamour there.

* * *


TUESDAY, SEPT. 16, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Stop! Look! Vintage railroad melodramas on Sunday, Sept. 28 at Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre


Live music to accompany double feature program of classic silent-era train thrillers on the big screen

WILTON, N.H.—A double feature of vintage train melodramas will promise an express ride to excitement later this month when the Wilton Town Hall Theatre screens a pair of rarely scene silent-era railroad films with live music.

'The West-Bound Limited' (1923) and 'Transcontinental Limited' (1926) will be screened on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggested to help defray expenses.

In 'The West-Bound Limited,' a fired employee takes revenge on the railroad by setting a trap for a head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train.

In 'Transcontinental Limited,' Jerry Reynolds is an aging train engineer fast approaching retirement, but his eyes are giving out even faster! Will he still collect his pension?

Both movies were shot on location on actual working railroad lines. Made at a time when massive steam engines ruled the rails, both films are filled with scenes that train buffs will find fascinating today.

Railroad films were a popular sub-genre during the silent film era, when trains were the primary mode of long distance travel in the U.S. As an important part of the daily life of virtually every community in the land, railroads formed a popular background for many early films.

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

In reviving these two rarely shown train melodramas, organizers aim to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the films. "Recreate those conditions, and movies of early Hollywood like these railroad dramas leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

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

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

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

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

Upcoming films in the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series include:

• Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, 4:30 p.m.: Lon Chaney Halloween Creepfest. 'The Unholy Three' (1925) and 'West of Zanzibar' (1928). Two really really odd early thrillers about crime, twisted love, and bodily mutilation starring Lon Chaney, the man of 1,000 faces. Just in time for Halloween!

• Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, 4:30 p.m.: Buster Keaton in 'Seven Chances.' Finish off Thanksgiving weekend with a helping of laughter courtesy Buster Keaton. A pair of classic short comedies, then 'Seven Chances' (1925), a wild feature in which Buster has until sundown to get married or lose a fortune!

• Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, 4:30 p.m.: Chaplin's Short Best Comedies. This Christmas, receive some laughs! Mark the 100th anniversary of Chaplin's iconic 'Little Tramp' character with a selection of his best short comedies. A great way for the whole family to cap off the holiday weekend.

• Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, 4:30 p.m.: Silent Sci-Fi: 'Woman in the Moon.' An early sci-fi adventure epic about the first rocket ship to the moon, as imagined in 1929. Made on a grand scale; the rarely-screened final silent feature from German filmmaker Fritz Lang, director 'Metropolis.'

The Town Hall Theatre's 2014-15 season of silent film kicks off with a double feature of railroad melodramas on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 4:30 p.m at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggested to help defray expenses.

For more information, call the theater at (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. For more information on the music, please visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Coming up: Two screenings of 'College' (1927),
along with thoughts about a missing sequence

Dean Snitz Edwards gestures to Keaton's sports equipment, which includes football gear, a clue that part of the film is missing.

First, a humble thanks to all readers. This little blog about silent film recently surpassed 150,000 page views!

I'm grateful for the interest. And I'll do my best to keep things informative and thought-provoking.

And for you aspiring bloggers, here's a tip. The way to really increase hits is to find ways to mention Jesus in your blog.

Seriously! One of my most-visited pages ever was this modest post in which I compared Harry Langdon to Jesus Christ.

Okay, back to business:

Next up is a pair of screenings of Buster Keaton's campus comedy 'College' (1927) at, yes, two local colleges.

On Wednesday, Sept. 24, the film opens the 2014-15 silent film series at the Rogers Center for the Arts, on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

And then on Thursday, Sept. 25, we'll screen the film at the Putnam Center for the Arts at Keene State College in Keene, N.H.

Keaton's 'College' to me is a good example of how so much of silent film is like the Venus de Milo, or Schubert's 'Unfinished Symphony.'

Yes, it's true that about three-quarters of all silent film is lost. But even films that are nominally complete are sometimes missing things, or exist in some kind of compromised state.

Like the Venus de Milo, such film are missing limbs. Like the 'Unfinished,' they're missing whole movements. (The gag Keaton image at left seemed a good way to make this point.)

