Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coming Oct. 2: 'The Lodger' in Wilton, N.H.

Back in New England after a week in another "New" -- New Mexico, where I spoke at a newspaper conference and rode on not one but two narrow gauge mountain railroads. But now it's back to silent film screenings, and next up is a film I've wanted to do for a long time: Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927), which we're screening on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

Hitchcock was still quite active when I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, so he's been a real figure to me since at least then, which makes him one of the few folks active in silents who was still part of contemporary culture in my lifetime. As a kid, I never saw 'The Birds' (1963), but somehow knew it was the scariest film ever made, at least until Steven Spielberg came out with 'Jaws' (1975). (By the way, I saw 'Jaws' this past August at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville Mass., where they screened a fantastic 35mm print. The thought occurred to me that it owed a lot to Hitchcock's 'The Birds,')

It was only while in college (at Fordham in New York City) did I begin to become aware of what I now think of as Hitchcock's best work -- the big feature films of the 1950s, including 'Vertigo' (1959), the remake of 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1956), 'Rear Window' (1954) and 'The Trouble With Harry' (1955).

At the time, these hadn't been released to television and hadn't been shown in theaters for years. I'd never seen any of them, so it was big news in 1984 when new prints were struck and made available for limited theatrical runs. I forget which moviehouse in NYC ran them, but a group of us made pilgrimages to see them all. I came away with a new appreciation for Hitchcock, I think in part because I saw his work as he intended it: screened in a movie theater packed with people caught up in the action. The Hitchcock screenings still stand as some of the great "movie theatre" experiences of my life.

And then, in 1989, I saw a home video release of 'North by Northwest' (1959), which I had never seen before and which instantly became one of my favorite films of all time, and remains so. At that point, I was also beginning to become aware of the contributions that composer Bernard Herrmann made to Hitch's films of this era. This appreciation would grow to admiration and, later, astonishment when I started doing film music of my own. Herrmann was a pioneer in finding ways for music to add so much to a film -- for it to serve not as background, but as a full participant.

More than anyone else, I think Herrmann created what we think of today when we think of "film music." (A close second would be Carl Stalling, who scored the Warner Bros. cartoons for more than two decades. I'm serious!) And I find that I use a lot of Hermann's techniques, even though he wasn't around in the silent era, because it's a musical approach that we now all have in our bones. It bridges the gap and helps modern audiences to "get" silents, I think, at least in the way I try to do music for them.

And Hitchcock himself was one-of-a-kind: a master storyteller in film who turned the thriller genre into something of his own personal amusement park, with recurring trademarks and themes and even the famed cameo appearances. His secret, I think, was to not show everything (which cinema could do) but to leave things to an audience's imagination. And that can make them infinitely more intense and personal.

At his best (and he had a high batting average over a very long career), Hitchcock produced grand entertainments that took audiences on wild rides through the human psyche. And I'm pleased to say that many of the elements we'd come to expect from "the master" were present in 'The Lodger' (1927), his first full-fledged thriller. (Yes, he worked on films prior to this, but always thought of 'The Lodger' as his first.)

So I'm really looking forward to presenting this one on Sunday in Wilton. Here's the press release. See you there! And by the way, the Film Forum in NYC is currently screening some of Hitch's great films from the 1950s. They're running 'Vertigo' on Saturday, Oct. 29, and I hope to make there prior to a mini-Fordham reunion later that day in da Bronx.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Hitchcock's first, 'The Lodger,' to screen Sunday, Oct. 2 at Wilton Town Hall Theater

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

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

'The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,' will be shown at the Wilton Town Hall Theater on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 4:30 p.m. The program, the latest in the theater's silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with donations welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In reviving the original 'The Lodger,' the Wilton Town Hall Theater aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life. They all featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

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

‘The Lodger' will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 4:30 p.m. the Wilton Town Hall Theater, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456. Free admission; donations encouraged. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Report from Brandon, Vt.: 'Way Down East'

I just have time this morning to dash off a brief note about our screening last night (Saturday, Sept. 17) of 'Way Down East' (1920) up in Brandon, Vt. This has to rank as one of the all-time most satisfying silent film experiences I've ever had. The music came together well, and the audience was in the zone right from the start, reacting energetically to events as they unfolded -- sometimes surprisingly so. I've done this film several times and it's the first time, in reaction to the Martha Perkins town gossip character, I've ever heard anyone mutter the word "Bitch!"

