Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yesterday, the Moon and UFO Festival; today, 'Caligari' in Natick, Mass., then 'Wings' in Wilton, N.H. later this week

It's not easy being green. For some reason, you just don't fit in.

It's a beautiful Columbus Day weekend here in northern New England. The foliage is at its peak, but there's also spectacular color inside, such as this alien glimpsed as part of the Greater New England UFO Conference in Wilton, N.H. (More on that below.)

First up: this afternoon (Sunday, Oct. 11) it's 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) at the Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St. in Natick, Mass. Screening time is 6 p.m., so guess it's technically this evening. 

I haven't promoted this one heavily because the Center, like all venues in Massachusetts, is limited to just 25 people due to Covid-19 restrictions. But if you'd like to go, check www.natickarts.org, as tickets are available only online and in advance.

But then we swing back to New Hampshire later this week with a screening of the epic World War I picture 'Wings' (1927) on Thursday, Oct. 15. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., and it's the opening title in a three-day festival of classics brought to you by the Aviation Museum of N.H.

More on 'Wings' and the festival below. Before that, let's tackle the alien. (Not literally, as he may have a raygun, or be sticky.) He/she/it was spotted in the Town Hall Theatre lobby as part of, yes, the Greater New England UFO Conference, which is taking place this weekend.

In fact, it's still going on today: Sunday, Oct. 11. So there's still time to check it out if you're within driving or bicycling distance to Wilton, N.H. Among other attractions, the theater is enforcing social distancing by placing blow-up aliens (similar to the one above) in selected seats.

As an incentive, it's also a confab of "Big Foot" fans, one of whom can make plaster casts for you to take home:

Casting call: Take home your very own big feet!

I wish to apologize to all Bigfoot fans, plus the Native American community in general, for mistakenly referring to Big Foot in my opening remarks as "Sacajawea" instead of "Sasquatch." Wow, I'm turning into my malaprop-prone mother. God rest her soul. (Apologies to her, too, by the way. Just because.)

Anyway: I love doing music for Lang's 'Frau im Mond' (the original German title) because it's such a surprise for audiences, and also because the whole story and treatment are a good fit for the kind of music I make: that of the big gesture. 

Things always start off with a bang due to a flashback near the beginning: Prof. Manfeldt is seen more than three decades earlier, lecturing on his "gold on the moon" theory to fellow academics, who promptly riot. Lang then shows close-ups of a bell being rung and a whistle being blown to quell the fracas: literally, bells and whistles!

And that's what I use: my grandmother's old brass school bell, and a referee's whistle, to kick up a nice sonic riot to go with Lang's visuals. And it's really effective, I think, especially when the flashback ends and Lang dissolves back to Prof. Manfeldt, now impoverished and living in a garret: all the noise dies down and I just leave soft high note sustained, hanging there.

When I accompany 'Woman in the Moon,' the entire score is built out of original motifs for characters and situations. You need material to hold together a nearly three-hour film. But also, in just one instance, I use an identifiable tune that I think helps the film's emotional line.

The tune: 'Gaudeamus igitur,' the classic student anthem. I work it in during Manfeldt's flashback lecture to establish atmosphere, and then we don't hear it again until much later, when he reaches the moon and actually finds, yes, GOLD! 

Lang illustrates the moment visually by showing the Professor's shouts echoing among the lunar caverns, and I add a note of musical triumph by folding in the chords to 'Gaudeamus' on top of the by-then-rhythmic accompaniment in the bass. 

Lot of interesting comments from the 30 or so people who attended the screening. One I'd never heard before: "NASA could use you to add drama to their launches."

By the way, I mentioned bicycling because after yesterday's trip to the moon, I got on my trusty road bike and pedaled a late afternoon loop from the theater into the hills of bucolic Lyndeborough, N.H. (Pronounced "line-boro" for all you flatlanders.) 

And I mean hills. It was all up, up, up to what's called "Lyndeborough Center," with its meetinghouse and parsonage and open fields and views for miles. And then, as dusk gathered, I enjoyed my own rocket ship ride down the road to a place called "Fitch's Corner" in Milford, then back to the theater.

Distance was only about 15 miles, but the uphills made for slow going, while the downhills couldn't be taken advantage of entirely because it was getting dark and you have to be careful on these back roads.

But the air was still warm, even in the growing twilight, so it made for a spectacular communion with this year's foliage, which will be gone soon enough. 

Okay, here's more info about 'Wings' on Thursday and the other classic aviation films we're showing later this week. See you at the theater!

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'Wings' to be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Town Hall Theatre.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 30, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jrapsis@nhahs.org

Three-day festival of classic aviation adventure films coming to Wilton, N.H.

John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart among stars featured in Academy Award-winning pictures presented by Aviation Museum of N.H.

WILTON, N.H.—Fly off to high-altitude adventure with a festival of classic aviation films at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The three-day event, which runs from Thursday, Oct. 15 through Saturday, Oct. 17, gives local audiences a chance to see timeless aviation movies as they were intended—on the big screen and in a theater.

The festival will include four large-scale features from Hollywood's Golden Age, ranging from the classic World War I aviation drama 'Wings' (1927) to the all-star wide-screen desert survival blockbuster 'The Flight of the Phoenix' (1965).

Other titles include '12 O'Clock High' (1949), an intense thriller about U.S. pilots in World War II, and 'The High and the Mighty' (1954), a ground-breaking airborne drama about a stricken commercial airliner starring John Wayne.