In terms of its completeness, 'College' does not present the same problems as, say, Raymond Griffith's 'Paths to Paradise' (1925), which lacks its entire final reel.

With 'College,' it's a more subtle kind of loss, because Keaton himself apparently cut at least one whole sequence from the film.

How can we tell? Evidence exists right in the film, which focuses on a bookworm's incompetence at any conceivable type of sporting activity.

Early in the film, when unpacking in his dorm room, Buster makes three piles: baseball equipment, track and field gear, and a complete football uniform.

Then, as if to underscore his intentions, he reviews three pamphlets: one each on baseball, sprinting, and football.


In the body of the film, Buster shows his complete ineptness at baseball and at track and field. But not football!

Keaton, in interviews late in life, said that a football sequence was indeed filmed for 'College,' but that it was removed in order to avoid direct comparisons to Harold Lloyd's football-themed campus comedy 'The Freshman' (1925).

If so, that's a real shame! Not only does it mean 'College' is missing a sequence, but its loss undermines the film's overall structure.

Consider: near the end, Buster is forced to make a mad dash through town to save his girl. In doing so, he demonstrates remarkable competence in all the athletic endeavors he previously failed at. And at once point, he is seen running through a crowd, deftly dodging people like a running back avoiding an army of tacklers.

Keaton is the blur in the foreground.

So although 'College' is complete, the clearly missing football sequence is a real loss.

My own theory is that Keaton and his team may have found the football sequence was too much and took it out. At some point, audiences would naturally grow impatient with the "incompetent" Keaton, and want him to rise to the occasion. The football sequence might have bogged things down too much.

Keaton was known to do this in other films. In 'The Navigator' (1924), he filmed an underwater sequence at great expense that had him acting as a traffic cop for schools of fish. He and his crew thought they had a winner, but during previews the audience was silent.

Keaton reasoned that by then, his girl was in trouble, and the audience had no patience for gags that didn't relate to Keaton coming to her rescue. So the "underwater traffic cop" sequence, which included Buster pinning a starfish to his chest, was cut from the release print.

Who knows what other sequences were filmed but then cut? Probably quite a few. The only reason we know of the 'College' football sequence is that the released film has references to it.

Any beyond that, Keaton (and all silent film) suffers from modern-day cutting and rearranging. Take this version of the final chase from 'Seven Chances' (1925), which is on YouTube.

I can't say I'm in love with the music. But more importantly, the sequence is missing quite a few linking shots and other elements that tied it all together. It's still fun to watch (all the viewer comments are positive) but it presents silent film as a lot more primitive than it really was.

Well, despite this, I suppose we're fortunate to have pretty much all of Keaton's output as it was originally released.

That wasn't always the case. In the 1940s, Keaton himself thought much of his great work from the 1920s was lost forever. Luckily, prints of every title eventually resurfaced—and new discoveries are still being made.

For instance: At last year's Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas, I had the honor of doing music for some previously unknown footage from Keaton's short film 'The Blacksmith' (1922).

So even though it's football season, I hope you'll join me for screenings of Keaton's 'College' (1927) this week. A press release with info about the Merrimack College screening on Wednesday, Sept. 24 is below. For info on the Keene State screening on Thursday, Sept. 25, please click on the "Upcoming Screenings" link at upper right.

* * *

Keaton looks a little like one of the Gabor sisters in this vintage poster.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 16, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Classic comedy 'College' to open 2014-15 silent film series at Rogers Center


Public welcome; Buster Keaton movie about campus life to feature live music on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at Merrimack College

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—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, and also admired for their authentic location shots and amazing stunts, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'College' (1927), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at at the Rogers Center for the Arts on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free and the screening is open to the public.

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

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

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

Keaton demonstrates his lack of athletic prowess in 'College.'

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

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

In reviving Keaton's 'College,' organizers aim to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

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

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

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

Following 'College,' the 2014-15 silent film series at the Rogers continues with a thriller, a war adventure, and even a sci-fi epic.

• Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, 7 p.m.: 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927). Can a group of strangers survive the night in a haunted house to learn the secret of a will, even as an escaped madman prowls the grounds? Find out in the original Gothic thriller from silent film director Paul Leni. Just in time for Halloween, a movie filled with deep shadows, dark secrets, and a mix of humor and horror that will keep you guessing. Remember: in silent film, no one can hear you scream!

• Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, 7 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929) directed by Fritz Lang. A grand sci-fi adventure epic about the first rocket ship to the moon. The rarely-screened final silent feature from German filmmaker Fritz Lang (director of 'Metropolis'), 'Woman in the Moon' laid the groundwork for all of the great outer space movie tales to come, complete with melodramatic plot and eye-popping visuals. Welcome the year 2015 by pondering a vision of the future as imagined by one of yesterday's great moviemakers.

• Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, 7 p.m.: 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino. An extended family split up in France and Germany find themselves on opposing sides of the battlefield during World War I. The film that turned then-little-known actor Rudolph Valentino into a superstar and associated him with the image of the Latin Lover. The film also inspired a tango craze and such fashion fads as gaucho pants. A great way to celebrate Valentine's Day!

All films will be screened at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.

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

The opening selection in this season's silent film series at the Rogers Center will be Buster Keaton's 'College' (1927), to be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts, located on Walsh Way on the campus of Merrimack College, 315 Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass. Admission is free. For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swinging with Tarzan on Thursday, Sept. 18
at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine

Wow! My name in lights at the Leavitt Theatre.

When you accompany a silent film, it's important to suppress your ego. It's not about the music, after all, but about supporting the film.

After a show, one of the most-prized compliments I can get is that people forgot I was there, playing live. Good stuff!

But I have to say, it was really gratifying to see my name in lights (or at least on the changeable marquee sign) this week at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

As it was for a Tarzan program, I figured it was only appropriate to clamber out the second-floor window and onto the roof to pose with the sign.

Thanks to theater owner Peter Clayton for snapping the pic, and for letting his theater be hijacked for a silent film series all summer long.

The Claytons, who've owned and run the theater since the 1970s, go all out to promote any program at their summer-only theater. Check out this hand-made poster for the Tarzan show, which Peter's wife Maureen colored using magic markers:

I like being described as a "live accompanist," as opposed to the other kind.

And I was pleased to hear Peter tell me that a copy of one of the posters we made up for the Tarzan show (see below) was given to none other than former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who found the connection to Joseph P. Kennedy (who produced the film) to be of more than passing interest.


Seeing as the weather is beginning to turn around here, and we're well past the high summer tourism season for Ogunquit, we had a respectable turnout for the showing: about 40 people.

In remarks prior to the show, I encouraged audience members to help out when Tarzan launches into his mighty on-screen jungle yell. Several times, people did!

Two titles made up the program: 'Tarzan of the Apes' (1918), starring Elmo Lincoln in the lead role, and 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927) with one-time Tarzan James H. Pierce as the ape man.

I actually went with the later film first because I think it's much closer to what a contemporary audience would expect from a Tarzan film.

The story rockets right along from one event to another in fine 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' style. (Or is it the other way around?)

Despite the poor visual quality of existing materials, 'Golden Lion' roused the audience enough to win applause for Tarzan's leap over an underground chasm, on his way to saving a leading lady from a central role in a human sacrifice ritual.

The earlier Tarzan film—the first adaptation ever made—is much more primitive, and so I felt wasn't the best way to open an evening of silent cinema for an audience not familiar with the genre.

Still, it's filled with scenes of Elmo Lincoln (the original movie Tarzan) doing his iconic yell, and I'm pleased to report our audience did its part to fill in. Who says silent film isn't a collaborative experience?

By the way, am I the only one who thinks Elmo Lincoln looks more than a little like Jay Leno? All he needs is one of those 1980s sweatbands, and the resemblance is uncanny.

While the Claytons always promote their shows, I try to do my part, too. So, prior to last night's program, I handed over a stack of posters for the Leavitt's next silent film program:


The "Chiller Theatre" theme, by the way, isn't just a marketing concept. The summer-only theater doesn't have any central heating.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Silent 'Tarzan' double feature with live music
Thurs., Sept. 18 at Leavitt Theatre, Ogunquit

A crazy (but memorable) poster in which my name battles a lion and Tarzan for prominence.

