Thursday, January 12, 2023

Coming up on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Wilton, N.H.: Celebrate the 100th anniversary of 'Safety Last,' plus how the film relates to Beethoven's 5th

Harold Lloyd and the iconic image from 'Safety Last' (1923)

As we move through the decade of the 2020s, each year is now bringing a bumper crop of 100th anniversaries of great films worth celebrating—and screening, too!

For the still-new year of 2023, chief among the titles celebrating a centennial is Harold Lloyd's thrill comedy 'Safety Last.' 

In the coming months, I'll accompany more than a few screenings of this film—the first of which is this weekend, on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As stated in the press release (which is pasted in below, and has all the details), the film is well-known even among people who've never seen any of Lloyd's work. 

That's a result, I suspect, of a single iconic image (see above), which over the decades has come to symbolize the "anything for a laugh" school of comedy that supposedly prevailed in the silent era.

And that's unfortunate—not just because it's incorrect, but it also shortchanges a wonderfully realized comedy that has a lot more going for it than just a guy hanging from a minute-hand.

What I mean from that is captured in some thoughts I posted seven years ago, in which I compared 'Safety Last' to Beethoven's 5th Symphony, of all things.

But with Safety Last turning 100, I think they're worth bringing up again. Here goes!

From Jan. 24, 2016...

With me, when I ponder 'Safety Last,' I often think of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. You know? Da da da DUMMM!

Which prompts the question: What does a Jazz Age romantic comedy have in common with one the sternest, most serious pieces of classical music ever written?

Well, as with so much, it's personal. So forgive me as I briefly succumb to that malaise of middle age: the reminiscence.

I first got interested in silent film as a kid in the 1970s. At the time, if you really wanted to see silent film, you had to get the actual films and run them yourself.

Many were available (in 16mm and 8mm) from the public library, or could be ordered from Blackhawk Films of Davenport, Iowa, which I did.

And so I explored and learned about the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, of Buster Keaton, and so many others. Little by little, I came to understand the world of 1920s cinema.

But the films of one person were missing: Harold Lloyd. You could see some of his early short films, but all the big classic features just weren't available.

Of course I could read about Lloyd's films. In books, he was often labeled a "thrill" comedian in passages that were inevitably accompanied by the famous image at the top of this post.

Here it is again:


And that was that. As far as I knew, Lloyd was rooted in the frentic "anything for a laugh" school of comedy, as epitomized by that one photo, used over and over again.

Why was he hanging from a clock? There couldn't be any possible reason other than he was just trying to get laughs by being outrageous.

And that was my image of Lloyd for quite awhile.

At the same time (junior high school), I was beginning to explore the works of the great composers.

All along, I had known what Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was all about: da da da DUMMM, right?

But to my adolescent ears, it came as a a major discovery that 40 minutes of music followed: music that explored a vast emotional landscape ranging from the deepest valleys of despair to the highest summits of ecstasy.

I recall it was an RCA recording of Fritz Reiner leading the Chicago Symphony on an LP that was very "close-miked," meaning the voice of each instrument was clear and distinct, as opposed to the general sonic blur you sometimes get from an orchestra in a concert hall.

It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. And it was big news to find out all of what came after DUMMM.

The same thing happened with 'Safety Last.' After years of thinking of the film as just an excuse for Lloyd to go stunting willy-nilly on a tall building, I finally got to see the entire film. (This happened when the Lloyd films were shown on Public Television in the late 1970s.)

Just as with Beethoven, a whole world opened up to me. Turns out Lloyd wasn't just a clock-hanger! His films had plots, character, settings, and finely honed gag sequences that brought the art of visual comedy to places I had never seen before.

And 'Safety Last' wasn't just a flimsy excuse for Lloyd to do stunts on a building. No! It was laid out with a certain inexorable logic that leaves Lloyd's character no choice but to climb the building, floor by increasingly vertiginous floor, while frightened silly the whole way.

And as he does it, the film's story virtually requires us to root for him. And when he finally reaches the clockface—the one I'd seen in that picture so many times—the reaction generated is the result of all that has gone on before it.

I couldn't believe how well done it was. I finally knew how Lloyd came to hanging from that clockface, and it made all the sense in the world.

It also helped me begin to understand why Lloyd was so popular in the 1920s. His films were a lot more than da da da DUMM. They were actually made to a very high standard, designed to be experienced by a large audience, and still work like gangbusters when shown as intended.

