Friday, June 11, 2021

Emerging from the pandemic: 'Girl Shy' starring Harold Lloyd on Saturday, 6/19 in Brandon, Vt.

Harold Lloyd is shy around girls in the aptly named 'Girl Shy' (1924).

Coming up next: can Harold Lloyd make it to the church on time? 

Find out by joining us for 'Girl Shy' (1924), his spectacular race-to-the-finish romantic comedy, screening (with live music by me) on Saturday, June 19 in Brandon, Vt. More details in the press release below.

Update from the present: this past week saw no less than three post-pandemic milestones. 

Last Saturday saw the return of silent films to Brandon with a screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) originally scheduled for May 2020 to honor the film's centenary but postponed until now. 

Then on Sunday, we launched a summertime series of silent Westerns at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., which was also dark last year at this time due to the pandemic.

The double feature included a real rarity, 'The Lady of the Dugout' (1918), an Al Jennings "I used to be an outlaw" drama that more than held the screen.

Then we ran William S. Hart's 'Hell's Hinges' (also 1918), which left everyone stunned. People can't believe how intense an early feature can be, but 'Hinges'  is all of that and more. 

And then Wednesday marked the restart of silent films at the historic Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where we ran Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) to an appreciative crowd. 

(Also on Wednesday, I had a nice phone conversation with Mike Gebert of www.nitrateville.com, which will be turned into an upcoming podcast. Thanks Mike, and stay tuned!)

All three of the screenings had the snap and crackle of silent films that were really connecting with a contemporary audience. You can tell.

Maybe there's a real hunger for any kind of shared experience now that the pandemic is subsiding. 

Well, for whatever reason, all three programs were successful. Perhaps it was most gratifying to hear audience comments after 'Hell's Hinges,' which served as a good reminder of how strong a film's impact can be to first-time viewers. 

I think it's important to keep this in mind: even though a film may be a century old and I've seen it many times, it's still brand new to most people today. 

Well, if you haven't seen Harold Lloyd's 'Girl Shy' (1924), then you're in for a treat. Get thee to Brandon, Vt. next Saturday. And it looks good for us getting an audience, as the screening was featured in this week's 'Seven Days,' the weekly arts paper based in Burlington.

To wet your whistle, here's the press release with more info:

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Harold Lloyd and friends, both human and furry, in 'Girl Shy' (1924).

MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

First-ever rom-com! Harold Lloyd comedy 'Girl Shy' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, 6/19

Live music to accompany uproarious silent film classic; to be shown on big screen using restored edition

BRANDON, Vt.—It's a candidate for Hollywood's first-ever "rom-com": a silent film comedy that inadvertently pioneered an enduring cinematic genre.

It's 'Girl Shy,' a frenetic, kinetic, get-me-to-the-church-on-time Harold Lloyd silent comedy classic, to be screened on Saturday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

A live musical score for the movie will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist. The screening is sponsored by local residents Peter and Louise Kelley, and Harold and Jean Somerset.

'Girl Shy' (1924) stars Harold Lloyd as a timid young man from a small town who pens a book about imaginary female conquests. Trouble begins when bashful Harold falls in love for real, and then must rescue his beloved from marrying the wrong man in the big city.

Harold's dilemma prompts a climactic race to the altar that stands as one of the great chases in all of cinema. The sequence was so successful that MGM used it as a model for the famous chariot race in the original silent film version of 'Ben Hur' (1925).

The film is bursting with visual comedy typical of the silent era, but the romantic storyline was strong enough to act as a counterweight, creating a new hybrid genre now known as the romantic comedy, or "rom-com."

Co-starring in 'Girl Shy' is actress Jobyna Ralston, who often played Lloyd's leading lady, including in later Lloyd masterpieces 'The Freshman' (1925) and 'The Kid Brother' (1927).

'Girl Shy,' directed by Lloyd's colleagues Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, was among the 10 top-grossing films of 1924.

Harold Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, stands today as one of the three masters of silent comedy. Throughout the 1920s, Lloyd's films enjoyed immense popularity, ranking regularly among the highest-grossing of the era.

Though Lloyd's reputation later faded due to unavailability of his movies, the recent re-release of most of his major films on DVD and other media has spurred a reawakening of interest in his work and has led to more screenings of his work in moviehouses, where it was designed to be shown.