This is a town that sustained a fair amount of flood damage several weeks ago from the remains of Hurricane Irene, which unloaded a ton of rain when it encountered the Green Mountains. This caused the modest creek that runs through the center of Brandon to swell to enormous proportions, overflowing its channel and turning Route 7 into a river. Three weeks later, the damage is all too visible: the Brandon House of Pizza, built over the river, is completely gone; other buildings have had the earth around their foundations scoured away; a cute riverside park where a month ago I heard a band play Dixieland Jazz now looks like a gravel pit.

Here are a few pictures, all taken within 250 feet of the Brandon Town Hall, where we show the films. (Good thing this month's flick wasn't 'Noah's Ark.')

This last photo shows where the Brandon House of Pizza used to be.

So maybe a cathartic experience was in order. I don't know. But I can say that last night's reaction to 'Way Down East' was perhaps the strongest I've encountered yet, both during the film and after. Besides the rowdy audience participation (with a special emphasis on booing and hissing), we got not one but two big spontaneous cheers -- one when Lillian Gish finally stands up to the Lowell Sherman character, and then when Richard Barthelmess rescues her from the ice floes. The film is solid enough so that by then, an audience is carried along just like Ms. Gish on the ice, swept up in the unstoppable momentum. But still, the rescue produced a-hooting and a-hollering the likes of which I can't recall. (Now I'm sounding like one of those town bumpkin characters in the film.)

All this energy produced BIG laughs at the "triple wedding" scene at the end, and at business that taken on its own isn't all that hilarious. But it's just what is needed for a satisfying finish, and it still worked wonderfully more than nine decades after this film was released. (And in some ways, nine decades isn't all that long.) And in the "music/live performance" category, the ending could not have been better staged: as the "The End" title came on, I was just completing a cadence that worked well for the big finish, and then the projector turned off and the house lights came on just as I was hitting the last two chords, after which I instantly stood up and turned around. I write this out in detail because I want to remember what it was like: instantly, a cheer went up, the start of an ovation that lasted probably two or three minutes, which is an awfully long time. And people stood!

I can't express how much this means to me -- that the music I make up in 2011 helps a film from 1920 come to life and move an audience in this way. As I sometimes joke, I've finally found my artistic niche: collaborating with dead people! And as the good folk in Brandon continued to applaud, I found myself grateful for the opportunity to do this, and also glad that all the people who worked so hard to produce this film would, I hope, be pleased that it could still mesmerize an audience even as so much else about life seems to change faster and faster. Well, for at least one evening, we were able to commune with something that hasn't changed -- the ability of stories told with images and music to provide a communal experience. It's a great feeling, and I'm so glad that people can respond to it in this manner, even after their community has suffered a catastrophic flood.

Okay, now off to do music for 'The Strong Man' (1926) at the Leavitt Theatre in Qgunquit, Maine. It's the last show of the season there (summer only), and let's hope for a good turnout.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Notes on scoring 'Way Down East' (1920)

Whew! Just got done doing music for 'Way Down East' (1920) and wanted to jot down a few notes. Screening (two and a half hours without a break!) was at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. (That's Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish up there in the photo.)

I don't know what it is about this movie or the other big D.W. Griffith pictures, including 'Birth of a Nation' (1915) and 'Orphans of the Storm' (1921). Viewed alone, they seem creaky as heck in comparison to the slick Hollywood films made just a short time later. But they really do come to life when shown as they were intended: in a theater on the big screen, accompanied by live music and with an audience present.

We didn't have a big audience at tonight's screening (about 20 people) but I could tell it was engaged throughout. Even some of the supposedly cornpone humor got laughs, and it was gratifying to hear the applause when Barthelmess rescues Gish from her doom at the film's climax.

In terms of scoring, less turned out to be much more. For the first hour, I swapped between a strings-only texture for the village scenes and a harpsichord setting for the Boston scenes and then later when the Lowell Sherman character comes to town. Once we got settled into the village setting, I switched to a full orchestra to lay the groundwork for the big climax.

I didn't have too much prepared in advance, as this is the kind of film where the pacing (and familiarity of it) allows me to develop material right there, and that's what happened tonight. It all came together quite nicely, especially the scene with Barthelmess and Gish meet alongside the river. Griffith's cross-cutting at times ambushed me and led to some inelegant transitions, especially with brief shots of the town chatterbox lady stalking through the streets on her way to tell her big secret.

One problem that I'd like to fix when I do this film again on Saturday, Sept. 17 (up at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.; the show starts at 7 p.m.) is to manage things better in the final sequence. In terms of music, it's worth getting pretty intense when the squire returns home to toss Lillian Gish out, but then the secret to making it really work is to then back down.