So there! I hope that's enough to encourage you to venture out the the venerable (and venture-able, too!) Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. and join us for a screening of 'Safety Last' on Sunday, Jan. 15. More details in the press release below.

*    *    *

Harold Lloyd clocks in during 'Safety Last' (1923).

TUESDAY, DEC. 27, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall Theatre to celebrate 100th anniversary of silent film classic 'Safety Last'

Thrill comedy climaxed by Harold Lloyd's iconic building climb; matinee screening with live music on Sunday, Jan. 15

WILTON, N.H.—It's a cinematic image so powerful, people who've never seen the movie instantly recognize it.

The vision of Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a huge clock, from the climax of his silent comedy 'Safety Last,' (1923), has emerged as a symbol of early Hollywood and movie magic.

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the film's original release with a screening of 'Safety Last' on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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

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

'Safety Last' follows young go-getter Lloyd to the big city, where he hopes to make his mark in business, then send for his small town sweetheart.

His career at a downtown department store stalls, however, until he gets a chance to pitch a surefire publicity idea—hire a human fly to climb the building's exterior.

But when the human fly has a last-minute run-in with the law, Harold is forced to make the climb himself, floor by floor, with his sweetheart looking on.

The result is an extended sequence filmed without trick photography that blends comedy and terror, holding viewers spellbound.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is regarded as one of the silent screen's three great clowns.

Lloyd's character, an ambitious young man ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s.

While Chaplin and Keaton were always favored by the critics, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

Silent film at the Town Hall Theatre gives today's audiences the chance to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who practices the nearly lost art of live silent film accompaniment.

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

"Seeing 'Safety Last' with an audience is one of the great thrill rides of the cinema of any era, silent or sound," Rapsis said. "Harold's iconic building climb, filmed without trick photography, continues to provoke audience responses nearly 100 years after film was first released."

Tributes to the clock-hanging scene have appeared in several contemporary films, most recently in Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' (2011), which includes clips from 'Safety Last.'

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harold Lloyd's iconic thrill comedy 'Safety Last' (1923) with a screening on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person at each screening is suggested to help defray expenses. For more information, call the theater at (603) 654-3456.

CRITIC COMMENTS ON ‘SAFETY LAST’:

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

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

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

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Coming up next: sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Keene's Colonial Theatre

Let's hear it for the Precision Driving School of Greenfield, Mass. for sponsoring a local theater's silent film series!

What better way to follow a screening of 'Metropolis' than with...another screening of 'Metropolis'?

That's what'll happen this weekend, when Fritz Lang's ground-breaking sci-fi epic hits the big screen yet again: this time on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

Lots more detail about this screening is in the press release below.

This will actually be the fourth 'Metropolis' screening I've accompanied in the past three weeks. That's a lot of futuristic fantasy!

The four screenings were booked separately by programmers at different venues, which I take as a sign of the film's enduring popularity. Anywhere you go, it seems people still buy tickets and show up for 'Metropolis.'

So if you're in the Monadnock area of southwestern N.H. this Saturday, please drop on by and experience one of the great achievements of the silent era as it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with a restored print, with live music, and with an audience!

I usually describe a screening as a "rare chance" to experience early cinema as it was intended. But in the case of 'Metropolis,' I can't really say it's rare, having done music for it so often.

Plus, if you can't make it to Keene this weekend, I'm doing 'Metropolis' again in April at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Stay tuned on that one...

*  *  *

From 'Metropolis': A star is born...sort of.

TUESDAY, DEC. 20, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' to screen in Keene on Saturday, Jan. 7

Ring in the New Year with landmark early futuristic fantasy shown with live music at Colonial Theatre

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

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

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

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8.50 youth. Tickets are available online at http://thecolonial.org or at the door.

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

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

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

In reviving 'Metropolis,' the Colonial aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at Colonial is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927.

The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

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

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

From Metropolis': note the sign in the bottom right corner. It doesn't seem to represent anything real in any language I recognize. But it IS an anagram for both 'A Mouth' and 'Uh, Atom.'

The restoration work has continued in recent years. In 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

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

The discovery led to a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. This fully restored edition will be screened at the Colonial.

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

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. Admission is $10.50 for adults; $8.50 for youth. Tickets are available online at http://thecolonial.org or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (603) 352-2033.