"Seeing a Harold Lloyd film in a theater with live music and an audience is one of the great experiences of the cinema of any era," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician and the Town Hall's resident accompanist.

Rapsis emphasized the value of seeing early cinema as it was originally intended to be shown.

"These films were designed for the big screen, live music, and large audiences. If you can put those conditions together again, you get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

It's the 10th year of the Brandon's popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

Upcoming programs include:

• Saturday, July 17, 7 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy and who emigrated to America to become a popular 1920s Hollywood star; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

'Girl Shy' starring Harold Lloyd will be screened with live music on Saturday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

Harold plays rough in the silent romantic comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924).
 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Back in Brandon, Vt. (finally!) with 'Zorro' on Saturday, June 5—and with new seats!

An original promotional poster for 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). Can you tell who's the star?

Cue music. One year later...

This weekend not only marks the return of Zorro to the big screen, but the return of silent films with live music at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

Yes, we're running the pioneering 1920 action/adventure flick 'The Mark of Zorro' (with music by me) on Saturday, June 5 at Brandon Town Hall. 

Showtime is 7 p.m. More info is available in the press release pasted in below. 

The film was supposed to be the opening night attraction of last year's silent film series, when our intention was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Zorro's original release.

But a year ago, the pandemic had caused the world to come down with a prolonged case of "silent filmus interruptus," so the screening (and the entire 2020 season) never happened.

Well, now we'll try again. And the return of silent film to Brandon Town Hall is not only a welcome development, it's apparently big news.

Check out this feature on the town's silent film series that aired recently on WCAX-TV out of Burlington, Vt.

One newsworthy aspect of this year's season that didn't make the TV segment is...new chairs!

Yes, the Town Hall is sporting nice new seats for this season, which I'm sure are at least a little more comfortable that the metal folder chairs used previously.

Thanks to everyone at the town hall for all the efforts to keep things going during the past year's prolonged intermission. It'll be great to be back. 

Although Covid-19 is loosening its grip, precautions will still be taken to minimize the risk of those still vulnerable. 

I know they're setting up the new seats in small groups instead of rows to help people keep their distance. Not sure about other things but just want people to be aware.

Here's the press release for 'The Mark of Zorro,' and hope to see you for a full season of silent cinema in Brandon, Vt.!

*  *  *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (left) makes with the swordplay in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920). 

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Brandon Town Hall silent film series reboots with 'Zorro' on Saturday, June 5 

Swashbuckling adventure classic starring Douglas Fairbanks to be screened with live music

BRANDON, Vt.— It was the original swashbuckling blockbuster—the film that first brought 'Zorro' to the big screen, and also turned actor Douglas Fairbanks into Hollywood's first-ever action hero.

'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will once again fill the silver screen, accompanied by live music, on Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center on Main Street in Brandon, Vt.

The screening — the first in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series — will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Admission is free and open to the public. Donations are gladly accepted, with all proceeds to support ongoing town hall renovations.

The Brandon Town Hall will follow all Covid-19 safety recommendations. Face coverings will be required, social distancing will be followed, and capacity limits will be observed.

For more details on safety precautions, visit www.brandontownhall.com.

'The Mark of Zorro,' a major hit when first released, 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 Douglas Fairbanks Sr., 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 original 'Zorro' film was so popular it inspired one of Hollywood's first big-budget sequels, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), also starring Fairbanks.

Critics have praised 'The Mark of Zorro' for its tight story, fast pace, and exciting action sequences, which include many stunts performed by Fairbanks himself. Steven D. Greydanus of the Decent Films Guide wrote that the silent Zorro "...contains some of the most jaw-dropping stunts I’ve ever seen this side of Jackie Chan."

Film writer Leonard Maltin described 'Zorro' as a "silent classic with Fairbanks as the masked hero...perhaps Doug's best film...nonstop fun!"

This genre-defining swashbuckler was the first movie version of the Zorro legend. The story has since been remade and adapted many times, most recently in 1998 as 'The Mask of Zorro' starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

'The Mark of Zorro' was the first film released by the newly formed United Artists studio, formed in 1920 by Fairbanks with fellow silent film superstars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and director D.W. Griffith.

The silent version of 'Zorro' also played a key role in the formation of the DC Comics Batman character; in the original 1939 story, a young Bruce Wayne sees 'Zorro' on the same night that his parents are later murdered, which leads him to adopt Zorro's mask and cape as a basis for his own transformation into 'Batman.'