All films in the festival were nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Each captures the public's fascination with flight in a different setting, as pilots and passengers alike face danger in the sky and also on the ground. Aviation buffs will enjoy the vintage aircraft featured in each production.

All screenings are free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted, with all proceeds used to support the education outreach program of the Aviation Museum of N.H.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about the venue's safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.



• On Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m., the festival opens with the silent classic 'Wings' (1927), a drama about World War I aviation that won 'Best Picture' at the very first Academy Awards ceremony. The film stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. Live music for 'Wings' will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a silent film accompanist and also executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.


• On Friday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. brings '12 O'Clock High' (1949), a classic bout aircrews in the United States Army's Eighth Air Force, who flew daylight bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during the early days of American involvement in World War II. Starring Gregory Peck, '12 O'Clock High' received four Academy Award nominations, winning Best Supporting Actor for co-star Dean Jagger and Best Sound Recording.


• Saturday, Oct. 17 at 2 p.m., it's 'The High and the Mighty' (1954), a drama about a troubled commercial flight starring John Wayne and Robert Stack. With its intertwined stories of passengers on a doomed commercial flight, 'The High and the Mighty' served as a template for the Hollywood 'disaster' genre. The film earned six Academy Award nominations, winning for composer Dmitri Tiomkin's dramatic musical score.


• Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m., the festival concludes with 'The Flight of the Phoenix' (1965), a drama about survivors of a plane crash in the Sahara Desert. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Peter Finch, and Ernest Borgnine, 'The Flight of the Phoenix' was nominated for two Academy Awards: Ian Bannen for Supporting Actor and Michael Luciano for Film Editing.

"These are all terrific pictures with great stories set in the earlier days of aviation, before air travel became commonplace for so many people," said Jeff Rapsis, the Aviation Museum's executive director.

"They're a great way to recapture the romance and excitement of flight, and the Aviation Museum's festival is a rare chance to see them as intended: on a big screen and in a movie theater," Rapsis said.

The Aviation Museum of N.H., located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H., is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Housed in the vintage 1937 passenger terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving the Granite State's rich aviation past, and also inspiring today's students to become the aviation pioneers of tomorrow.

For more information about the Aviation Museum, visit www.aviationmuseumofnh.org or call (603) 669-4820. Follow the Aviation Museum on social media at www.facebook.com/nhahs.

For more about the Town Hall Theatre, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Monday, October 5, 2020

This weekend: from 'A Woman in Grey' to 'Woman in the Moon' at New England UFO Conference

Exploring the lunar surface in 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Coming this weekend: we blast off as part of the "Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival," with a screening of Fritz Lang's lunar epic 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Screening is on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.  Admission to the screening is free, with donations accepted to help defray expenses. (The rest of the UFO festival requires purchase of a ticket.) 

More on all that below. For now, here's a report on an experiment we tried this past weekend at the same venue: over two days, we ran all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920), a rare example of a silent-era serial that survives complete. 

Arline Pretty gives a restrained performance in 'A Woman in Grey.' 

At about 15 minutes per chapter, that's nearly four hours of film! So we broke it into two parts: the first eight chapters ran on Saturday, with the final seven (including the thrilling climax!) on Sunday.

These were never intended to be shown back-to-back, of course. But by doing so, I think we created a new form of cinematic story-telling: every 15 minutes or so, leading lady Arline Pretty would get into some kind of life-threatening peril, at which the whole thing would stop.

And we'd see the same "see the next episode" title, and then a momentary black screen, and then the opening titles for the next chapter. And then we'd get a synopsis of the action so far, and then a few scenes from "last week" to bring us up to speed. 

It was a weird kind of ritualistic experience, in that the rhythms of the story were chained to this climax-every-15-minutes rhythm in a way you don't usually see. 

I wanted to do this partly just to try it, and also because I didn't think running the 15-part story one chapter at a time would work very well in any venue where I regularly perform, where the pace is generally once a month at best. 

I also wanted to do it because 'A Woman in Grey' was filmed in the area of Wilkes-Barre, Penn. by the Serico Producing Co., which promptly went bankrupt after completing this, its one big production. A hundred years later, I thought that's an achievement worth celebrating by running it on the big screen.

For the music, I created a mysterious-sounding main theme that would serve to underscore the opening titles of every episode, and which could be adapted to the action and character interplay as needed. 

So at the end of each episode, just when leading lady Arline Pretty was about to fall to her death or be run over by a train, I'd stop the big dramatic agitato underscoring. Beneath the "don't miss next week's episode" title, I'd finish out the cadence quietly and bring things to a halt.

And then, whatever key I ended up in, when the opening titles for the next chapter appeared, I'd go up a half-step and start the main theme, which otherwise would be played exactly the same way each time, chapter after chapter after chapter.

I have to say, the cumulative effect of this was really quite special. Every chapter, here we go again! It almost seemed to say, without words, to the audience: "You are watching something that is designed solely to manipulate you," which of course was self-evident in any case. 

But the repetitive title music seemed to celebrate that somehow: to make it worth reveling in, submitting to, just letting it happen. It almost became ritualistic, if really anything can be ritualistic within the span of a few hours. 

How did the audience react? We had about 25 brave souls who turned out for both days. (A few only saw Day 1, and two people came only for Day 2.) Reaction was quite strong: lots of laughter at some of the more improbable goings-on, but I sensed genuine engagement throughout as the somewhat tangled plot unfurled.

