Monday, April 23, 2012

Z is for 'Zorro' (1920), which we're screening
on Friday, May 4 in Concord, N.H.

It's one of the all-time great silents, and we're showing it on Friday, May 4 in Concord, N.H. It's 'The Mark of Zorro,' (1920), the historical/action/adventure/romance that helped propel Douglas Fairbanks into the pantheon of swashbuckling superstars. We're screening it at 7 p.m. (with music by me) at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., in Concord, N.H. Admission is $10. The film will be run in the theater's Screening Room.

I often say that silent film contains the DNA of a lot of today's pop culture, and 'Zorro' is an especially good example of that. The basic story has proven a durable one for the movies, all the way up through the age of Antonio Banderas. But it also played a key role in lauching the whole 'Batman' franchise, too. It was at a screening of the original silent 'Zorro' that a young Bruce Wayne saw his parents get murdered in an alley outside the theater, and which later inspired him to be a masked fighter of crime.

So we have 'Zorro' to thank, in part, for Julie Newman in her Catwoman suit in the later 1960s TV version. Ahem.

But back to business. Here's the press release that went out for 'The Mask of Zorro.' Hope to see you there -- it's a great way to welcome in Cinco de Mayo weekend, up here deep in Gringoland.
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For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Original 'Zorro' to screen with live music
in Concord, N.H. on Friday, May 4

Silent adventure epic starring Douglas Fairbanks to be shown at Red River Theatres

CONCORD, N.H.—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 original action hero. 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will once again fill the silver screen, accompanied by live music on Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. Admission is $10 per person.

'The Mark of Zorro,' a huge hit when first released, tells the story of young Don Diego Vega, the outwardly timid 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. As Zorro, he also woos the beautiful Lolita Pulido, a woman who is distinctly unimpressed with Don Diego, but who is captivated by the masked swordsman.

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), 'Robin Hood' (1922), 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), and 'The Black Pirate' (1926). 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.

Fairbanks, one of the silent screen's most popular leading men, was the inspiration of the character George Valentin in 'The Artist,' the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture.

Critics have praised 'The Mark of Zorro' for its tight story, fast pace, and many exciting action sequences, which include numerous 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 film was based on the 1919 story "The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley, which introduced Zorro. The screenplay was adapted by Fairbanks under the pseudonym "Elton Thomas" and Eugene Miller. 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 May 4 screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' will be accompanied by an original score created and performed live by New Hampshire silent film musician 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.

'The Mark of Zorro' will be screened on Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m. in the screening room of Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. For more information, visit or call (603) 224-4600.

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films. The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Oh, that face! 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) Tuesday, May 1 in Manchester, N.H.

Now here's a silent film you can really sink your teeth into.

It's 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), director Paul Leni's adaptation of a lesser-known Victor Hugo historical novel. Starring the great Conrad Veidt (that's him above, with the choppers) as Gwynplaine, whose face was permanently disfigured into a hideous grin in childhood, this one has it all: a great story, arresting visuals, and a make-up job that was so memorable it later inspired the look of 'The Joker' in the Batman comic books.

Okay, cue the hyena-like laughter. But never mind Gwynplaine's mouth: In programming silent films for the remainder of 2012, I've tried to stretch myself a bit with films such as 'The Man Who Laughs,' which I've never done before. For one thing, I'm eager to keep exploring the silent era, and there's nothing like doing music for a film to get a sense of how it ticks.

Also, you can't keep doing 'The General' (1927) and 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) again and again without feeling like you're in a silent film rut. So 'The Man Who Laughs' will help keep things from getting stale, even as I do seem to rely on titles I've done previously, sometimes as a matter of convenience. (Hey, I do have a day job, you know.)

For new or unfamiliar titles, the monthly series at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library is turning out to be a good place to try them out and see how they play. It's a small auditorium (about 200 seats) and the costs and logistics of staging a screening there are relatively minimal. Turnout seems tilted toward knowledgeable film folks (and some silent film newbies, too) who are eager for something new in old movies, and that's what I'm hoping to provide.

A good example of a film that proved worth reviving was the John Ford drama 'Hangman's House' (1928), which I slotted for this past March just because it's set in Ireland and I wanted something to mark St. Patrick's Day. The movie, which includes an early cameo of a young John Wayne in a crowd scene, proved to be a mesmerizing experience, more so than I expected. So it's a keeper.

And 'The Man Who Laughs?' One good indication is that contemporary film critics are still writing about it. Roger Ebert, for instance, wrote an extensive analysis in 2004 as part of his 'Great Movies' series. We'll see on Tuesday, May 1. If you're up for joining us, here's the press release that went out to local media...

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) to screen with live music in Manchester, N.H. on Tuesday, May 1

Creepy silent film melodrama starring Conrad Veidt inspired make-up for Batman's nemesis 'The Joker'

MANCHESTER, N.H.—'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), a silent drama featuring a title character forced to wear an insane grin all his life, will be screened with live music on Tuesday, May 1 at 6 p.m. at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. The film will be accompanied live by silent film music specialist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free; donations are encouraged.