The screening of 'Zorro' is sponsored by local residents Gary and Nancy Meffe.

The screening will be accompanied by improvisation-based musical score created live by New Hampshire silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis achieves a traditional "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

Originally set to open in May, this year's silent film series is now starting June for the 2021 season after being cancelled entirely last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The May start was pushed back one month out of an abundance of caution regarding Covid-19, said Dennis Marden of Brandon Town Hall.

The opening presentation of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) has been moved to Saturday, June 5, while the June screening of Harold Lloyd's classic comedy 'Girl Shy' (1924) is now on Saturday, June 19.

It's the 10th year of the town hall's popular silent film series, which gives residents and visitors a chance to see great movies from the pioneering days of cinema as they were meant to be shown—on the big screen, with an audience, and accompanied by live music.

"It's a real treat to return to Brandon for another season of great silent film," said accompanist Rapsis. "If you've never seen one of these movies in a theater, take a chance and check it out. You might be surprised."

Other films in this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, June 19, 7 p.m.: 'Girl Shy' (1924) starring Harold Lloyd. Celebrate spring with the original rom-com, a Harold Lloyd gem starring one of the masters of silent comedy and featuring an unforgettable race-to-the-church finish; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Harold and Jean Somerset.

• Saturday, July 17, 7 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy and who emigrated to America to become a popular 1920s Hollywood star; sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

See Douglas Fairbanks in the groundbreaking action/adventure 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920), to be shown on Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with free will donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit www.brandontownhall.com. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Up next: Rin Tin Tin in Plymouth, N.H. on Thursday 6/3, plus pandemic thank you notes

Rin Tin Tin shares a moment on the set with frequent human co-star June Marlowe.

Next up: we go to the dogs with canine superstar Rin Tin Tin in 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925). It's a rip-roaring (and tail-wagging) adventure flick screening with live music by me on Thursday, June 3 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. More details in the press release below.

And as we cruise through this year's Memorial Day weekend (marked by dank, rainy weather in New England), a look at the calendar shows it's the last weekend for me until September that does not include some kind of silent film screening with live music.

To me, that's the surest sign that the Covid-19 pandemic is finally lifting. All of my usual summer series are back up and running in 2021, and there's even a new series starting at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H. 

That's quite a change from this time last year, when ALL screenings were cancelled due to you-know-what. And it's been slim pickings ever since, with screenings later resuming only in the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H., and at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

I'm indebted to these three venues for staying open and trying to run some programming, even at a time when first-run movies and live music acts just weren't realistic options. But they all soldiered on with silent film/live music programs, which did bring in audiences during the pandemic.

At the Town Hall Theatre, owner/operator Dennis Markaverich actually increased the silent film schedule during the pandemic, more than doubling the number of screenings during a typical month. This led to a spate of adventurous programming, including Fritz Lang's two-part 1922 epic 'Dr. Mabuse Der Spieler' last fall and a two-day marathon screening of all 15 chapters of 'The Woman in Grey,' a multi-part serial from 1920.

Dennis also indulged me with a week-long series of silent comedy programs last summer, an aviation film festival last fall, a week of obscure silent features in January, and a three-day recreation of the Kansas Silent Film Festival in February. So it's been a year to remember, for all the right reasons. Thank you, Dennis!

Now I'm looking forward to getting back to accompanying silent films in a wider range of venues this summer, including the Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall (starting Saturday, June 5 with 'The Mark of Zorro'), the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine (starting Wednesday, June 9 with Chaplin's 'The Kid'), and — new this summer! — the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H. with Buster Keaton on Thursday, July 15.

A complete list of all silent film screenings on my calendar is available online by clicking on "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" at the top right corner of this page. Also, send me your e-mail address and you'll get a monthly round-up of upcoming programs of silent film with live music. 

With so many bookings on the calendar, I'm tempted to say it's great to be back. But quite a few venues are still not back to showing regular screenings, especially in the Boston area, where tight restrictions were lifted only this weekend. 

So it may be awhile before we get to enjoy silent films again at the Somerville Theatre, the Coolidge Corner, the Brattle, or other Beantown locales. Stay tuned!