The tempo can keep moving, but the drama and tension have to be in the pace and the harmonies, rather than the volume. First, it takes awhile for Gish to get out on those ice floes, and Barthelmess has a lot to do before he tracks her down. So big music gets awfully tiresome if it continues all this time.

Plus, you really need to let the audience hear its own reactions to the scenes on the ice floes in order for the final catharsis to burst forth in all its glory. I think I stepped on that a little tonight, but I'll try again on Saturday.

What's interesting to me about this film is how much of it seems like the stage production that it was based on. The first two hours of the film, with some exceptions, looks like it could have been acted on a stage: interior sets, characters entering and exiting, and so on.

It's only in the climax where Griffith takes the camera fully outside and brings the action along with him, setting it in an outdoor landscape filled with peril and suspense. Earlier movies had many exciting outdoor sequences, to be sure. But 'Way Down East' shows more clearly than most how directors were discovering the motion picture's potential to take audiences to new places and tell stories in new ways.

More than 90 years after its first release, that freshness and excitement are still present in 'Way Down East.'

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Showing next: 'Way Down East' in three states

Looking forward to doing music for no less than three screenings of 'Way Down East' (1920), the great D.W. Griffith melodrama, in three states spread over four days. (That's old D.W. himself up above, addressing his cast during the filming.)

In order, the screenings are: The Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.; the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center in Brandon, Vt. on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.; and then the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 2 p.m. (There's a chance that the Leavitt may be closed for the season by then, but for now the screening's still on.)

These road show screenings allow me to do silent film programs in multiple venues and not have to work up original music to completely different films in quick succession. Instead, I can concentrate on one film, which enables me to do a better job accompanying. Also, it's interesting to see how the music evolves over several performances.

With 'Way Down East,' the challenge is to stay sharp as this lengthy flick unfolds. At well over two and a half hours, it's definitely in the "marathon" category. But I've done it before, and it's surprising to see how much of a reaction the film still provokes throughout.

And the climactic sequence, with Lillian Gish riding on the ice floes to what seems to be certain doom -- well, there's nothing quite like it. Last time I screened this movie (a few years back in Wilton, N.H.), the audience was practically jumping out of their seats as Richard Barthelmess picked his way across the river, racing against time to save Gish. The poster image here provides an idealized version of what's at stake in this great scene.

What's the outcome? Come and see for yourself. Hey, it's not like you don't have a few options coming up. For more details, here's the press release sent out about the Flying Monkey screening on Thursday, Sept. 15. For info on other screenings, check out the "Upcoming Screenings" link at the upper right. Thanks!
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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'Way Down East' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Sept. 15

D.W. Griffith blockbuster, filmed partly in New England, to be screened in restored edition accompanied by live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — The iconic image of silent film star Lillian Gish trapped on ice floes and headed for a raging waterfall will once again come to life when the film 'Way Down East' (1920), one of the top movies of its era, is revived the big screen on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person.

The movie, a blockbuster melodrama directed by cinema pioneer D.W. Griffith, is set in old-time rural New England, and was filmed partly in New Hampshire and Vermont. It stars Gish in an acclaimed performance as a wronged woman trying to make her way in an unforgiving world. Can she find love and redemption, or will she ride to her doom on the ice floes of the raging river?

'Way Down East' will be screened with live music played by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across New England. Rapsis provides music for the Flying Monkey's monthly silent film series, which aims to honor the recently renovated venue's historic roots as a local moviehouse.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen to large audiences as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they come to life in the way their makers intended them to. The Flying Monkey screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

In 'Way Down East,' Gish stars as a poor New England country girl who travels to Boston to visit her rich relatives in the hopes of getting some financial help. While there, she's dazzled by upper class society and romanced by a rich womanizer (Lowell Sherman) who takes advantage of her innocence by tricking her into a sham marriage just to get her in bed.

Convinced she's found the husband of her dreams, Gish returns home to the country only to be unceremoniously dumped. In delicate 1920s terms, she tells her faux husband she's pregnant; he orders her to get an abortion. Instead, Gish goes into exile to have the baby, finds herself persecuted for giving birth out of wedlock, and flees even further into the country to seek refuge. The film was noteworthy in its time for addressing such "unmentionable" topics as abortion and women's rights.

Modern critics hail 'Way Down East' for Gish's remarkable performance, which continues to mesmerize audiences nearly a century after the film's release. "Gish provides an abject lesson in screen acting and brings home the importance and effectiveness of seeing a film in a theater with a crowd," wrote Paul Brenner on in 2007. "If you are not moved at the scene of Gish baptizing her dead baby, then you should check the obituaries of your local paper to see if you are listed."