CRITIC'S COMMENTS on ‘METROPOLIS’

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

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

Monday, January 2, 2023

First in line for 2023: 'Metropolis' on Monday, Jan. 2 at Greenfield (Mass.) Garden Cinema

A scene from 'Metropolis' (1927).

We start out 2023 by breaking new ground!

Tonight I'm doing live music for 'Metropolis' (1927), and it's the first time in my experience that Fritz Lang's futuristic fantasy will be sponsored by a driving school.

Yes, the Garden Cinema of Greenfield, Mass. will screen 'Metropolis' tonight at 6:30 p.m., and along for the ride will be the Precision Driving School.

And that's not all. The driving school has generously agreed to underwrite a three-film series of silents at the Garden. Alfred Hitchcock's early thriller 'The Lodger' (1927) will screen in February, and then it's the WWI aerial epic 'Wings' (1927) in March.

So a tip of the cap to the folks at the Precision Driving School (Your Driver's License is Just a Click Away!) for doing their part to help a local downtown cinema run unusual and distinctive programming—the kind that can't easily be duplicated at home.

And while we're at it, three cheers to the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, where they've been bringing the magic of the movies to Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley since 1929. It's great that Garden willing to find room in their programming for silent classics with live music, which I'm honored to provide. (And which keeps me off the street.)

So if you're within hailing distance of Greenfield, Mass., then get thee down to the Garden for tonight's screening of 'Metropolis.' And if you don't know how to drive, call our good friends at the Precision Driving School (1-413-773-8600) and they'll set you right up. 

Details and more info in the press release below:

*    *    *

An original promotional poster for 'Metropolis' (1927).

TUESDAY, DEC. 27, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' to screen in Greenfield on Monday, Jan. 2

Ring in the New Year with landmark early futuristic fantasy shown with live music at Garden Cinema

GREENFIELD, Mass.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music in Greenfield next month.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Monday, Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

The screening, which honors "National Science Fiction Day," will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and veterans. Tickets are available online or at the door. The screening is sponsored by Precision Driving School of Greenfield.

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

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

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Garden Cinema aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' during the screening. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

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

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at Greenfield Garden Cinema is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927.

The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

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

Futuristic gesturing on display in 'Metropolis' (1927).

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

The restoration work has continued in recent years. In 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

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

The discovery led to a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Greenfield Garden Cinema.

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

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

Silent film will return to the Garden on Monday, Feb. 6 with a screening 'The Lodger' (1927), an early effort from director Alfred Hitchcock; and then on Monday, March 6 with 'Wings' (1927), a sweeping drama of U.S. aviators in World War I that won of Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards.

All films will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis.

The Garden Cinema's silent film series is sponsored by Precision Driving School, 91 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Monday, Jan. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass. Admission is $10.50 for adults; $8.50 for children, seniors, and veterans. Tickets are available online at www.gardencinemas.net or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

CRITIC'S COMMENTS on ‘METROPOLIS’

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

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

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Ending 2022 with yesterday's vision of tomorrow: Metropolis in Newport, R.I. on Tuesday, Dec. 27

Original poster art for 'Metropolis.'

One more to go in 2022, and it's a biggie: 'Metropolis' (1927), for which I'll be doing music on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

Showtime is 7 p.m.; lots more info in the press release below.

Looking ahead, 2023 beckons as another busy post-pandemic year of silent film music. 

Besides a full dance card of local shows, a pair of out-of-town performing trips are already on the calendar.

In January, I'll be playing for film programs at Cinema Detroit in Detroit, Mich., and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

And then in February, it's my annual pilgrimage to the Kansas Silent Film Festival at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

I don't do personal New Year's resolutions as I don't ever seem to change. I'll soon be 60 years old, but I'm still bedeviled by teenage habits and personality trains, with a big helping of the Seven Deadly Sins mixed in.

But in terms of silent film accompaniment, according to my running list of silent feature films that  I've accompanied (maintained elsewhere on this blog), right now the total stands at 373.

So that means if I make an effort, 2023 may be the year the total crosses 400. Well, that's a big round number!

So, in between repeat screenings of popular titles that comprise the bulk of my work, I'll try to salt in a few obscure titles I've never before tackled. If I do an average of one every two weeks, I should make it!

One good sign: in planning its 2023 calendar, the Somerville Theatre has booked no less than four silent features that I've never played for before, including Lillian Gish in 'Annie Laurie'; Mary Pickford's early 'Cinderella;' the recently restored MGM blockbuster 'The Fire Brigade'; and Thomas Meighan in 'The Canadian.'