'The Man Who Laughs,' directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, is a sprawling adaptation of a Victor Hugo historical novel set in 17th century England. Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a child born of English nobility. After his father is executed, a cruel King James II orders a royal surgeon to hideously disfigure young Gwynplaine's face into a permanent smile, so that he may always laugh at his father's foolishness.

Abandoned and shunned, young Gwynplaine is left to make his way on his own. He learns to conceal his face from strangers, and befriends Dea, a blind girl who is not aware of his disfigurement. The pair are then adopted and put to work by a travelling impresario, who promotes Gwynplaine's face as a theatrical attraction. Gwynplaine and Dea grow to adulthood and eventually fall in love, but complications arise when Gwynplaine's noble lineage is revealed, entitling him to his father's confiscated estate—provided he marry another woman of noble birth.

Veidt, who starred earlier in the German expressionist horror classic 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919), played the role of Gwynplaine by using a prosthetic device inside his mouth to force his face into a hideous grin and display outsized teeth. This striking look was later adapted by Batman creater Bob Kane as a model for the physical appearance of iconic villain 'The Joker.'

Critics have praised 'The Man Who Laughs' for its dark visual style and daring story content.

"'The Man Who Laughs' is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film," wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. "The film is more disturbing than it might have been because of Leni's mastery of visual style."

'The Man Who Laughs' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music in the Manchester Public Library's vintage 1913 Carpenter Auditorium. A wide range of rarely seen silent films are shown at the library, with screenings generally taking place on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.

Upcoming silent film screenings at the Manchester Public Library include:

• Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 6 p.m.: 'Underworld' (1927); director Josef von Sternberg's groundbreaking tale of big city mobsters, widely considered the father of all gangster pictures. Tale follows crime boss "Bull" Weed (George Bancroft) as he battles rival 1920s gangsters. Incredible black-and-white photography; winner of first-ever Oscar for original story by Ben Hecht. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 6 p.m.: 'Spite Marriage' (1929); Buster Keaton's last silent feature finds the poker-faced comic smitten so much by stage actress Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian) that he joins the cast of her production. The fun really starts when she asks Buster to marry her, but only to get even with an old flame. Classic Keaton comedy, underrated and full of great routines. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 6 p.m.: 'Four Sons' (1928); director John Ford's drama about four brothers from Bavaria who become embroiled in World War I — but not on the same side! Interesting period drama set in Europe, carried by great story but with plenty of historical interest as well. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, 6 p.m.: 'Chicago' (1927); the original big screen adaptation of the notorious Jazz Age tabloid scandal, based on true events. Dancer Roxie Hart is accused of murder! Is she innocent or headed for the slammer? Later made into the popular Broadway musical. Admission free, donations encouraged.

'The Man Who Laughs' will be shown on Tuesday, May 1 at 6 p.m. at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. Admission is free, with donations encouraged to defray expenses. For more information, visit

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For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • Images and cutlines attached. High-resolution digital images available upon request.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Notes from scoring 'Metropolis' in Plymouth, N.H. and the peculiar art of audience judo

Last night's screening of 'Metropolis' (1927) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. was highlighted by...the audience!

Yes—the film was amazing and the music came out okay, I thought. But it was especially gratifying to have a strong turnout at the Monkey, where attendance at our monthly series sometimes approaches the "private screening" level.

But not this time! For starters, 'Metropolis' attracts an audience beyond the usual silent film crowd. Also, a strong promotional effort that included 100 posters done well ahead of time, a story in the local college newspaper, big play in the other local papers, and generous space in our state daily on the day of the show, all added up to about 90 people in their seats at showtime.

That might not sound like a lot. But, after doing silent film for three years in Plymouth, N.H., I can say it's huge. Even better, we were blessed with a couple of volunteers at the end who passed out comment cards, something we've never been able to do before at the Flying Monkey. So this morning I have a couple dozen of these, all filled with kind thoughts about the show, suggestions for other films, and even offers to help at future screenings. Nice!

It was an interesting audience, too. 'Metropolis' often brings in a lot of non-silent-film folks, and last night was no exception. You can tell right away by the reactions to the opening scenes—there's a certain amount of guffawing that erupts at the style of acting, the fashions, or whatever. I can totally understand that, and it's actually a helpful reminder that so much from the silent era is really so foreign to people who aren't immersed in it.

Newbies are always welcome, of course, but in a situation like this it can go two ways. Sometimes the film wins them over, and the audience as a whole settles down as it casts its spell. You can tell people are buying it, and that's what happened at 'Metropolis' last night. After the first 15 minutes, you could have heard a pin drop at some places. Occasionally, I could glance over my shoulder, and I could see rows of faces bathed in the light bouncing off the screen—the classic movie audience image.

The other way, alas, is when the film isn't strong enough to overcome the audience reactions, and then they persist throughout, which can sometimes seriously erode the experience and prevent the "spell" from taking hold. In my experience, 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) is the biggest culprit here. It's another title that attracts non-silent-film regulars, and it seems to keep them laughing throughout, primarily due to Mary Philbin's acting, which, yes, is a little over-the-top.