Here's a thought about our silent Tarzan double feature coming up this week (Thursday, Sept. 18) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine: I think the 'Tarzan' stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs are in the same category as 'The Lost World' by Arthur Conan Doyle or 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Yes, they were all made into popular silent films. But that's not what I mean, despite this being a blog about silent film accompaniment. What I'm thinking about is how each author used then-current changes in society to imagine original stories that became powerful modern myths.

I suppose it's true that the basic stories of mankind haven't changed since pre-history. Boy meets girl, pride comes before a fall, etc. In Western civilization, tales illustrating such themes are woven into Greek mythology, the Bible, into Shakespeare—everything. They're important in part because they are unchanging.

But what I like about Tarzan—and about 'The Lost World' and about 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' too—is that they seem to me to entirely new stories rooted in what was happening right in their times. They represented changes in culture and society that just weren't part of the ancient landscape. They were new.

In the case of Tarzan, Burroughs fashioned a storyline to create a human raised without benefit of modern civilization's extensive and potentially corrupting influence. Was he a better person because of it? You could debate it either way, but the idea was rich enough to spawn endless novels and sequels, turning Tarzan into a cultural icon.

And how about dinosaurs? Every time I go into a toy store and see all the dinosaur-related items, I wonder if it would be like this if Sir Arthur hadn't penned 'The Lost World,' published back in 1912. By spinning a tale that gave humans a way to interact with pre-historic creatures long thought extinct, Doyle's creativity gave life to a whole cultural subset that persists to this day.

'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde': another case of scientific developments driving the creation of a new tale that reflected present reality and also helped us cope with its consequences. Author Stevenson emerged from the lab of his writing room with a memorable tale of a man with two identities, a story that owed nothing to anyone.

So back to this week's screening: Tarzan is among an elite group of characters who were spawned by changes in society in the early 20th century, and then propelled to fame by the movies. And this goes to heart of what I find exciting about early cinema: it's like being present at the creation of brand new myths that speak closely to age we live in.

Of course change keeps happening, and faster and faster all the time. And so I have to ask: who among us is spinning the tales and creating the characters that will help us understand our own times? It's not easy to know.

But we can be sure of the impact of Tarzan, and of dinosaurs, and of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, even down to the current day. And I think it's really exciting to go back to when such stories were brand new to readers and movie-goers alike.

I do hope you can join us for the silent Tarzan double feature at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit. Details and more info about the films are in the press release below.

* * *

Elmo Lincoln, the original Tarzan of the Movies, stars in 'Tarzan of the Apes' (1918).

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 10, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film 'Tarzan' double feature at Leavitt Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 18


Screening of timeless family movie classics in historic Ogunquit venue to feature live musical accompaniment

OGUNQUIT, Maine—You won't get to hear his famous jungle yell. But everything else that made Tarzan a vine-swinging movie legend will fill the big screen at an upcoming one-night-only silent film double feature at the historic Leavitt Theatre.

The silent program, set for Thursday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m., includes two early Tarzan features that helped popularize the character created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Both films will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. General admission for the event is $10 per person.

The program features 'Tarzan of the Apes' (1918), the very first full-length movie adaptation of the Tarzan story. The film covers the basic story of how Tarzan was separated from his aristocratic British parents, Lord and Lady Greystoke. As a young child, he is adopted by apes, and raised in the jungle until his rediscovery as a young "ape man" and his reconnection with civilization begins.

The original 'Tarzan of the Apes' was filmed in 1917 in Morgan City, Louisiana, using Louisiana swamp country as a stand-in for the African jungle.

Playing Tarzan is Elmo Lincoln, the first actor to popularize the role. Lincoln, a hefty athlete, went on to play the ape man in two subsequent films before the role was given to other actors.

After Lincoln's movie career fizzled in the 1920s, he found work in the mining industry. Later in life, he returned to Hollywood to take small parts in low budget movies, working as an uncredited extra in two Tarzan films in the 1940s. Lincoln died in 1952 after suffering a heart attack.