All are via 35mm prints from the Library of Congress—your tax dollars at work!

In the meantime, 'Metropolis' is up next. Hope you'll join us during that strange in-limbo week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

And a Happy New Year!

*  *  *

A scene from 'Metropolis' (1927).

TUESDAY, DEC. 6, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Restored classic sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' to screen in Newport on Tuesday, Dec. 27

Landmark early futuristic fantasy, with half-hour of rediscovered footage, to be shown with live music at Jane Pickens Theatre

NEWPORT, R.I.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music in Newport during the upcoming holiday vacation week.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.

The screening, the latest in the venue'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 $15 per person; members $13. Tickets are available online or at the door.

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

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

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Jane Pickens Theatre aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

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

From 'Metropolis' (1927).

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at the Jane Pickens Theatre is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927.

The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

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

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

The restoration work has continued in recent years. In 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

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

The discovery led to a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Jane Pickens Theatre.

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

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rather than focus exclusively on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I. Admission is $15 per person; members $13. Tickets are available online at www.janepickens.com or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (401) 846-5474.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

This Wednesday night! It's Rin Tin Tin to the rescue Dec. 14 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

An original poster promoting Rin Tin Tin in 'The Night Cry' (1926).

I'm delighted to be doing live music this week for what I feel is one of the unknown gems of the silent era:'The Night Cry' (1926), an action-adventure featuring canine star Rin Tin Tin.

The film is being screened on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass. More info in the press release below.

The Rin Tin Tin silents were all immensely popular starting with the first releases in 1922, after which Warner Bros. started churning them out as fast as possible. 

But 'The Night Cry' has a special quality that comes from the studio searching for fresh ways for their dog star to face peril and keep audiences coming.

As a result, in this picture 'Rinty' (his nickname at the time) faces off against one of the most unusual villains in movie history: a giant California condor! 

Yes—in 'The Night Cry,' it's not enough for Rin Tin Tin to battle a community of sheep ranchers who unjustly accuse him of killing newborn lambs. (One guess as to who's actually responsible.)

No—he must also battle the enormous bird of prey, source of the film's title and also any number of life-or-death encounters for our four-legged star as he strives to prove his innocence.

So with all this going for it, 'The Night Cry' is a great example of the kind of fast-paced melodramatic picture that prompted audiences all over the world to first fall in love with motion pictures. And it still has a slightly over-the-top sensibility that still causes audiences to gasp and cheer nearly a century after its release.

I encourage you to attend tomorrow night's screening to recapture the sense of wonder that cinema once provided in such abundance. 

Plus you get to see a dog match wits with a giant bird!

*   *   *

A production still from 'The Night Cry' (1926) starring Rin Tin Tin.

TUESDAY, DEC. 6, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rin Tin Tin leaps back into action on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at Coolidge Corner Theatre

Legendary dog star races to the rescue, battles giant condor in 'The Night Cry' silent adventure film, presented with live music

BROOKLINE, Mass. — He couldn't speak. But that was no handicap during the silent film era.

He was Rin Tin Tin, the legendary German Shepherd dog whose popularity rivaled that of any human performer when the movies were brand new.

See for yourself on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., when the Coolidge Corner Theatre screens a vintage Rin Tin Tin silent adventure film with live music.

In 'The Night Cry' (1926), Rin Tin Tin must clear his name after being accused of killing sheep, all while battling an unusual non-human nemesis—a giant California condor!

'The Night Cry' will be shown at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass. Admission in $23 per person; tickets available at the door or via www.coolidge.org

The film—the latest installment in the Coolidge's 'Sounds of Silents' series—will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a composer and performer who specializes in scoring silent film.

Rin Tin Tin films were produced by the then-struggling Warner Bros. studio. They proved immensely popular around the world, with audiences marveling at the then-new German Shepherd breed's feats of derring-do as he outsmarted his human co-stars.

At the time, studio executives referred to Rin Tin Tin "the mortgage lifter" because the dog's pictures helped rescue the ailing studio from bankruptcy.

A lobby card promoting 'The Night Cry' (1926) starring Rin Tin Tin.

Rin Tin Tin became so popular, he was named "Best Actor" at the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929—until officials opted for a re-vote in favor of human performer Emil Jannings.

'The Night Cry' is unusual in that "Rinty" (the dog's nickname) battles not just human foes, but also a murderous California condor.