For now, you can catch Rin Tin Tin on Thursday, June 3 at the Flying Monkey. Showtime is 6:30 p.m. and more info in the press release below. See you at the movies!

*    *    *

The opening title of 'Clash of the Wolves.'

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rin Tin Tin leaps back into action Thursday, June 3 at Flying Monkey


Legendary dog star races to the rescue in 'Clash of the Wolves' silent adventure film, presented with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.. — He couldn't speak. But that was no handicap for a star 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 Thursday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m., when the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center screens a vintage Rin Tin Tin silent adventure film with live music.

In 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925), Rin Tin Tin plays a wild wolf who befriends a prospector; together they hunt down a criminal intent on jumping the prospector's claim and stealing his girl.

'Clash of the Wolves' will be shown at the Flying Monkey, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission $10 per person, tickets available at the door or via www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and performer who specializes in scoring silent film.

An original lobby card promoting 'Clash of the Wolves.'

Rin Tin Tin films were produced by then-struggling Warner Brothers and proved immensely popular around the world, with audiences marveling at the then-new German Shepherd breed's feats of derring-do as he out-smarted 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.

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

To improvise a live musical score for 'Clash of the Wolves,' 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 above all they really move!"

"If you're new to the art form of silent film, seeing the Rin Tin Tin pictures in a theater with live music is a terrific way to get acquainted with the enduring power of this kind of movie-making," Rapsis said.

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.

‘Clash of the Wolves' (1925) starring Rin Tin Tin will be shown with live music on Thursday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. For more info, call (603) 536-2551.

Admission $10 per person, tickets available at the door or online at www.flyingmonkeynh.com.
 
Rin Tin Tin meets with studio executives to plot his next career move.
 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

This Sunday: the exciting finale of 'Officer 444' plus 'Old Ironsides' (1926) at Town Hall Theatre

Original promotional art for 'Old Ironsides' (1926).

At the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., this Sunday marks the end of a journey.

That's because we're running the long-awaited final chapter of 'Officer 444,' a ten-part police adventure serial that we've been screening since January.

And what a long road it's been. Join us as we learn the identity of Officer 444's arch-nemesis, 'The Frog,' and find out how justice will be served. Or something like that.

I have to say: nine chapters into this tale, and it still hasn't made much sense. 

But we'll finish it up on Sunday, May 23 as the lead-in to our "pre-Memorial Day weekend" screening of 'Old Ironsides' (1926), a swashbuckling dramatization of the early years of the USS Constitution. 

And just doing some math...if the real USS Constitution (still afloat in Charlestown, Mass.) was commissioned in 1797, that means it was 129 years old when this film was released.

And right now, we're 95 years from when 'Old Ironsides' (1926) was released. So it won't be too much longer until we reach the point when this film is closer to the ship's launching than to the present day.

The fun begins at 2 p.m. More info in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

*    *    *

George O'Brien and Esther Ralston in 'Old Ironsides' (1926).

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Old Ironsides' to screen on Sunday, May 23 at Town Hall Theatre

Sea-faring epic recreates early years of USS Constitution, built to battle pirates; presented with live music

WILTON, N.H.—Relive the early days of the USS Constitution, when the ship was launched by a young nation to battle pirates off Africa's Barbary Coast.

'Old Ironsides' (1926), an epic silent adventure film, will be screened with live music on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; patrons are required to maintain social distance and wear masks until seated.

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

The film tells the story of the early days of the USS Constitution, which today is the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. Launched in 1797, she was one of six original frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.

Nicknamed 'Old Ironsides,' she was originally scheduled to be broken up in 1830, the end of her normal service life. But the ship was saved that year by a poetic tribute published by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The poem supplied the story for 'Old Ironsides' nearly a century later.

Directed by James Cruze, 'Old Ironsides' is an action/adventure film that traces the story of an early USS Constitution crew member.

The crew member, a gunner, is shanghaied while ashore in Boston and forced to serve on another ship, the Esther, a commercial vessel bound for Italy.

Among those on board are a young boy running away from home, and the daughter of the ship's owner.

After crossing the Atlantic, the Esther is attacked by pirates off the coast of Algiers in the south Mediterranean Sea, with the crew and passengers taken captive.

Will the USS Constitution arrive in time to save the ship's daughter from being presented as a gift to a Sultan in Algiers?