Also to be shown at the Leavitt is 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927), an RKO Pictures adaptation of a 1923 Burroughs novel of the same title.

The film finds Tarzan forced to journey through the African jungle to the legendary City of Diamonds, where he and his pet lion Jadbal-ja must save an Englishwoman from being sacrificed to the Gods.

Playing Tarzan in this film is James Pierce, the fourth actor to portray the role. Pierce was a part-time actor who coached high school football in Glendale, Calif., where his squad included future actor John Wayne.

After landing the Tarzan role, Pierce married Burroughs' daughter Joan in 1928. Although other actors took over the Tarzan role in motion pictures, Pierce and his wife voiced the roles of Tarzan and Jane in a popular 1930s radio show.

Pierce later ran a real estate agency in southern California. He died in 1984; he and his wife are buried in Indiana with tombstones marked "Tarzan" and "Jane."

For decades, no copy of 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' was thought to exist until a nearly complete print was discovered in a foreign archive in the 1990s.

James H. Pierce plays Tarzan in 'Tarzan and the Golden Lion' (1927).

The Tarzan double feature is the latest in the Leavitt's series of silent film screenings with live music. The series aims to show the best silent films in the way that caused people to first fall in love with the movies—on the big screen, in a theater, with live music, and with an audience.

"We're looking forward to running this amazing double feature of early Tarzan movies," said Peter Clayton, longtime owner/operator of the Leavitt. "So much of what's great about the movies started back in the silent era, and Tarzan is no exception. It's a great joy for us to present these films on the big screen again with live music."

The Leavitt opened in 1923 as a silent movie house, and has been in business every summer season since. Over the past winter, Clayton installed a new digital projection system to enable the Leavitt to continue to offer first-run Hollywood films.

Both Tarzan flicks will be accompanied by New Hampshire-based silent film musician and composer Jeff Rapsis, who has prepared new material to go with both pictures.

"In accompanying these Tarzan films, I hope to evoke the mystery and excitement of the jungle setting that was a big part of their popularity," Rapsis said.

"I also hope to bring out the excitement that helped people first fall in love with the movies, and which is still in these pictures," Rapsis said. "That's especially true in the 'Golden Lion' film, which plays like an early version of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' "

The Tarzan Silent Film Double Feature will be shown with live music on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine. General admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit www.leavittheatre.com. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Harold Lloyd's 'The Kid Brother' in 35mm
on Sunday, Sept. 14 at Somerville Theatre

A poster for 'The Kid Brother' (1927), to be shown in 35mm on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass.

When I was growing up and first getting into silent film, Harold Lloyd loomed as a mysterious and mythic figure to me.

Why? Because I'd read all about his work and his films and his great popularity. But in Nashua, N.H. in the 1970s, there was no way to actually see the films themselves.

So, as we prepare for a screening of Lloyd's great feature 'The Kid Brother' (1927) in 35mm on Sunday, Sept. 14 at the Somerville Theatre, let me recall how hard it used to be to see Lloyd's work, which might help explain why I feel every Lloyd showing is something of a special event.

I first got hooked on silent film back in EBHV. (That's short for the "Era Before Home Video.") To collect or enjoy silent film, you had to buy or rent home versions on actual film, and run them on your home projector.

And so I eagerly ordered 8mm prints of Chaplin and Keaton titles from Blackhawk Films, and ran them all the time to my confused neighborhood friends. But precious few of Lloyd's films were available to buy or rent for home use, and those that were seemed to be just the very early ones.

I wondered: What was the deal with the Lloyd films? Were they lost? Were they just not any good? Was there something wrong with them? Would I ever get to see them?

What had happened, I later found out, was that Lloyd himself felt quite strongly that his films, to be seen at their best, needed to be shown in a specific environment: in a theater, with live music, and with a large audience.

After the silent era ended, he kept close control of his work, refusing to license it for television or for home use, which he felt would diminish what he and his co-workers had strived so hard to achieve.

