Next up on the accompaniment calendar: a movie that I can't believe I didn't know about for such a long time.
It's 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926) and despite the clunky title, it's a real winner, with something for everyone.
And you can see for yourself when the film is screened on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.
Admission is free and the program is open to the public. A lot more info about the film and the screening is in the press release I've pasted in below.
Why am I so up on 'The Winning of Barbara Worth'?
• It has stars whose names are still recognized today, including Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman. (And, to a lesser extent, Vilma Banky.)
• It was filmed in Nevada's remote Black Rock Desert, which gave director Henry King incredible vistas and unsurpassed location shooting.
• Although it's a high-stakes drama, it's filled with warm comic touches that are so typical of director King's style, and which greatly enrich the film.
• It's a Western, but not about injuns and bandits. Instead, it's a story about agriculture and water and the settling of the American West.
I know that last point doesn't sound too compelling, but it makes all difference.
The story of 'Winning' takes place amid the first attempts to irrigate California's arid Imperial Valley—the vast area west of Los Angeles and San Diego.
Pioneering settlers recognized the valley could be an agricultural paradise if only water could be brought to it.
So in the late 19th century, grand plans were made to reroute the nearby Colorado River so it would flow into and through the valley.
However, in 1905, the Colorado famously overflowed the dikes and canals under construction and an out-of-control deluge caused extensive flooding and the inadvertent creation of the land-locked Salton Sea, which we still have with us today.
The river was eventually controlled, and today the Imperial Valley is indeed is one of the most productive growing regions in the world.
In 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' this series of events provides the setting for human drama that takes place among the heroic efforts to transform the valley.
Unlike so many films from long ago, this one rings true even today, I think. The cast, the setting, the story—all combine to show the narrative power of silent film at the peak of the form.
And for some reason, it's not as well known as it should be, even among film fans. I only discovered it a few years ago, when working with Kevin Brownlow on a presentation about the American West in silent cinema.
It could be the title, which is a mouthful and doesn't do much to convey the scale and scope of this production.
Well, whatever the reason, here's your chance to catch up with one of the silent era's under-appreciated gems.
See you at the screening! For more info, check out the press release below.
THURSDAY, JAN. 12, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • email@example.com
Rip-roaring epic silent Western with live music at Rogers Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Jan. 25
'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), ground-breaking outdoor drama starring Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman, to be screened at Merrimack College
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—A film that helped create Hollywood's love affair with the American West will continue this season's silent film programming, part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.
'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a silent drama starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, and Vilma Banky, will be shown on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.
Admission is free and the screening is open to the public. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.
Directed by Henry King, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' chronicles the epic story of pioneer settlers who dreamed of irrigating California's parched Imperial Valley in the early 20th century. Filmed on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert, the movie is noted for its extensive use of vast open spaces and wild scenery.
The story centers on a rivalry for the affections of Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), adopted daughter of a powerful rancher. A local cowboy (Gary Cooper) finds himself competing with a newly arrived engineer (Ronald Colman), who has come to the rural valley to work on plans to harness the Colorado River for irrigation.
Will the local ranch hand prevail over the city slicker engineer? Can citizens of the parched region prevail over nature and transform their lands into an agricultural paradise? Will rumors of shortcuts taken in constructing a massive dam lead to disaster?
All these questions combine to create a film that showed Hollywood and movie-goers the power of a drama set in the rural American west.
The film is also noted for its camerawork by Greg Toland, who would later go on to do principal photography for 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.
For 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he composes beforehand, using 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."
'The Winning of Barbara Worth' continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Rogers. 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.
“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.
“There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”
For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes he creates 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.
"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 can be surprisingly sophisticated. They still retain a tremendous ability to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."
The 2016-17 Tambakos Film Series, which runs most Wednesday nights during the semester, focuses on Silent Films with live musical accompaniment, Hollywood classics and foreign masterworks. It continues on February 1st with crime thriller ‘The Grandmaster’ followed by A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, and Jules et Jim. The next masterpiece in the Silent film Series is "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928). Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc. 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will screen on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
All films are screened at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.
For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355 or visit www.merrimack.edu/rogers.
For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.