Much of the acclaimed ice floe sequence was filmed in March 1920 on location in New Hampshire and Vermont on the Connecticut River and the White River, as the winter pack ice was breaking up. Gish later said that she suffered frostbite by following director Griffith's command to always keep one hand in the water. 'Way Down East' cemented Gish's reputation as one of the silent era's major stars. She would continue to work in films and, later, television, until the 1980s. Gish died in 1993 at age 99.

'Way Down East' was based on a popular stage drama of the time, for which director Griffith paid the then-astounding sum of $175,000 to turn into a movie. The picture, however, proved to a be a huge moneymaker, taking in $4.5 million, making it the fourth-highest grossing movie of the silent film era. The receipts kept Griffith's studio afloat during a subsequent series of box office flops. 'Way Down East' would be the last of Griffith's great blockbusters; tastes changed as the 1920s rolled on and Griffith's Victorian style fell out of favor.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis has written new musical material to help capture the film's rural atmosphere and also bring out the dramatic power of 'Way Down East.'

"This picture was a huge hit when it was released, and it still holds up well today, even with all of Griffith's moralizing," Rapsis said. "As a melodrama, it's a great film for an audience to cheer on the good folks and boo and hiss the bad guys. But there's an additional level of interest now because the film captured a way of life that's long since disappeared. With the passage of time, seeing 'Way Down East' is now like seeing a historical photograph come to life."

'Way Down East' will be shown on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performing Arts Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more info on the music, visit

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Harry Langdon — not so fast!

Among Hollywood's great silent clowns of the 1920s, Harry Langdon has the reputation of being an acquired taste. Among some, he's known for not producing laughs with modern audiences. I remember reading part of Walter Kerr's great 1975 book 'Silent Clowns' in which the author recalls audiences greeting Keaton's 'The General' (1927) with "constant, astonished laughter" while a screening of Langdon's 'The Strong Man' (1926) produced bupkiss. And I guess that sealed it with me.

But, after last night's screening of Langdon's rarely seen feature 'Long Pants' (1927), I'm now prepared to say that Langdon should not be sold short at all when it comes to laughter. He does very well, thank you. All that's necessary is to tell people (even those who've never attended a silent film) that Langdon was popular as a reaction to the fast-paced frenetic style of silent comedy, and it seems to do the trick.

Last night, our little-publicized screening of 'Long Pants' at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library attracted a total of five people. (I was surprised we got any, it being the day after Labor Day weekend.) Never mind Langdon—all of them had never attended a silent film screening of any kind. But right from the start, you could tell that Harry had them. Well, Harry and director Frank Capra, whose sure hand and sense of story-telling could clearly be seen in how the film was laid out.

And rather than the stony silence that Kerr got when he ran 'The Strong Man,' last night Harry received the "constant, astonished laughter" that Kerr concluded was Buster's province. Really. Harry got laughs trying to impress Alma Bennett, the girl of his dreams on his bicycle, and it built steadily from then on. The weirdly dark "trying to kill his bride" sequence got a big reaction. And things really took off in the extended slapstick that follows the jailbreak, which is top-notch silent comedy.

The only moment that didn't get an expected strong laugh was when Harry finally reacts to Alma Bennett's criminal roughhousing ("I'm surprised!"), which I think forms the comic climax of the film, but which was met with silence. Oh well. But on his walk home, through the same woods where he tried to kill Priscilla Bonner earlier in the film, things grew warm very quickly, and I tried to build the music to illustrate the transformation to Harry finally realizing what he had left behind.

And so the ending, which seemed rather perfunctory me in previewing the film, came across in live performance as the perfect finish to a very satisfying comic adventure. I was as surprised as anyone! And the audience, even just five people, really seemed to eat it up. As Harry gets clobbered one last time by the upturned dinner table, somehow it all seemed just exactly right.

Afterwards, we talked, and two young gals who had taken in the picture on a whim, said they probably would not have watched it on television, but that they found 'Long Pants' to be a strangely beguiling and compelling experience in a theater. The three other folks (two sisters and their wheelchair-bound mother) agreed. And we went on talking for about a half-hour about the picture and silent films in general.

And I thought how we've screened 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' and 'The Strong Man' (both 1926) several times, and they always get a good response. And now, with 'Long Pants' joining them in getting a good reaction, I'm prepared to say that maybe Harry shouldn't be put in the "acquired taste" box. In my experience, he does very well for himself. 'The Strong Man' seems to hold its own with audiences especially well, but 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' has a succession of marvelous things, and 'Long Pants' is right up there, too.