I think seeing a repeated synopsis of what happened so far was really helpful in keeping track of who was doing what to whom. In today's age of short attention spans, maybe it's something that contemporary films could try doing. Every 15 minutes, remind everyone what's happened so we're better able to follow the story. 

The most interesting thing, to me: each day, after the first chapter ended, the audience burst out laughing at the notion that we'd have to wait until "next week" to see what happens. After that, the convention was just accepted for the rest of the afternoon. That told me that people were engaged in the film to the point where the "wait until next week" break did actually come as something of a surprise, at least at first. 

The sense I felt with the laughter was "okay, now I see what they're doing."

One thing about our screening was disc problems caused some tense moments as we tried to smooth out some rough spots where the image kept freezing. So it was even more of a cliffhanger than we anticipated!

But overall, it was a worthwhile experiment, and everyone who attended said they'd be interested in seeing another one in that format. So if you'd like to experience this, I'll probably do another one sometime later next year. As they say in another medium, stay tuned!

Okay, looking ahead: screenings this weekend of 'Woman in the Moon' (1929) on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., and then 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919) on Sunday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The Natick screening of 'Caligari' is limited to 25 people per Massachusetts Covid-19 pre-cautions, and tickets are available only online and in advance at their Web site.

For 'Woman in the Moon' on Saturday, Oct. 10: yes, it's part of the "Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival," an event I've only just heard about. As an extra bonus, it also celebrates the legendary "Big Foot" creature. 

For details on the whole three-day gathering, check out www.newenglandufo.com. 

As for 'Woman in the Moon,' it's one of my favorite silents, and also one of my favorites to accompany, as the story, tone, and action all seem to fit the kind of music I do. 

If you'd like to attend, below is the press release with way more information. Hope t osee you there, unless you get abducted by a UFO or Big Foot...

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

MONDAY, OCT. 5, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com 

Silent sci-fi adventure thriller on Saturday, Oct. 10 at Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon,' Fritz Lang's pioneer space drama about mankind's first lunar voyage, to be screened with live musical accompaniment during three-day UFO festival

WILTON, N.H.—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened as part of a three-day UFO/Big Foot Film Festival this weekend at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free and the screening is open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening is part of the Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival, which runs from Friday, Oct. 9 through Sunday, Oct. 11 at the Town Hall Theatre. For more information on the three-day festival, which also focuses on the legendary 'Big Foot' creature, visit www.newenglandufo.com.

The rarely seen full-length version of 'Woman in the Moon' follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find large deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisers, anticipated many of the techniques used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later. For example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in actual space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.


The cast of 'Woman in the Moon' awaits lunar touchdown.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi soap opera elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a female scientist and her two male crewmates; a plucky young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfire and treachery on the lunar surface.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

"This is a great and at-times bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the screening.

"It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller," Rapsis said. "And as a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to be, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

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

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."


Exploring the lunar surface, as created on a huge indoor stage in Berlin, Germany.

Director Fritz Lang, responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Bad timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an adviser on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle starting in the 1930s. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its detailed depiction of state-of-the-art rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find. For many years, the film was available only in cut-down 16mm versions that ran as short as one hour.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

"Although 'Woman in the Moon' is available for home viewing, this is a motion picture that should be experienced as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said. "There's nothing like it."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free and the screening is open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

This weekend in Wilton, N.H.: double header of all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920)

Arline Pretty is in a pretty pickle in 'A Woman in Grey' (1920). But at least she's following guidance on face masks.

This weekend I'm doing music for a special cinematic event at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H.: a screening of all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920). It's a century-old dramatic serial adventure of which all episodes survive complete.

That means more than four hours of film! So we'll run the first eight chapters on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m., and then the remaining episodes (including the thrilling conclusion!) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

I'm looking forward to the chance to immerse myself in this extended story as it plays out over such a long span of time. I have some main themes in mind, but other than that, the music will grow naturally from the story as it unfolds. 

Also, I can't wait to try out this joke: "It's called 'The Woman in Grey,' but it's black-and-white film, so what choice did they have?"

Lots more detail in the press release below. Hope you can join us for some (or preferably ALL) of 'A Woman in Grey' on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

 


Me outside the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. prior to the show.

For now, let me report on last night's screening of 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929) up at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

Before the show, I recounted to the audience my first experience of accompanying this film about 10 years ago. It was part of a monthly series in Manchester, N.H. that was heavy on traditional Hollywood dramas starring the likes of John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, and so on.

So we ran 'Man With A Movie Camera' without explanation. Afterwards, I asked for opinions.

"That was a terrible movie," said one woman, a regular attendee. 

Wow! Turns out she was expecting, yes, a good story—exactly what filmmaker Dziga Vertov was aiming to avoid. He hoped to use film to show life as it really happens, rather than through some made-up narrative.

So I learned that for 'Man With A Movie Camera' to be understood, at least a brief explanation was in order. Silent film is unusual enough; for 'Man' to work, you need to prepare people for what Vertov was aiming for, at least as I understand it.

So I tell people: in essence, it's a celebration—of life in general, and of the potential of the motion picture camera to capture it.

I also think it helps to look at the film as a large-scale piece of music. Like a symphony, it contains movements of varying tempi, all grouped and structured in a way to create an overall effect.

One thing I've recently noticed is that often when the visual rhythm of the film is about to shift, Vertov inserts an image of a hand-operated traffic signal being changed. 