The film, a big-budget extravaganza from Paramount Pictures, boasts an all-star silent era cast that includes Wallace Beery, George Bancroft, Charles Farrell, and Esther Ralston. Among the crew members is Boris Karloff, famous later for his starring role in 'Frankenstein' (1931).

'Old Ironsides' was filmed at sea off the coast of California's Catalina Island, using a full-scale replica of the original ship. The movie was praised for its authenticity and commitment to historical accuracy. Only a handful of scenes used small-scale models, a rarity for the time.

In addition to its elaborate battle scenes, the film is notable for its high quotient of comedy. At the time, Hollywood was first starting to make motion pictures with stories that delivered all-around entertainment. Cruze was among the directors becoming adept at integrating comedy, drama, romance, and action all into one spectacular audience-pleasing package.

Surprisingly, 'Old Ironsides' sank at the box office in its original release. Critics praised the film, but Jazz Age audiences failed to flock to the historic epic, which was released at the height of the Roaring 1920s.

See the sea-faring epic 'Old Ironsides' (1926) on Sunday, May 23 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more information, call (603) 654-3456 or visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Show me 'The Money!' See French epic 'L'Argent' (1928) on Thursday, 5/13 in Plymouth, N.H.

Original promotional poster for the French silent film epic 'L'Argent' (1928).

Coming up next: music for 'L'Argent' (1928), one of those sprawling biggies from Europe and a film I've never tried scoring before.

Well, there's a first time for everything, and in this case it's Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center. 

More details about the film and the screening are in the press release below. But first, a few notes from yesterday's screening of the silent version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

When I put this on the schedule, I didn't realize it would be Mother's Day. And it also turned out to be one of those sparkling spring days we get here in New England before the summertime humidity settles in. 

Even so, the Town Hall Theatre was about half-full with people ready for an adventure. So it was successful from the exhibitor's point of view.

Alas, I have to say Universal's restoration and reissue of the picture turned out to be something of a botched job. 

The film looks fantastic, as excellent first-generation material survives. 

But a good chunk of the middle of the film has scenes that are clearly out of order, which really really  detracts from the experience.

And the thing is, it's not one of those cases of a film being intentionally vague, or deliberately misleading, or whatever. There are just scenes that are obviously out of order. It's that simple.

Example: We get dramatic scenes of libertine adventurer Charles Denver on 'Mysterious Island,' lost and looking insane in the jungle, with no explanation of how he got there. Then, a bit later, we see him back at sea on his well-equipped yacht, deciding to get rowed ashore. And so on.

Attention Universal: if you want input about how to fix this, I have about 60 people in southern New Hampshire who would be happy to give you notes. It can't be that hard. Did anyone bother to screen this before it got released?

I wonder if it was an issue of money. And that topic takes us to the next silent film adventure on the calendar: the ambitious 1928 French epic 'L'Argent' (meaning 'Money') from director Marcel L'Herbier.

Catch a rare chance to see this piece of cinematic history on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center up in Plymouth, N.H. 

More info below. See you there! 

P.S. Badly punning promotional catchphrase: "See 'L'Argent!' The Change Will Do You Good!"

P.P.S.: "L'Argent!' You Can Bank On It!"

P.P.P.S.: "L'Argent!' A Film Of Great Interest!"

Okay, I'll stop now.

*   *   *

Another piece of original promotional art. Is it just me or do his fingers look like some kind of unusual 1920s French neckwear?

WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film epic ‘L'Argent’ (1928) at Flying Monkey on Thursday, May 13

Innovative French blockbuster about high finance and corruption to be screened with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A rarely shown early French movie that broke new cinematic ground is returning to the big screen at the Flying Monkey.

'L'Argent' (1928), a drama about big business corruption, will run on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth.

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

"This is a rare chance to see a terrific film as it was intended to shown: not on TV at home or on a laptop, but on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said.

Admission is $10 per person, general admission. Tickets are available online at flyinghmonkeynh.org or at the door.

The Flying Monkey continues to observe all recommended Covid-19 safety protocols. Capacity is limited to allow for social distancing, and patrons are required to wear facial coverings until seated.

Loosely based on Emile Zola's 1891 novel of the same name, 'L'Argent' (French for 'Money') follows the story of an embattled bank speculator in Paris who backs a scheme for an daredevil aviator to fly across the Atlantic.