The original promotional copy for 'The Night Cry' captures the excitement that made Rin Tin Tin a box office sensation:

"A story of tense thrills and tenderness, of a dog's loyalty and man's cruelty—tense with the thrills of a terrifying fight between a giant condor and a Shepherd dog."

To improvise a live musical score for 'The Night Cry,' silent film musician Jeff Rapsis will use a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra.

"The Rin Tin Tin films are great pictures for audience reaction, even today," Rapsis said. "They're full of fast-paced action, great stunts—and they really move!"

Rin Tin Tin remained popular throughout the silent film era and until his death in 1932, which made headlines around the globe. But his progeny went on to star in later films and TV shows, keeping the name before the public for generations.

Rin Tin Tin's descendants are still bred, continuing the bloodline to the present day. The ongoing Rin Tin Tin phenomenon inspired a recent book, "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean.

'The Night Cry' will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass. as part of the theater's 'Sounds of Silents' series.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $23 per person.

For more info and to buy tickets, visit www.coolidge.org or call (617) 734-2500.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Tonight, 11/19: 'Her Sister from Paris,' final film of season at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

A poster promoting Constance Talmadge in 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925).

Tonight, a screening of the hilarious society comedy 'Her Sister from Paris' will mark the final show of the 2022 silent film series at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Showtime is 7 p.m., admission is free, and yours truly will be at the keyboard. The setting: Vienna, so expect lots of music in 3/4 time.

Lots more about tonight's screening is in the press release attached below. Hope you'll drop by if you're within driving distance. 

For now, a quick report on a screening of 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) the W.C. Fields silent that we screened at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center this past Wednesday night. 

Me under the Flying Monkey marquee.

A special guest was on hand for this event, at least in spirit. Prior to the screening, Harriet Fields (the granddaughter of W.C.) sent me a note to read to the audience.

So I did, and here's what I said:

Thank you for screening "So's Your Old Man" this Wednesday, November 16, the second W.C. Fields film added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (2008). "You're Telling Me" is the talking version filmed in Hollywood in 1934. In both these classic films, W.C. Fields scene on the train with Princess Lescaboura is an arrestingly tender and endearing portrait of the real W.C. Fields-my grandfather and spiritual inspiration. Thank you to the W. C. Fields Facebook Group for alerting us to your most appreciated screening. Warmest regards to all and special hug to our dear Jeff Rapsis, piano accompanist extraordinaire.
Dr. Harriet A. Fields

How nice of Harriet to provide a personal welcome to viewers of one of her grandfather's rarely screened Paramount silents. 

I'm pleased to report our audience enjoyed the film immensely. Perhaps the biggest laugh came when the wife of Fields' character is told he's done something simply marvelous, and her response (via intertitle) is.

"Did he die?"

Well, he didn't, and Fields himself lives on through the films and of course through the efforts of Harriet and her other family members. 

And now it's on to Brandon, Vt., where tonight we'll cavort with Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman in a very funny comedy, 'Her Sister From Paris.'

Hope to see you there! And here's the press release...

*   *   *

Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman in 'Her Sister from Paris' (1925).

TUESDAY, NOV. 8, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Her Sister From Paris' to screen on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Brandon Town Hall

Uproarious 'battle of the sexes' silent comedy to be presented with live music at historic venue

BRANDON, Vt.—The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Get swept off your feet by not one but two privileged ladies, both played by amazing actress Constance Talmadge, in this effervescent battle-of-the-sexes comedy.

Silent film with live music returns to Brandon Town Hall with a screening of the comedy 'Her Sister from Paris' on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

The program will be presented with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The screening is free and open to the public, with donations accepted and refreshments for sale.

In 'Her Sister from Paris,' Ronald Colman and Constance Talmadge play a wealthy American society couple living in Vienna.

Due to an argument, she leaves to stay with her mother. At the railway station she meets her identical twin, a celebrated dancer in Paris (also played by Talmadge), who agrees to trick the husband to help rekindle her sister's marriage.

The fun starts when both the husband and his friend, an official at the British Embassy, fall in love with the sister, leading to a dizzying round of complications.

Among the most popular stars of the silent era, Constance Talmadge specialized in light "society" comedies. However, she had acting and pantomime skills that made her a versatile actress able to tackle any role.

In 'Her Sister From Paris,' Talmadge delivers a virtuoso performance playing both sisters. Although their appearance is identical, each woman is quite different from the other, which Talmadge conveys through body language and on-screen attitude.