For the music, I was thinking of Franz Schubert's 'Great' C Major Symphony, with its broad melodies filled with repeated notes, and also more recent minimalist music with a harmonic structure that unfolds slowly over a long time.

Yelizaveta Svilova edits 'Man With A Movie Camera' within the movie. 

Overall, it worked. I caught all the big shifts, and kept things pretty bottled up until the final five minutes, in which a riot of fast-changing images explode on the screen.

What held it together was a steady pattern of three notes before the beat, and three notes after. (So with the accent on the fourth note.) Also, a simple line of four descending notes (down a half-step, and then a whole step and another whole step) was another key building block. 

 Those four notes could be harmonized in all manner of ways, but I found that reverting often to a simple triadic texture created a powerful "coming home" kind of feeling no matter how busy the texture.

I also kept using a non-traditional chord change that you hear a lot in contemporary tonal music such as in some scores of John Adams: going from a major chord (say Eb Major) to a minor chord up a half-step (E minor), in which all tones shift up except the third of the chord, which stays on the same note but which goes from major to minor because of context.

It's a very atmospheric move, I find, and has become part of my own toolkit and basic musical vocabulary. And it came in very useful with 'Man With A Movie Camera' because of how it creates a sense of very slight change while still moving forward. Sometimes I added other notes: the flatted 7th of the major chord becomes the leading tone of the minor, which adds richness. 

Once all this was established, there were many places where the music seemed to fall into place with ease and really helped the visuals, I felt. I was especially pleased with music I came up with for scenes of women in a gymnasium using odd exercise machines from the period, including a mechanical horse. 

It all really held together, and 'The End' brought cheers. (And for all the right reasons, I think.) For me, it was quite a workout, just like the ladies in the gym. Best of all, no one seemed to concur with the assessment 10 years ago.

Here's more info on 'A Woman in Grey.' See you this weekend for what promises to be yet another unusual cinematic experience!

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TUESDAY, SEPT. 22, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rare showing of all 15 chapters of 100-year-old vintage serial coming to Town Hall Theatre


'A Woman in Grey' (1920), multi-part adventure thriller, to screen with live music over Saturday & Sunday Oct. 3-4

WILTON, N.H.—It's a cliff-hanger, but each time you won't have to wait long to find out what happens next.

It's 'A Woman in Grey,' a 15-episode adventure serial produced 100 years ago, when movies were a brand new form of entertainment.

The entire run of all 15 chapters will be screened over two days at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Chapters 1 through 8 of the multi-part tale will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 3 starting at 2 p.m. Remaining episodes 9 through 15, including the serial's thrilling conclusion, will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

Admission is free to each screening; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

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

"Seeing all episodes of this marvelous multi-part adventure over two days is a century-old form of binge-watching," Rapsis said.

"But it's also a great chance to experience early cinema the way it was intended to be shown: on a big screen, in a theater, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about the venue's safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Similar to the more famous 'Perils of Pauline' serial, 'A Woman in Grey' follows the story of a mysterious woman (Arline Pretty) who may hold the secret to finding a long-lost fortune in an abandoned mansion.

Like most multi-part serials, each chapter of 'A Woman in Grey' runs about 12 minutes, and was designed to be shown one episode each week at local theaters.

Most episodes ended with a "cliffhanger" predicament designed to keep audiences coming back to find out what happens next.

Most multi-part serials from the early days of film are completely lost, or exist only partially. 'A Woman in Grey' is unusual because it survives completely intact. The total length of all 15 episodes is nearly four hours.

'A Woman in Grey' is also unusual because it was produced not in Hollywood, but in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. by Serico Motion Pictures, Inc., a short-lived independent production firm.

The company recruited local stage performers, including leading actress Arline Pretty, to fill out the large cast of 'A Woman in Grey.'

All 15 chapters were shot on location in northeastern Pennsylvania, providing a rare glimpse of the region as it looked a century ago.

Serials continued through the 1920s and into the era of sound films, but over time came to be regarded as programming for children's matinees rather than a format for serious drama. The practice faded out after World War II and the development of television.

The complete 15-chapter serial 'A Woman in Grey' (1920) will be presented over two days at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Episodes 1 through 8 will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m., followed by episodes 9 through 15 the next day, on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dziga Vertov's 'Man With a Movie Camera' to screen on Wednesday, 9/30 in Plymouth, N.H.

A poster for the Russian film 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), which I'll accompany on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Had a lot of fun today accompanying Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) to an audience of about 40 people at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As a sign of how strange things are right now in the movie exhibition business: this summer, silent films with live music have been the top box office attraction at the Town Hall Theatre.

Today's audience included several families with children. In welcoming everyone, I announced the presence of the youngsters by urging all adults to behave themselves so as to make a good impression on the kids. 

The two Keaton pictures were both about the movies, and so is the next one: 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), Russian avant garde director Dziga Vertov's extraordinary documentary about daily life as captured on film. 

I say "extraordinary" because unlike a narrative film that tells a story, 'Man With a Movie Camera' instead plays like a piece of music: fast, slow, and then fast, and so on. It's like a visual symphony. 

Lots more info in the press release, which I'm pasting in below. Hope to see you next week at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth!

P.S. Want to drive your spellcheck function crazy? Try typing in this film title: Koyaanisqatsi

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The eyes have it: an image from 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929).
 

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Man With A Movie Camera' with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Feature-length silent documentary about Russian city life regarded as world's first extended music video

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It has no story, but it tells everyone's story. It's a silent film, but it's the world's first music video. It has no actors because the star is you, the audience.