Intended to revive his flagging business empire, this desperate adventure brings about personal and financial ruin for an ever-widening circle of people.

The movie, conceived on a grand scale by director Marcel L'Herbier, originally ran 3½ hours. The version available today has been trimmed to 2½ hours. 

At the time, L'Herbier faced intense criticism for updating the Zola's classic story from the 1860s to the 1920s.

The director argued that Zola's tale spoke to timeless truths, and that updating it to the then-present day would show its universality.

The international cast includes two performers, Brigette Helm and Alfred Abel, who played key roles a year earlier in Fritz Lang's futuristic epic 'Metropolis' (1927).

'L'Argent' won acclaim for its visual design. The movie features enormous sets (some specially built, some borrowed from real life) and memorable camerawork by cinematographer Jules Kruger.

Some scenes required location shooting with large numbers of extras. The departure of the transatlantic flight was filmed at Le Bourget airport. For three days over the weekend of Pentecost L'Herbier was allowed to take over the Paris Bourse, employing 2,000 extras in the stock-exchange scenes.

Still more challenging was a night-time scene in the Place de l'Opéra which had to be specially lit and filled with people to convey the feverish excitement of waiting for news of the flight.

Upon release at the very end of the silent era, the film enjoyed some commercial success, particularly in Germany.

Its reception among critics was more mixed, as some regarded it as a visual triumph while others found scant justification in the story for the indulgence in spectacular sets and energetic camerawork.

In the 1970s, a detailed study by critic Noël Burch, who argued that L'Argent was a ground-breaking work and one of the cinema's greatest achievements, launched a re-evaluation of the film.

As a result, Marcel L'Herbier's  assessment that this was the summit of his silent career has found wider endorsement

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

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. No music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

'L'Argent' (1928) will be shown on Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person general admission. Tickets are available online at flyingmonkeynh.com or at the door. For more information, call the Flying Monkey at (603) 536-2551.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

This Sunday's silent '20,000 Leagues' in Wilton, NH possibly playing host to steampunk flash mob?

Promotional artwork for the original silent film version of Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916).

Today I received this nice note from Johnathan Vail, a silent film fan from Nashua, N.H.:

Hi Jeff,

We have been enjoying your accompaniment for many years and look forward to more.

Anyway with the Jules Verne coming up I thought it would be a fine time to do some steampunk as I was kind of thinking of doing a steampunk photo shoot and Wilton is a pretty good location for it. 

So mostly a heads up if there's some new people next week in costume.  And an opportunity if you have a pair of goggles and and top hat...

Wow! Nothing like a little steampunk to liven up rural New Hampshire. 

Let's hope this goes viral and downtown Wilton, N.H. (all one block of it) is overrun by people from the past's version of the future.  

Who knows? The show is attracting more notice than usual. Check out this extensive story in "Elf," the lifestyle magazine of the Keene (N.H.) Sentinel. (And thanks to writer Nicole Colson for a great job!)

All of this is in response to the upcoming screening of the original silent film version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916). Showtime is Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

More info is in the press release below. 

I first encountered the silent '20,000 Leagues' a decade ago, when I accompanied it for the annual 24-Hour Boston Science Fiction Marathon. 

At the time, I recall thinking: "Wow, is there a silent film version of everything?"

I've since come to realize that...yes, there is. There's a silent Wizard of Oz. There's a silent Ben Hur and a silent Ten Commandments. There's even a silent 'Risky Business,' although the 1925 version starring Vera Ralston is about as far away from the Tom Cruise edition as the earth is from the moon.

Which brings us back to Jules Verne.The silent version of '20,000 Leagues' is in some ways a salute to that other Verne classic, 'From the Earth to the Moon,' because seeing it today is like visiting another planet. 

Let's hope the steampunk contingent turns out in force to lend an other-worldly feel to the whole enterprise. See you there on Sunday!

*  *  *

Aboard (and astride) the Nautilus in '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916).
 

TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Town Hall Theatre to screen original 1916 silent film version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'

Early adaptation of Jules Verne classic pioneered underwater photography; shown with live music on Sunday, May 9

WILTON, N.H.—The original silent film version of the Jules Verne classic '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) will be shown with live music on Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The screening is free to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; patrons are required to maintain social distance and wear masks until seated.