Ronald Colman, whose career would go on to span radio and television, was already a popular leading man in films at the time 'Her Sister From Paris' was made. Colman more than holds his own as the two sisters conspire against him.

The screening of 'Her Sister from Paris' 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 as they were intended, you can really 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 feature-length 'Her Sister From Paris' will be preceded by a short subject from the silent era.

The screening of 'Her Sister from Paris' at Brandon Town Hall is sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

'Her Sister From Paris' (1925) starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are welcome to help support ongoing Town Hall renovation efforts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Checking in after a busy Halloween season; silent W.C. Fields on Wednesday night, Plymouth, N.H.

An original lobby card promoting W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' (1926).

Up next: I'll accompany a screening of 'So's Your Old Man' (1926), a terrific W.C. Fields silent comedy, on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. and yes, it's a silent film starring W.C. Fields. You won't hear his nasal twang and he sports a mustache, but give it a chance. I've found from experience that the Fields silents (those that survive, anyway) are great for audience response.

More about 'So's Your Old Man' in the press release below. Hope to see you in Plymouth on Wednesday night!

For now, here's a brief report of this year's Halloween marathon of silent film screenings, which reached a crescendo with three separate screenings in three states on the Saturday prior to spook day. 

It got so busy that I really didn't have time to update the blog day-by-day. Hence this attempt to catch up.

The pre-show set-up in 'The Showroom' in Keene, N.H.

Let's see...on Tuesday, Oct. 25, it was 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the new Showroom venue of the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H. It's called the "showroom" because it actually was originally the showroom of a car dealer!

I've been doing 'Nosferatu' pretty regularly for a long time, and everything clicked that night. Great reaction from an enthusiastic audience made of mostly first-timers for the silent film/live music experience. 

Tools of the trade: the "dingy bell" I use to match the clock chimes in 'Nosferatu.'

I got specific kudos from a young boy for the way I matched the bell chimes for the two times in 'Nosferatu' that a clock strikes midnight. It's a little tricky because both times characters on screen hear the clock before it's seen on camera. 

 If I do it just right, I can get 12 chimes exactly, and that's what happened, thus helping me build the pre-teen fan base for the silent film experience.

Pre-show poster posing at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, it was 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H. Another strong turnout for this lesser-known but entertaining comedy-thriller—people seemed to get what director Paul Leni was going for, and reacted strongly throughout.

In introducing the film, in order to demonstrate the "fame is fleeting" principle, I asked if any members of the Laura LaPlante club were present. Two hands went up immediately!

This is another film in which a clock striking midnight is featured prominently. In this case, it's a big old grandfather clock, and when the hour comes, Leni fills the screen with a prolonged montage of hammers hitting various coils to make the sounds.

No mere dingy bell will do this justice, so instead I switch the synthesizer to a setting named 'Valerian Bells,' which sounds like something from 'The Exorcist.' Once again I won after-screening praise for my bell effects! I thought "Heck, I'm on a roll." 

But fate, and perhaps the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe, had other plans for me and my bells, bells, bells...

Loved this series poster at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, it was down to Newport, R.I., where the Jane Pickens Theatre was running 'Nosferatu.' To everyone's surprise and delight, well over 200 people crowded into the venerable venue to take in the vampire's exploits.

Having only started doing silent films this year in Newport, there's a great sense of discovery there, even with a film as familiar (to me, anyway) as 'Nosferatu.' The majority of attendees were first-timers, not just for 'Nosferatu' but for any silent film in a theater with live music.

Another poster in Newport. The Jane Pickens Theatre does a great job promoting screenings.

And so audience reaction was intense and gratifying. They even laughed at my weak joke about preparing by means of braving the scary traffic getting through Boston on Route 128. Har!

And the music once again came together to support, I hope, what F.W. Murnau and his collaborators had put into the film so long ago. Altogether, it was one of highlights of the season: a packed house and that in-the-moment feeling that a film is really connecting, creating a shared experience by everyone present. Wow!

Pre-show inside the Jane Pickens Theatre. My little Roland speakers (seen on stage) do a great job, filling this sized house with a big sound when needed.

Alas, it was this screening in which the bells got the best of me. After a half-dozen screenings of 'Nosferatu,' I screwed up both cues! Each time, I went to hit the dingy bell button, and literally missed the bell. 