It was a testament to the quality of the work, and to Harold's achievement, that memories of his films persisted for decades despite their unavailability. That one photo of him hanging from the clock in 'Safety Last' (1923) probably would have been enough by itself to keep his name from fading completely.

But for the most part, the best Lloyd films were kept locked away for decades by their maker himself, and during that time his name recognition really did fall off. Later in life, Harold's eventual solution was to create compilation films, stitching together the best sequences from his great silent features of the 1920s and also some of his sound pictures of the 1930s.

These were released in the 1960s, and Harold was right: his work still worked when shown in theaters, even for a new generation of film-goers who weren't familiar with his character. And the experience of seeing it in a theater with a large audience was a crucial part of seeing his work to its best advantage.

After Harold died in 1971, his films were eventually licensed for home and broadcast, but in versions that were edited for television. These "Time-Life" editions are almost universally decried as desecrations among serious film buffs.

But these versions were broadcast on some local PBS stations, usually as program filler, and that's how I first saw a lot of Harold's best work. (Thank you, New Hampshire Public Television.) To me, it was a revelation, even sitting alone at home in my pajamas on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m., which was not Harold's idea of optimum viewing experience for his films, I know.

Film after film that for years had been only titles in a book were now real experiences to me. And I thought each of them was absolutely superb.

I found the visual quality of Harold's late 1920s work, as in this still from 'The Kid Brother' (1927), to be particularly impressive.

Seen together, they created a silent film world that had previously been unknown to me. It was like hearing people talk about Beethoven's symphonies for years, and then finally getting to hear them. I reveled in my new acquaintance of the richness of Harold Lloyd's world.

And a similar revelation happened later, when I first got to see Lloyd's films in a theater and as part of an audience. The effect was electric. Lloyd was right again: the screening conditions (basically, showing the pictures with live music in a theater with an audience) were vital to films having their full effect.

Now, when I think of the best silent-film going experiences I've had, many of them are Lloyd pictures, which were designed to produce audience response. A showing of 'Safety Last' (1923) that I arranged in 1983 while a student at Fordham University, which astonished all the campus film geeks who'd never heard of him. A screening of 'The Freshman' (1925) at the Film Forum in New York City in 1993 where I don't think I've ever laughed so hard.

More recently, as an accompanist: A screening of 'Girl Shy' (1924) to an audience in a barn in upstate New York worked the audience into a frenzy. A similar thing happened with a screening of 'Speedy' (1928) in Concord, N.H. The Lloyd films always get an audience going.

As a result of all this, I'm conditioned to think of any screening of a Harold Lloyd picture as a special event. So I'm really looking forward to doing music for his great feature 'The Kid Brother' (1927), presented this weekend in 35mm at the Somerville Theatre down in Somerville, Mass.

I do hope you can join us. A Harold Lloyd film with live music and a large audience remains one of the great experiences of the cinema. If you'd like more information, the press release for this screening is pasted in below.


* * *

Harold pays attention to Jobyna, while Harold's brothers pay attention to him.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 2, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent comedy masterpiece 'The Kid Brother' to be screened in Somerville


Harold Lloyd program on Sunday, Sept. 14 features 35mm film print, live musical accompaniment at Somerville Theatre

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—He was the most popular film star of the 1920s, routinely outpacing comic rivals Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton at the box office. His "everyman" character, embraced by audiences, inspired movies that today remain crowd-pleasers for film-goers of all ages.

He was Harold Lloyd, the boy next door who could wind up hanging from the hands of a clock high atop a skyscraper. Audiences loved Lloyd's mix of visual comedy and thrilling adventures, making him one of the most recognized icons of early Hollywood.

See for yourself when 'The Kid Brother' (1927), a film regarded as Lloyd's masterpiece, is screened on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square in Somerville, Mass.

The movie will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. Admission $15 for adults; $12 for students/seniors.

'The Kid Brother' will be shown in the Somerville Theatre's main theater using a 35mm print provided by the Harold Lloyd Trust of Los Angeles.

In 'The Kid Brother,' meek country boy Harold Hickory (Lloyd) looks up to his tough father, but is overshadowed by two burly older brothers. When a traveling circus brings trouble to town and possible disgrace to the Hickory clan, can Harold save the family name?