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

In production for more than two years by Universal, the original silent film version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' is an epic retelling of the classic Jules Verne novel, and with elements from other Verne stories mixed in.

Allen Holubar stars as the domineering Captain Nemo, who rescues the passengers of an American naval vessel after ramming them with his iron-clad steampunk submarine, The Nautilus.

Incorporating material from Verne’s 'Mysterious Island,' the film also follows the adventures of a group of Civil War soldiers whose hot-air balloon crash lands on an exotic island, where they encounter the untamed “Child of Nature” (Jane Gail).

Calling itself “The First Submarine Photoplay Ever Filmed,” the film is highlighted by pioneering underwater photography, including an underwater funeral and a deep sea diver’s battle with a giant cephalopod.

The film, directed by Stuart Paton, was filmed largely in the Bahamas to take advantage of shallow seas and bright sunshine. 

Several methods were devised to capture scenes underwater, including a sort of "reverse periscope lens" that used mirrors in long tubes to enable a camera onboard ship to film below the surface. 

The film has little in common with a later adaption released in 1954 by Walt Disney Studios and starring James Mason. (At left is the dust jacket for the novelization of the movie, which itself was adapted from Verne's novel. Are we all clear on that?)

In honor of extraordinary technical and artistic achievement, the silent version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will create a musical score for '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' live during the screening, in the manner of theater organists during the height of silent cinema.

"For most silent films, including '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' there was never any sheet music and no official score," Rapsis said. "So creating original music on the spot to help the film's impact is all part of the experience of silent cinema."

"That's one of the special qualities of silent cinema," Rapsis said. "Although the film itself is well over a century old, each screening is a unique experience — a combination of the movie, the music, and the audience reaction."

The original silent film version of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) will be screened with live music on Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more information, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.

 




Monday, April 26, 2021

At the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.: 'Sunrise' in late afternoon on Sunday, May 2; plus, the 'real' mystery of Paul Leni's 'The Last Warning'

George O'Brien and 'The Other Woman' in 'Sunrise' (1927).

Random thoughts as we slowly emerge from the ongoing pandemic. 

- At a screening of 'The Last Warning' (1928) today in Wilton, N.H., I made my usual remarks about how we'll all putting the silent film experience back together: the theater, the big screen, the live music, and the audience. 

But then I added this thought, which only just occurred to me: the last major pandemic we endured was during the silent era, so we've got that going for us, too.

Well, so we do. We also have a booming stock market, so there's that, too. All we have to do now is ban alcohol and the atmosphere will be complete.

Sometimes I talk too much.

- 'The Last Warning' was our choice for the "half-way to Halloween" screening. Hey, they celebrate Christmas in July, so why not Halloween in late April? 

It was the first time I've done music for 'The Last Warning,' which was certainly worth running. The last film of director Paul Leni before his untimely death, it's filled with startling images and memorable sequences.

However...the restoration Universal did in 2016 seems to be missing material that would better explain the plot. 

An actor is murdered during a play and the body disappears. The theater is then closed for five years and considered haunted. Okay, I'm with you so far.

But then suddenly the theater is being opened and the cast members are rounded up for a reenactment. Great, but it's just not clear how this all comes about, why its being done, and what's at stake. 

Carrie Daumery's close encounter with cobwebs makes for a memorable image in 'The Last Warning.'

Why do all the performers return to a theater when they're clearly all terrified to be there? How is it possible for the producer to be someone no one has ever heard of? And how do the detectives force the production to go on when the theater owners would clearly object? And so on.

Running times for 'The Last Warning' are listed as long as 89 minutes. The Universal restoration clocks in at 78 minutes. I know length is subject to variables such as projection speed. But from what we saw on screen this afternoon, clearly there's footage missing that might answer some of the questions.

Where it is? Perhaps that's the real mystery of 'The Last Warning.'

- I'm pleased to announce that starting in July, I'll be accompanying a new series of silent films with live music at the Rex Theatre in Downtown Manchester, N.H. 

And this past week I was invited to accompany films at the recently relaunched 'Buster Keaton Celebration' next September in Iola, Kansas.

And this summer will see reinstated series (all canceled last year) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine; at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt., and other venues.

So maybe this whole pandemic thing really is loosening up. I get my follow-up Moderna shot on Thursday, May 6 but will observe precautions as long as the CDC guidance calls for it. Hope everyone stays healthy.