It's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of city life via a dizzying collage of images and kinetic cinematography that's left audiences breathless for nearly a century.

'Man With A Movie Camera' will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Vertov's experimental documentary caused a sensation when it was released at the end of the 1920s, when motion pictures were still a new artistic medium.

Even with no story and no actors, 'Man With A Movie Camera' was filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

Although no official score was composed for the silent feature, director Vertov specified the type of music that he wanted played wherever the film was screened. Rapsis will create music that follows those guidelines.

"Vertov wanted a kind of kinetic, energetic music to be played with the film, rather than unobtrusive background music," Rapsis said. "The goal is to create music that acts as an equal partner in conveying a kind of exhilaration that I think Vertov was going for."

Filmed mostly in the bustling city of Odessa in the late 1920s, the film features a wide range of slice-of-life scenes showing everything from streetcars to sports contests. Vertov took his camera everywhere, from a birth hospital to a divorce court.

Most spectacularly, Vertov experimented with filming ordinary scenes (such as a crowded public square) at a very slow frame rate. When run at a normal speed, the result was a speeded-up view of reality that few had ever seen or studied before.

Vertov's wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, was an equal partner in creating 'Man With A Movie Camera,' editing the film. She also appears in the film, editing it as we're watching it.

Editor Yelizaveta Svilov, wife of director Dziga Vertov, is seen editing the film in 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929).

"It's a film filled with self-referential puzzles and meta moments," Rapsis said. "It also plays like a piece of visual music, with fast sequences followed by slow ones and moods that often change."

"Although 'Man With A Movie Camera' has some dark scenes, ultimately it's a celebration — of life in what was then the fast-changing Soviet Union, but also in a way that speaks to life regardless of time or place," Rapsis said.

"That's what I'll try to capture in the musical score, which will be performed live and largely improvised," Rapsis said.

At the reopened Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity will be limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

"Films from the silent era were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," Rapsis said.

'Man With A Movie Camera' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.: The original 'Nosferatu' (1922). Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is the best ever done, and has become creepier with the passage of time.

• Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Broken Blossoms' (1919). Can two outcasts in Edwardian London find peace and happiness in a cruel world? Will Lillian Gish overcome her abusive father? Can Richard Barthelmess find love in a forbidden relationship? Great D.W. Griffith drama, with stellar performance from iconic silent actress Gish.

• Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy. In 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, with hilarious results. Preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train.

‘Man With A Movie Camera’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Next: Two silent film programs that look at movies themselves. First up: Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'Cameraman' on Sat., 9/20 in Wilton, N.H.


Original promotional art for Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928).

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel 'Slaughterhouse Five,' there's a British officer who's been in a German prison camp since the very start of World War II. His survival routine included looking in a mirror each morning to frankly evaluate his appearance, posture, and bearing.

Wow! If I had a survival routine, it wouldn't involve looking in a mirror, as that would almost certainly rob me of my will to live. 

But holding up a mirror can be a good thing, despite unexpected results — especially when it's someone like Buster Keaton holding up a mirror to the then-new medium of motion pictures. 

And it's also a good thing when an artist such as Dziga Vertov holds up mirror to life in the then-new Soviet Union, using the art of cinema to create a reflection of life itself.

Movies from both filmmakers are on the silent film calendar in the next couple of weeks. On Sunday, Sept. 20, I'll accompany a double-feature of Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), a pair of films with stories rooted in the movie business.

The screening is at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

And on Wednesday, Sept. 30, I'll do music for a screening of Vertov's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), a head-spinning slice-of-life documentary with no traditional narrative or story itself, unless you count the story of life itself, which I believe was Vertov's subject. 

The screening is at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. More details are on the "Upcoming Screenings" page, and I'll get the press release into a later post. 

For now, the focus (another movie term!) is on Buster, who plays with motion picture reality in both films we're running on Sunday, Sept. 20. 

As with all of Buster's films, the main goal was laughter. Keaton's style of comedy, however, led him to naturally to explore the strange new world of the motion picture, which he does in both 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928).

While many people marvel at the technical wizardry that enabled Keaton to put some eye-popping special effects into 'Sherlock Jr.,' I think 'The Cameraman' shows equal ingenuity in another way: in its story construction.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton creates a simple tale of a would-be newsreel cameraman that allows all manner of commentary (and laughter) about the business he's in. 

Example: a producer watches exciting newsreel footage of a dramatic event (not knowing that it was captured by an organ grinder's monkey), and shouts "That's the best camera work I've seen in years!" 

Knowing the truth of the matter, we laugh at the producer's assessment. But by holding up a mirror to the motion picture business, in 'The Cameraman' Keaton creates an insider's fun-house that transcends laughter and triggers infinity again and again. 

Hope you'll join us! Here's the press release with more info and all the details.

*   *   *


Buster Keaton in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

WILTON, 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.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

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

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The end of August, a very good month;
next up, Buster Keaton double feature on 9/20

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. protects the honor of Marguerite De La Motte in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

This past weekend's double feature of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) and its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), marked the end of a surprisingly busy month of silent film screenings. 

Altogether, August brought a total of 11 screenings, which is about on pace with what the performance schedule looks like in non-pandemic times. That's heartening, because the calendar was pretty much empty from March through July.

The bulk of these shows were at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., which gave up on first-run films (due to low attendance) and programmed an entire week of silent comedies, which actually did quite well!