From that simple situation, Lloyd weaves a roller coaster of a tale that critics and film historians say show him at the height of his powers as a filmmaker and comedian.

"The first silent film I ever saw that made me actually stand up and cheer," wrote critic Steven D. Greydanus of The Decent Films Guide. "As a first introduction to silent film, I would pick 'The Kid Brother' over the best of Chaplin or Keaton every time."

"Unlike Chaplin’s Little Tramp, who was as much defined by his bizarre eccentricities as his bowler and cane, Lloyd’s character, with his trademark spectacles, was an instantly likable, sympathetic boy-next-door type, a figure as winsome and approachable as Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks," Greydanus wrote.

The film costars Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Eddie Boland, and Constantine Romanoff.

Harold Lloyd, along with Chaplin and Keaton, stands as one of the three masters of silent comedy. Though Lloyd's reputation later faded due to unavailability of his movies, the recent re-release of most of his major films on DVD has spurred a reawakening of interest in his work. This has led to more screenings in theaters such as the Somerville, where it was designed to be shown.

"Seeing a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with live music and an audience is one of the great experiences of the cinema of any era," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who will accompany the film. "These films were designed for a specific environment. If you can put those conditions together again, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

The films will be shown using 35mm black-and-white prints on the theater's big screen with correct lighting, speed, and aspect ratio. Although the Somerville, like most movie houses, recently installed digital projection, the theater remains committed to keeping alive the experience of film in the 35mm format.

"For more than a century, movies were shot and edited and watched using 35mm film," Rapsis said. "Today, the chance to see a vintage film in its original format and in a theater is increasingly rare. The Somerville's screening of 'The Kid Brother' is a chance to enjoy this movie in the format and setting it was designed for."

The screening is the latest in a series of silent film events celebrating the recent 100th birthday of the Somerville Theatre, where movies have been shown since 1914. Upcoming screenings in the 'Silents, Please!' series include:

• Sunday, Oct. 5, 2 p.m.: 'The Crowd' (1928). Director King Vidor's acclaimed drama about the life of an everyman who aims high, but life has other ideas. Released by MGM near the end of the silent era, and filled with iconic scenes showing the eloquence of silent film at its most fluent.

• Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.: 'The Strong Man' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. With World War I over, baby-faced soldier Harry Langdon searches for the girl who sent such moving letters to him in the trenches. Directed by a very young Frank Capra, 'The Strong Man' is today hailed as Langdon's best feature, and also one of the greatest comedies of the silent film era.

'The Kid Brother' will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission $15 adults, $12 students/seniors. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit http://www.somervilletheatreonline.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Early Hitchcock: 'The Lodger' (1927)
on Thursday, Sept. 11 in Plymouth, N.H.

That's British actor Ivor Novello on the poster for this week's screening of 'The Lodger.'

Think about it: Alfred Hitchcock began directing movies when they came without soundtracks.

And for the rest of his long career, he maintained that silent film was "the purest form of cinema."

How odd that a man who ended up helming wide-screen color spectaculars such as 'North by Northwest' (1959) should yearn for the silent film era, with all its limitations.

What he meant, I think, was that if you stripped cinema down to its essence, you'd have one thing: pictures that move.

That was silent cinema. And this limitation forced Hitchcock (and other filmmakers, too) to make the most of this essential quality of cinema. (At right, an unflattering picture of a very young Hitchcock.)

And for the best directors, the limitations of silent film weren't limitations at all. They actually served to concentrate all the energy on telling a story visually, which I think helped establish some of the unique qualities of cinema at a very early time in its development.

For instance: even within the confines of silent film, Hitchcock was already finding ways to be Hitchcock. 'The Lodger' (1927) shows much of Hitchcock's style already in place. Heck, the film started his long-running practice of playing brief cameo roles in his films.

So 'The Lodger' is worth seeing, especially if you're a Hitchcock fan. You'll find it interesting, I think, to see how Hitchcock could still be unmistakably Hitchcock using just moving images on the screen.

For me, Hitchcock's movies hold an honored place in my "Great Movie Experiences Hall of Fame," mostly because of fortuitous timing.