- Random rant: why, why, WHY does no Web site ever "remember me" despite me always checking the box when I enter my password and type in the authentication code and recite the Hebrew alphabet backwards to prove who I am?

- Next up: 'Sunrise' (1927) at the Natick Center for the Performing Arts, which I'm accompanying on Sunday, May 2 at 4 p.m. More details in the press release below.

I did this film some years ago, and the screening was attended by a friend who had somehow mixed it up with 'Metropolis,' I think. Afterwards, he asked me what kind of futuristic city has an amusement park where pigs slide down a chute?

You can see those same pigs, and a whole lot more, by seeing 'Sunrise' at the somewhat counter-intuitive time of 4 p.m. It's like showing 'London After Midnight' at high noon.

Anyway, hope to see you there!

*  *  *

Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien in 'Sunrise' (1927).

MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2021 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Academy Award-winning drama 'Sunrise' to be screened on Sunday, May 2 at Center for the Arts in Natick

Silent film won three honors at first-ever Academy Awards, including 'Best Actress'; show features live musical accompaniment

NATICK, Mass.—Silent film on the big screen with live music returns to the Center for the Arts in Natick with the Academy Award-winning romantic drama 'Sunrise' (1927) on Sunday, May 2 at 4 p.m.

The screening of 'Sunrise,' starring Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien, will feature music by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis, who will accompany the film live at the venue, which is located at 14 Summer St., Natick.

Tickets are $18; Center for the Arts members $15, with limited seating due to Covid-19 capacity restrictions.

Gaynor, a popular female star of the silent film era, won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in 'Sunrise.' The movie took top honors in cinematography and was also recognized for "Unique and Artistic Production" at the inaugural awards.

"It's a great way to follow the annual Academy Awards, which take place the week before on Sunday, April 25," said Rapsis, who creates live original scores for TCAN's silent film series. "If you've never experienced silent film with live music in a theater, 'Sunrise' is a good opportunity to check it out."

'Sunrise' tells the story of a young country couple (played by Gaynor and O'Brien) whose marriage is threatened by the presence of a woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) who convinces the man to abandon his wife. Will the young husband go through with a plan to kill his wife? Will true love overcome the obstacles of temptation and the promise of short-term pleasure?

'Sunrise' was made by F. W. Murnau, a German director and one of the leading figures in German Expressionism, a style that uses distorted art design for symbolic effect. 'Sunrise' was made when Murnau was invited by studio chief William Fox to make an Expressionist film in Hollywood.

The resulting movie features enormous stylized sets that create an exaggerated, fairy-tale world. The city street set alone reportedly cost over $200,000 to build, a huge sum at the time. Much of the exterior shooting was done at Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

Full of cinematic innovations, the groundbreaking cinematography (by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) featured moving cameras and impressive tracking shots. Titles appear sparingly, with long sequences of pure action and most of the story told in Murnau's signature visual style. The extensive use of forced perspective is striking, particularly in a shot of the city with normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and smaller figures in the background by much smaller sets.

The story of 'Sunrise' is told as a visual allegory with few specific details. The characters have no names, and the setting is not named in order to make the tale more universal and symbolic.

With a full title of 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,' the film is regarded as one of the high points of the silent cinema. In 1988, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress for films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The Sight and Sound poll of 2012 for the British Film Institute named 'Sunrise' the fifth-best film in the history of motion pictures by critics, and 22nd by directors.

Critics continue to hail 'Sunrise' as one of the best films of all time.

"F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise' conquered time and gravity with a freedom that was startling to its first audiences," wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. "To see it today is to be astonished by the boldness of its visual experimentation.

Rapsis, who uses original themes to improvise silent film scores, said great silent film dramas such as 'Sunrise' used their lack of dialogue to create stories that concentrated on the "big" emotions such as Love, Despair, Anger, and Joy. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended — with a live audience and live music.

"Dramas such as 'Sunrise' were created to be shown on the big screen as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life as their creators intended them to. So the screenings at Natick's Center for the Arts are a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies," he said.

'Sunrise' will be shown on Sunday, May 2 at 4 p.m. at the Natick Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

Admission is $18, Center for the Arts members $15. Tickets must be purchased in advance online at www.natickarts.org. For more information, call the Center box office at (508) 647-0097 or visit www.natickarts.org.