The first time, I succeeded in nearly knocking the bell off the chair, and so managed to get maybe only six dings before the movie moved on. That unnerved me enough to muff the second cue as well. It was a case of "not saved by the bell."

Friday, Oct. 28 saw me up at Warner, N.H. to accompany 'The Bells' (1926), an obscure thriller from obscure Chadwick Pictures that benefited from performances by the not-so-obscure Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff.

The screening, a fund-raiser for the Telephone Museum of N.H. (Yes, New Hampshire has a telephone museum. Doesn't your state?) and so 'The Bells' seemed an appropriate title. 

Not the largest turnout of the season but the hall was pretty full and the film worked in spite of my clumsy attempts to integrate some toy sleigh bells into the score when needed.

This is where the bells got the best of me—fittingly in a film called 'The Bells.' 

The bells referred to in the title are not telephone bells, but sleigh bells, the sound of which symbolize a murder that's committed during the picture.  

Well, the best I could do in advance of this screening was to find a set of toy bells glued to felt that we found in my basement with a lot of old Christmas stuff. 

I didn't have a chance to really test them out, and it turned out they were not even close to being up to the job. As I tried to shake them while playing keyboard with the other, they made virtually no sound. Instead of menacing, they sounded pathetic, at least to my ears.

Finally, one shake too many caused them to fly out of my hand and hit the floor, where I left them, getting my sleigh bell effects from the keyboard from then on. Strangely, a woman afterwards complimented me on how effective that was!

Dear Santa: please bring me a set of real sleigh bells. Also, while we're on the subject, a real boxing bell would be nice as well.

Saturday, Oct. 29 was the true one-day marathon: another 'Nosferatu,' this time a matinee at the newly opened Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H., then an evening screening of 'Der Golem' (1920) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, followed then by a midnight screening of the reconstructed 'London After Midnight' (1927) at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Brookline, Mass., just over the line from Boston. 

The Leavitt Theatre, like all of Ogunquit, does not do Halloween halfway.

Three states, three screenings, in 12 hours! And I had time for a piping hot bowl of bibimbap (see below) at the Korean Restaurant around the corner from the Coolidge, which thankfully stays open late on Saturday nights.

During this steeplechase, as far as the music goes, I was in kind of a trance. Sitting at the keyboard, it just flowed out of me. For 'Nosferatu,' it was a synthesis of all the material I'd been developing at the six previous screenings of the film I'd accompanied in the previous two weeks. 

For 'Der Golem,' it was largely a riff on the theme from Bach's "Little Fugue in G minor." And 'London After Midnight' was total seat-of-the-pants improv based on three descending notes, which I have to say became thrillingly effective as the film progressed.

Risky selfie of me and the distinctive Coolidge marquee, obtained by stepping into Harvard Street in front of the theater.

Besides the Korean food, it was powered by the adrenaline rush from seeing so many people in costume lined up for the Coolidge's annual Halloween overnight marathon, for which 'London After Midnight' was the opening film. 

Adding to that was the sight of several large rats outside my car! Really—after the crowd had filed in, the rats came out of a dumpster area in an alley behind the theater and were apparently scavenging spilled popcorn and soda.

Me with the line of Coolidge marathon attendees stretching back into the alley, the end of which is where I later encountered rats guarding my car.

This happened to be right where I parked my car for the load-in. Rather than be alarmed, my reaction was: "How cool to see this at Halloween!" Still, I had the presence of mind to make hissing noises to scare them off before moving the car out of there. 

It was well past 1 a.m., but I couldn't miss the Coolidge Corner's costume contest! 

And then Sunday, Oct. 29 saw me accompanying a non-Halloween program at a new venue: the Gloucester Meetinghouse in Gloucester, Mass., an imposing structure that rises majestically out of the seaport's crowded old center. 

The venue's silent film programs are usually accompanied by celebrated Boston-based organist Peter Krasinski, a good friend and colleague. But Peter was out of town and recommended me to fill in (thanks, Peter!) for a program of comedies: shorts by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and then Chaplin's feature 'The Kid' (1921).

A beautiful fall afternoon with the Gloucester Meetinghouse in Gloucester, Mass.

Weatherwise, it was a spectacular late October Sunday, but attendance was strong. One odd thing was that the church interior was noticeably warmer than it was outside. This was the result of a group using the building the night before accidentally leaving the heat cranked up to 85 all night long!