While I was in college, five of Hitchcock's big 1950s spectaculars were restored and released to theaters for the first time in decades.

This was in the early 1980s, just before home video became widespread, and so it was big news. These films hadn't been seen in public (or television) for decades.

And as a freshman at Fordham University, I was able to see pictures such as 'Rear Window' (1954) and 'Vertigo' (1958) at the most prestigious theaters in New York City, often with packed houses. What an impression they made!

(I recall 'The Trouble With Harry' (1955), set in New England, made me feel terribly homesick. But then so did 'On Golden Pond,' which had come out that summer and was filmed in New Hampshire.)

The re-release of the Hitchcock films was my first experience being among a lot of people who really enjoyed older cinema. For me, it was quite a rush, and helped me realize the importance of screening films in a theater with an audience: something I advocate for strongly today.

With that in mind, I hope you'll join us for our screening of 'The Lodger' (1927) on Thursday, Sept. 11 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

For more info, check out the press release below. Thanks!

* * *

Ivor Novello plays the title role in 'The Lodger' (1927).

THURSDAY, AUG. 21, 2014 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Hitchcock's first, 'The Lodger,' to screen
Thursday, Sept. 11 at Flying Monkey Moviehouse


Creepy silent thriller about killings in London marked legendary director's debut; to be shown on the big screen with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A half-century of murder has to start somewhere. And for movie director Alfred Hitchcock, it began with 'The Lodger' (1927), a silent thriller that stunned audiences when it was first released, and contained many of his trademark touches.

'The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,' will be shown at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center on Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. The program, the latest in the theater's silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

The film, shot in England and based on a story and stage play by Marie Belloc Lowndes, concerns the hunt for a serial killer in London. British matinee idol Ivor Novello plays Jonathan Drew, a quiet, secretive young man who rents a room in a London boarding house. Drew's arrival coincides with the reign of terror orchestrated by a mysterious "Jack The Ripper"-like killer, who murders a blonde woman every Tuesday evening.

As the film progresses, circumstantial evidence begins to mount, pointing to Drew as the murderer. Suspense and drama escalate in true Hitchcock fashion as the viewer wonders if the lodger really could be the killer—and if so, what danger awaits the landlord's daughter, who is falling in love with the mysterious stranger. The all-British cast includes Malcom Keen, Arthur Chesney, and Marie Ault.

'The Lodger' introduced themes that would run through much of Hitchcock’s later work: an innocent man on the run, hunted down by a self-righteous society, a strong link between sexuality and murder, and a fixation on blonde women. About 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto wrote that for "the first time Hitchcock has revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death."

'The Lodger' also launched the Hitchcock tradition of making a cameo appearance in each of his films. In 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock appears briefly about three minutes into the film, sitting at a desk in a newsroom with his back to the camera and using a telephone. The cameo appearance tradition, which continued for the rest of his long career, came about in 'The Lodger' when the actor supposed to play the part of the telephone operator failed to turn up, and Hitchcock filled the breach.

Some critics say 'The Lodger' broke new ground in the previously moribund British cinema, showing a truly cinematic eye at work. In creating the movie, Hitchcock had clearly been watching contemporary films by German directors F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, whose influence can be seen in the ominous camera angles and claustrophobic lighting.

While Hitchcock had made two previous films, in later years the director would refer to 'The Lodger,' his first thriller, as the first true "Hitchcock movie." The movie has since been remade several times, most recently in 2009, in an updated version starring Alfred Molina and Hope Davis.

In reviving the original 'The Lodger,' the Flying Monkey 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 Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life. They all featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

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

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

• Thursday, Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m.: 'Chicago' (1927). The original big screen adaptation of the notorious Jazz Age tabloid scandal, based on real events. Dancer Roxie Hart is accused of murder! Is she innocent or headed for the slammer? Later made into the popular Broadway musical. A film long thought lost but recovered only recently.

• Thursday, Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925). Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation of the classic French novel starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Just in time for Halloween—see it if you dare!

‘The Lodger' will be shown on Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551. Admission $10. For more information, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.