The Zorro double feature was planned a long time ago to honor the 100th anniversary of the first film's 1920 release. Showing Zorro and its sequel back-to-back turned out to be a great ending for our summer series of silent swashbucklers starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

In accompanying both films, I challenged myself to come up with different musical material for each movie. After all, they're set in different places and involve a completely different story and characters. Only when the older Zorro appears in 'Don Q' did I let myself reuse some of the music from the earlier film.

This turned out to be pretty effective. After Sunday's screening of 'Don Q,' a women I'd never met before came up to say she really enjoyed how I brought back Saturday's music for Don Q's father, the original Zorro. Wow, someone noticed!

So in August, the Town Hall Theatre was where more than half the screenings took place, mostly due to the week of silent comedies. This counter-programming got another write-up in Box Office Pro, in case you're interested.

But I also had screenings at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse up in Plymouth, N.H., which has also reopened, plus the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass., my first show south of the border since Covid-19 shut everything down earlier this year.

Things quiet back down considerably in September: just a few screenings at the end of the month, with still no action at regular venues such as the Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. or the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine or the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass., all of which remain closed.  

Even Halloween — normally the busiest time of the year for me — looks pretty bleak, with just a handful of screenings on the calendar. You'd think it would be a good year for Nosferatu (1922), with its plague references. 

I might reach out to some venues that are open but not known for running silents and see if they'll try something different. The screenings I've done recently shows people will turn out. So we'll see.

For now, thanks to everyone at the theaters who have tried to make a go of it. Even in the age of limited capacities and social distancing, we've had some good screenings that successfully recreated the silent cinema experience.

Next up: nothing until a Keaton double feature at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Sept. 20, although that could change. For now, here's the press release with all the details. Hope to see you there!

*    *    * 

Original promotional art for 'The Cameraman' starring Buster Keaton.

MONDAY, AUG. 31, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

WILTON, 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.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

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

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Two Zorros are better than one: Original, sequel with live music on Aug. 29 & 30 in Wilton, N.H.

Douglas Fairbanks fails to demonstrate proper face-covering technique in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

This weekend brings a two-fer: the original big screen 'Zorro' (1920) on Saturday, Aug. 29, followed by its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) on Sunday, Aug. 30. Live music by you-know-who.

Screenings are at 2 p.m. the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with donations of $10 per person suggested to help support the silent film series. 

 It's a rare chance to see these two related films back-to-back, which allows film-goers to appreciate the connections between the pair, but also to see how far movies had come in just five years.

A lot more info about the films and the screenings is in the press release, which I've pasted into this post a bit further down.

Before that, however, let me report that Harold Lloyd's comedy 'Why Worry?' was greeted this evening by uproarious laughter from a good-sized crowd at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center up in Plymouth, N.H.

They must have not had enough R's, L's, or Y's to spell Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?' 

It's the closest to a "normal" silent film screening I've experienced since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down live performances back in March.

Since I started accompanying screenings again last month, attendance has been hit-or-miss: a lot of people are cautious about congregating and still feel pretty vulnerable. 

But tonight's screening of 'Why Worry?' checked all the boxes: large crowd (for the Covid-19 era); genuinely funny film; generous audience response; a unique shared experience — needed now more than ever!

So I can say the silent film experience is still alive and well, at least in this corner of the planet. And if you're in the same corner, I invite you to check out 'Zorro' and 'Son of Zorro' this weekend in Wilton, N.H. Here's the press release...

*   *   *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. plays the son of Zorro, or Zorro Jr. Confused?

MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall to screen 'Zorro' and sequel 'Son of Zorro' over a single weekend Aug. 29 & 30

Swashbuckling silent adventure films starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to be shown with live music for 100th anniversary of Zorro's release

WILTON, N.H.—It's a rare chance to see the classic silent adventure 'The Mark of Zorro' and its popular sequel, 'Son of Zorro' all in one weekend.

On Saturday, Aug. 29, the Town Hall Theatre will present 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to mark the 100th anniversary of the film's original release.

Then, on Sunday, Aug. 30, the theatre will run 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), a continuation of the Zorro story and Hollywood's first-ever big budget sequel.

In 'Don Q, Son of Zorro,' Fairbanks plays dual roles: his original sword-brandishing 'Zorro' character and also his whip-wielding son.

Both screenings start at 2 p.m. and will be accompanied by live music performed by Jeff Rapsis.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses and support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

"These two films were among the most popular of the 1920s, and there are many links between them," Rapsis said. "It's a rare chance to see them both together, although each is entertaining and enjoyable on its own."

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., an immensely popular star whose career peaked in the 1920s, served as the model for the George Valentin character in 'The Artist,' the recent silent film that recently won multiple Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture.

'The Mark of Zorro,' to be screened on Saturday, Aug. 29, tells the story of young Don Diego Vega, the son of a wealthy ranch owner in Spanish California of the early 19th century.

Witnessing the mistreatment of the poor by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego assumes the identity of "Señor Zorro," a masked figure of great cunning and skill, and vows to bring justice to the region.

The film stars Fairbanks, who until 'Zorro' had focused on playing traditional all-American leading roles in romantic comedies.

The success of 'Zorro' launched Fairbanks on a series of historical adventure films that went on to rank among the most popular spectacles of the silent era, including 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) and 'Robin Hood' (1922).

The enduring popularity of 'Zorro' led Fairbanks to film the sequel, which continues the story to another generation.