Maybe times have changed and all silent comedy (and silent film in general) now seems fresh and new to people in a way that wasn't possible when Walter Kerr was screening flicks in the 1970s.

After all, silent film really is a different art form that seems to surprise people who've never encountered it before (in a theater with live music), which is something I saw again last night at the Manchester Library. For these newcomers, it's pointless to compare the various styles and approaches of Chaplin, Keaton, etc. For them, all the films are stripped bare of context, and so they must stand or fail on their own.

Though Harry does require a little nudge (explaining how his approach was different), the stories in his features are strong enough to carry the day, and the comedy is something that people still respond to. And so more and more I'm convinced his stuff is some of the best and most balanced that was done in the silent era—a little warmer than Lloyd, though not as maudlin as Chaplin, and often as inventive as Keaton.

But there I go comparing.

By the way, one of the more interesting personal connections to the silent film era I've encountered was meeting Harry's nephew, also named Harry Langdon, at the Kansas Silent Film Festival in 2007. (Here's a picture of him on the left.) Harry (the younger) was born around 1940, so never actually met his famous moviestar uncle, but still had a lot to say about the family and was a really nice guy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Report on 'Summer Romance' Sunday, Sept. 4

Very pleased at how the music turned out of 'Flirting with Fate' (1916) and 'Kiki' (1926), a double feature on Sunday, Sept. 4 that finished up our summer romance series at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. (The show was postponed from Aug. 28 thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Irene.)

For 'Flirting with Fate,' an early Douglas Fairbanks romp, I had an all-purpose "aspirational theme" that contained the DNA, I thought, of something a lot more integrated. (Mahler, where are you?) But it worked fine for this Fairbanks film, which is slightly darker than most due to its emphasis on suicide. (Suicide? Romp?) There's Doug on the left overhearing his assassin-to-be.

I also came up with a "rump-te-dump" slow 6/8 theme for Doug in his non-crisis moments, and once again came away amazed at how Fairbanks seems to bring out that side of me without any prompting. The same thing happened in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1921) when it came time to illustrate the laid-back side of her Don Diego Whatever-His-Full-Name-Is.

Must be something in the contrast between Doug's dashing on-screen image and the need to express the opposite, sometimes, in terms of music. Used the harpsichord setting for this one, if only for contrast with 'Kiki' to come, and like a good accompanist, obeyed the instruction of the intertitles to play the Wedding March from Wagner's 'Lohengrin.'

'Kiki' was a blast to accompany. I love doing these kinds of films, where people try to outwit each other at close quarters. The musical potential for that alone is huge, especially if you have a memorable tune or two that you've already introduced, and keeping this kind of scene going seems to come naturally to me.

And I did have a good tune for 'Kiki,' I thought -- a bouncing 'Can Can'-like melody that could easily be transformed to take on pretty much any emotion needed. Rooted in the film's stage revue milieu, the music got featured play in the one big stage scene, but also served to keep the rest of the film fizzing along quite nicely, I thought.

When I first looked at this picture, I didn't get Norma Talmadge as the title character. She seemed completely unsympathetic to me: selfish, destructive, dishonest, and so on. But then I realized that I was probably taking it the wrong way. I had to think of her character as more like Barbara Streisand in 'What's Up, Doc?' -- a person who single-mindedly pursues the man she desires, not letting little things like an existing girlfriend get in the way.

In introducing the film, I said only that, and I think it helped audiences not familiar with 'Kiki' (and who is these days?) get her character. And the film got a nice reaction throughout from our moderately sized crowd -- more of a reaction that I expected. The theater scene, in which Talmadge wrecks a revue by dancing anywhere but in the chorus line of which she's a member, when off especially well, with the bouncing chorus theme getting more and more wound up as the chaos progressed.

It was great fun to do music to the conclusion of this scene, which consists of the cast trying to kill each other behind the curtain, but interrupted again and again by the curtain rising for yet more applause. Switching back and forth from smooth "exit" music to chaotic argument music helped it spring to life in a way that surprised me even as we were doing it.

And I loved the love music I came up with as the film progressed. Built on a simple rising series of chords, the melody could leap up and soar any time it was needed, as I discovered in the scene where Talmadge is kissed by Ronald Coleman for the first time. And there it was, ready to be pulled out anytime the sparks flew between the two leads. And it came in handy to punch up the rather languid ending; 'Kiki' is the only silent film I know of that concludes with a phone conversation!

Up next: music for Harry Langdon in 'Long Pants' (1927) tomorrow night at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library, then screenings of 'Way Down East' (1920) next week in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.