But the accidental combo of silent film and bikram-style yoga didn't stop the audience from enjoying the program, with many people afterwards praising 'The Kid' for its powerful emotional impact. Nice!

I perhaps lingered a bit too long, because I then found myself high-tailing it on Route 128 back to New Hampshire, where I just barely made it to the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. for a 7:30 p.m. screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927).

For this one, I know the film somewhat, but hadn't done it in a long time. And coming at the end of a long series of screenings, there just wasn't an opportunity to view it or a chance to prepare anything in advance.

But at the same time, I'd been doing films nearly every day for the past three weeks. So in my favor was a state of unusual fluency, I'd have to say, that comes from sitting at a keyboard and creating music several hours in a row day after day.

And with 'The Lodger,' I just plunged in with a kind of aggressively syncopated jazz motif that turned out to be remarkably versatile in catching the various ups and downs of Hitchcock's first real 'Hitchcock' film: a tale of murder, false leads, misdirection, blonde women, and all the other Hitchcockian tropes we cherish.  

It worked, and became one of the most satisfying accompaniment experiences of a busy stretch. No bells in this picture, but something similar: a cuckoo clock sounds twice, in close-up, at key moments, and both times I was ready. 

I think overall, this spooky steeplechase reaffirmed one of the basic principles of silent film accompaniment, at least the way I do it. For me, the only way to develop and maintain fluency at improv-based accompaniment is to do it a lot. 

When I do it a lot, I notice a difference. I'm able to get inside (and stay ahead) of a film in a way that seems almost effortless. The music just comes, and I find if I'm in that "zone" I can shape it to fit what the film seems to need at any given time.

But you can't keep this pace up indefinitely. So after 'The Lodger'—nothing! A whole note rest! The next week, including the weekend, I had no screenings—the first time since Labor Day. 

Now, two weeks later, I'm back at it: I accompanied a benefit screening of 'Wings' last Thursday for the Aviation Museum of N.H. (of which I'm director), and this past Sunday did music for the silent version of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1930) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The screening, in honor of Veterans Day, was well attended and the music came together in spectacular fashion. It was one of those shows where you're just in synch with everything—where an accompanist can feel the rhythm of the scenes and the editing and can anticipate, say, when there's a shell blast and can capture it as a big scene unfolds.

I had never scored the filim and had only previewed it once. But that was enough to be ready for a couple of big moments where the music seemed to really work well. One example: the scene where Raymond Griffith plays a dying French soldier.

Once he perishes, a character continues speaking to him, saying with increasing desperation he should have died instead. While that was going on, I kept to a moody ostinato in E minor.

But every so often, the camera cuts to Griffith's immobile face, just staring blankly ahead. And each time, I hit a C minor chord about an octave above, and held it for the duration of the shot. 

It happens three times, and each time I pushed the volume a bit, and also added notes to the top of the chord. (It ended up being C minor with G Major on top.) I have to say, it made my hair stand on end, and I knew what was coming. I hope it had a similar affect on the audience. 

And that's it for catching up. During the holiday season, the performance schedule often thins out, but not this year—I'm booked at venues pretty regularly into the next year, including two more gigs at the Coolidge in December and January. (No costumes, but more Korean food!)

But next up: it's W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' tomorrow night at the Flying Monkey. Press release is below. Hope to see you there!

*    *    *

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

TUESDAY, NOV. 8, 2022 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Flying Monkey to screen rare silent film starring comic icon W.C. Fields

'So's Your Old Man' shows legendary performer as younger man; program on Wednesday, Nov. 16 accompanied by live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He was a performer who could be recognized by just the nasal twang of his voice.

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

Rediscover the non-talking W.C. Fields in 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) one of his best silent pictures, in a screening on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person, general seating. Live musical scoring will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

In 'So's Your Old Man' (1926), Fields plays Sam Bisbee, inventor of a new shatter-proof windshield glass and regarded as a crackpot by the townsfolk.

After a demonstration of his glass to auto executives goes awry, he faces ridicule and shame. On the way home, Bisbee encounters a woman he thinks is trying to commit suicide, and so prevents her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Improvising a score live is a bit of a high-wire act, but it allows me to follow and support the film a lot more effectively than if I was buried in sheet music," Rapsis said.

"Instead, I'm free to follow the film right in the moment. Each time it's different, which lends a certain energy and immediacy and excitement to the experience."

'So's Your Old Man,' a silent comedy starring W.C. Fields, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com.