In 'Don Q, Son of Zorro,' Fairbanks plays Don Cesar de Vega, Zorro's grown son, a prodigy with the whip who is visiting the family's Spanish homeland to finish his education.

The trip is no dull semsester abroad: Cesar duels with Don Sebastian of the Queen's Guard (soon to be his rival for the hand of lovely Dolores de Muro), makes love to a general's daughter, and befriends the visiting Archduke of Austria.

But a quarrel ending in violence gives Don Sebastian the chance to dispose of his rival by framing him for murder! Feigning suicide, Zorro's whip-wielding son escapes to the family's abandoned castle, where he makes plans to clear the family name.

Both screenings will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis.

Rapsis achieves a "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

"Each of the 'Zorro' films are terrific movies on their own, but the chance to see the original and then the sequel is a great way to present these two films as they were intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," said Rapsis, who provides live music accompaniment for silent film screenings across New England and beyond.

'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. Its sequel, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925) will be screened with live music on Sunday, Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. Each screening is free and open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses.

Both screenings take place at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry?' in Plymouth, N.H.: a perfectly titled comedy for troubled times

Harold's giant friend sports vertical stripes to make him seem even taller!

Next up: Harold Lloyd's surreal south-of-the-border fantasy 'Why Worry?' (1923), which I'm accompanying on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Wow, talk about a title that ought to resonate with today's audiences, 97 years after its original release.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. 

More info below. But first, an update on recent screenings.

Last week, with so many performing venues still not open, I may have been the busiest silent film accompanist on the planet. 

Why? Because a local independent theater temporarily gave up on showing first-run films. Instead, every night from Monday through Friday, the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. ran silent comedy programs with live music.

Rather than limp by with Hollywood's meager diet of current titles, we feasted on Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. (And with a side helping of Harry Langdon.) 

And the audiences came! Attendance ranged from 50 people for Keaton's 'The General' (1927) to about a dozen for Langdon's 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

Those are not exactly full houses. But they're a heckuva lot better than, say, Steve Carell in 'Irresistible' (2020), which on several nights last month at the same theater attracted exactly ZERO patrons.

Part of this, of course, is that with Covid-19 among us, many people still aren't ready to return to experiencing cinema in its natural environment — in a darkened room filled with strangers.

But the Town Hall Theatre, like other venues in my part of the world, has been required to take steps to minimize the risk. Seating is limited to half capacity (in this case, from 216 to 108), face-coverings must be worn, and so on.

And I have to say, attendance at the Town Hall Theatre's silent film shows so far has struck a pretty good balance: there's enough people to create that sense of an audience being present, but also still plenty of room to spread out and achieve social distancing.

I also have to say: I much prefer New Hampshire's Covid-19 theater rules to the way things are in Massachusetts, where theaters of any size are limited to just 25 people. 

Still, even with that constraint, brave venues are testing the waters. A Buster Keaton double feature — ('The Cameraman' (1928) and 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) — last Sunday marked my first screening south of the border since things closed last March.

Held at the Center for the Arts in Natick, the 25-person limit wasn't a factor, as the screening attracted all of eight people. Still, a great time was had by all (I can say that conclusively because afterwards I talked with each person) but maybe Bay Staters aren't yet ready to get out and about. The first wave was a lot more serious down there.

Back to my five-shows-in-a-row experience: Being at the keyboard every night, it felt a little like what it must have been like to be an actual working movie theater musician in the silent era. One exception: one then had to worry about forgetting to turn off his or her phone prior to the show. 

Okay, more comedy on the way in the form of 'Why Worry?' next week up in Plymouth, N.H. And don't worry, here's the press release.

*   *   *

Let's hope Harold isn't suffering from Covid-19 in 'Why Worry?' (1923).

MONDAY, AUG. 17, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Harold Lloyd stars in 'Why Worry?' on Wednesday, Aug. 26 in Plymouth, N.H.

Public welcome: Flying Monkey to screen classic feature-length silent comedy with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He was the bespectacled young man next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.

He was Harold Lloyd, whose fast-paced comedies made him the most popular movie star of Hollywood's silent film era.

See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a revival of 'Why Worry?' (1923), one of his zaniest comedies.

'Why Worry?' will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Lloyd's go-getter character proved immensely popular throughout the 1920s, with fans following him from one adventure to the next.

Harold tries on political revolution (and some boots) in 'Why Worry?' (1923).

In the political satire 'Why Worry?', Harold plays a wealthy hypochondriac traveling abroad who gets caught up in a local uprising.

Thrown into prison, Harold is forced to use his wits to escape and rescue his nurse from the clutches of an evil Revolutionary.

Regarded as one of Lloyd's most surreal movies, 'Why Worry?' features a cast that includes an actual real-life giant—8-foot-tall John Aasen, discovered in Minnesota during a national talent search.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Why Worry?' as the film screens. In creating accompaniment for the Lloyd movies and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

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

At the reopened Flying Monkey, accommodations will be made to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity will be limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

"These comedies were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," said Rapsis. "Plus, we need all the laughs we can get, which makes a film titled 'Why Worry?' particularly timely.

'Why Worry?' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1928). Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of daily life in the Soviet Union. Experimental documentary with no story and no actors, but filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

• Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.: The original 'Nosferatu' (1922). Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is the best ever done, and has become creepier with the passage of time.

• Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Broken Blossoms' (1919). Can two outcasts in Edwardian London find peace and happiness in a cruel world? Will Lillian Gish overcome her abusive father? Can Richard Barthelmess find love in a forbidden relationship? Great D.W. Griffith drama, with stellar performance from iconic silent actress Gish.

• Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy. In 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, with hilarious results. Preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train.

‘Why Worry?’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com or call (603) 536-2551.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Next up for 'Silent Comedy Week': Charlie Chaplin and a very young Uncle Fester in 'The Kid' (1921)

Tonight's 'Silent Film Comedy Week' attraction: 'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan.

When you work in show biz, you expect to rub elbows with the famous and near-famous.

But when your branch of show biz includes musical accompaniment to screenings of silent films, you take what you can get. 

For instance: after a screening last month of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., a gentleman in the audience said that in the 1950s, when he worked as a delivery boy in Manhattan, he once delivered a package to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.!

Wow! So we gave him a round of applause. What else could we do?

Which takes us to 'The Kid' (1921), starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, which is tonight's title for the ongoing "Silent Comedy Week" at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The first time I did live music for 'The Kid' was in 2008 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Afterwards, a gentleman from Derry, N.H. (I remember) raised his hand to announce that his uncle's cousin by marriage (or some kind of non-direct relative, which I don't remember) had, as a young child, the distinction of working in Hollywood as Jackie Coogan's stunt double.

Wow again! So, yes, he got a round of applause. What else could we do? Of course there was no way to check the accuracy of this claim, but why would anyone make up something so specific?

So I've come to enjoy these random brushes with fame that surface within the audience for silent film screenings I do, even in the most rural New Hampshire crossroads. 

A good example is a kindly gentleman who for a time was attending screenings at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. who turned out to be the grandson of Rudi Blesh, the jazz expert who collaborated with Buster Keaton on the comedian's first biography in the 1950s. 

Amazingly, this gentlemen had in his possession many of the photos and other Keaton family mementos that his grandfather had used in writing the book. They've since been acquired by the International Buster Keaton Society, known as 'The Damfinos.'

And once, after a screening in Brandon, Vt., a very tall middle-aged fellow came up to me to talk music, and turned out he was the grandson of operetta composer Rudolph Friml of 'When I'm Calling You' Indian Love Song fame! 

And let me use this opportunity (operetta-tunity?) to share with you a couplet that renowned poet Ogden Nash sent Friml on his 90th birthday:

"I trust your conclusion and mine are similar: 'Twould be a happier world if it were Frimler."

Sometimes the connections are surprising: at one screening of 'Wings' (1927) I accompanied, in attendance was director William Wellman's youngest daughter, who lives in this part of the world and had never actually seen her father's Academy Award-winning blockbuster. (She enjoyed it!)

And perhaps the strongest connection I've come across was a retired local English teacher, Dick Backus, who as a young man was an actor in New York, and had an extended run on stage with Gloria Swanson in the 1970s, when she starred in a play titled "Butterflies Are Free." Dick would sometimes attend screenings and it was a Swanson flick, he'd talk about his experiences working with Gloria. 

Dick, are you still out there? Let's connect. If this pandemic continues, we could do a whole week of Gloria Swanson silents at the Town Hall Theater, and put you in an easy chair onstage to reminisce. 

But tonight it's 'The Kid.' I'm not sure if our local connection to Jackie Coogan's childhood stunt double will attend, but I sure hope so.

And just to show you how I can crank out the press releases, here's one for tonight's showing. See you there!

 *  *  *

 

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan star in 'The Kid' (1921) tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 12, 2020 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' to screen on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Town Hall Theatre

Landmark movie about Little Tramp raising an orphan to be shown with live music as part of Silent Film Comedy Week

WILTON, N.H.—It's a story with "a smile, and perhaps a tear." It's Charlie Chaplin's breakthrough feature comedy, 'The Kid' (1921) and it screens with live music at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person, with proceeds to support the Town Hall Theatre during its temporary closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

The Town Hall Theatre observes all recommended CDC and local public health guidelines to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Movie-goers are asked to wear face-coverings in the lobby and theatre until seated; capacity is reduced 50 percent to allow for social distancing; and all high touch areas are cleaned and sanitized after each screening.

Chaplin was already the world's most popular comedian and filmmaker when he produced 'The Kid,' his first feature-length project.

The movie, with its daring mix of intense drama and slapstick comedy, proved an instant sensation and marked one of the high points of Chaplin's long career.

'The Kid' follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who attempts to raise an orphaned boy on his own. It includes several classic scenes, and is highlighted by a sequence in which Chaplin battles authorities attempting to return the child to an orphanage.

Co-starring with Chaplin in 'The Kid' is five-year-old Jackie Coogan, who turned in what many critics rank as the best child performance of the entire silent film era. Chaplin himself worked closely with the young Coogan for more than a year to develop the youngster's acting abilities.

Coogan went on to a long career that much later included the role of "Uncle Fester" in the popular 1960s Addams Family television show.

“Chaplin's first real feature mixes slapstick and sentiment in a winning combination, as the Tramp raises a streetwise orphan. Wonderful film launched Coogan as a major child star, and it's easy to see why.”
– Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

The screening of 'The Kid' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'The Kid' is part of Silent Film Comedy Week at the Town Hall Theatre, which has temporarily stopped running first-run movies due to lack of availability.

Thursday will bring Harold Lloyd's 1922 comedy classic 'Grandma's Boy,' while Friday finishes the week with Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

"Response has been great so far," Rapsis said. "Maybe we're at the point where we could all use a good laugh."

'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Tickets $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.