This is one reason I haven't done 'Phantom of the Opera' too much. But, fool that I am, I'm making it this year's "Halloween" title and plan to do music for several screenings in October. I think by now, after doing this pretty regularly for the past five years, I have a good sense on how to help a film get over that "giggle" barrier, and I'd like to see if I can do it with 'Phantom.'

One technique that works is to simply stop playing for a moment. Find a place where a bit of drama happens or a mood changes, and just roll the music up naturally to a pause. It really focuses an audience. (It's not that much different from when I taught middle school—to quiet a room down, you would sometimes just stop talking, stand there, and wait for the chatter to quiet by itself.) I think of it as audience judo: use their energy against themselves.

I tried this last year at Stonehill College, where I faced a noisy group of students for a screening of 'Ben Hur' (1925). A half-hour into this massive religious epic, the giggling and cackling wasn't stopping, so I tried the audience judo technique, and it worked! Instead of the picture being minimized by a minority who found it hilarious, things quieted down, allowing the majesty and power and emotion to work on the people who were willing to accept it.

So we'll see if I'm up to 'Phantom' later this year. For now, i'm getting the summer schedule finalized. Lots of good films coming up: check out the schedule at the future screenings page!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Metropolis' on Thursday, April 19 at Flying Monkey, Plymouth, N.H.

First, the good news: Our friends at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. have recently upgraded their film screening system to provide a bigger, clearer, sharper picture.

And now the really good news: The first silent film to be shown with this new system is the legendary sci-fi silent film masterpiece 'Metropolis' (1927), which we're screening on Thursday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m.

It's an incredible movie, and one that must be seen in a theater with an audience and with live music, which I'll attempt to provide. Actually, I've done 'Metropolis' several times before, and it's one of my favorite films to accompany, as the energy and emotion in it are a close match for my scoring approach.

If you're new to silent film, this is a great introduction to the power of this art form, which flourished so briefly. And if you're a fan but you've never seen this, please come and prepare to be astonished. And even if you've seen it many times before, it's worth seeing again and again.

Here's the press release that's been out for awhile now. See you at the theater!

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Flying Monkey to screen restored 'Metropolis' on Thursday, April 19

Landmark sci-fi fantasy silent film to be shown with live music at Plymouth, N.H. moviehouse

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 general admission.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a futuristic city where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live deep underground. The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and flying cars, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.' The story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor, and encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

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

The restored 'Metropolis,' now 2½ hours in length, will be accompanied by a score created live by New Hampshire-based silent film musician and composer Jeff Rapsis.

When 'Metropolis' was first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere engagement, 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 ran only about 90 minutes.

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' went on to become one of the cornerstones 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.

In 1984, the film was reissued with additional footage, color tints, and a pop rock score (but with many of its intertitles removed) by music producer Giorgio Moroder. A more archival restoration was completed in 1987, under the direction of Enno Patalas of the Munich Film Archive, in which missing scenes were represented with title cards and still photographs. More recently, a 2001 restoration combined footage from four archives and ran at a triumphant 124 minutes.

It was widely believed that this would be the most complete version of Lang's film that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see. But, in the summer of 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 of such a significant amount of material called for yet another restoration, which debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored version that will be screened at the Flying Monkey.

"We felt spring was a great time to screen the restored 'Metropolis,' as it's a film all about the future and things to come," said Jeff Rapsis, who provides live musical accompaniment to silent film screenings throughout New England. "'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 that came to pass, which means us."

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 cinema.

"Silent film is a timeless art form that still has a unique emotional power to move audiences, as the recent success of 'The Artist' has shown," Rapsis said. "With original silent films, which were made in another era, my goal is to help them come to life by using music to bridge the gap between the film and today's audiences. If you can show them as they were originally intended—on the big screen, in a restored print, with live music and an audience—they create the same kind of excitement that made people first fall in love with the movies."

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Thursday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more information on the music, visit


“'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,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Notes on scoring 'King of Kings' (1927)

Sometimes it's all a matter of perspective.

After taking in Kevin Brownlow's massive 5½-hour restoration of 'Napoleon' (1927) on Sunday, April 1, last night's screening of Cecil B. DeMille's 'The King of Kings' (also 1927) came off as a mere trifle. At just 2½ hours, it was practically a short subject!

But in truth, 'King of Kings' is cinema on a grand scale -- a big bombastic biblical blockbuster. In accompanying it, you really need to pace yourself, or you can run into problems.

This morning, for example, I'm nursing a sore index finger on my right hand thanks to overdoing it last night. I know, nothing compared to what Jesus does in suffering for mankind's sins, but even so! If you over do it, you end up paying a price, which I'm currently doing right now as I type these words.

'The King of Kings' is actually so long (155 minutes) that it forced us to push our usual starting time from 6 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to fit it all in before the 8:30 p.m. closing time of the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library, which hosts our monthly screenings in its nifty 1913 Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

Because of this, I kept my opening remarks brief, completely forgetting to mention two important things. One is that the restored print includes two sequences in color. (Sure enough, afterwards I got questions about why parts of the film had been "colorized.") Also, among the heaving crowds of extras was a young Ayn Rynd, who met her future husband Frank O'Connor on the set.

Even though we got an early start, we were only just getting to the big crucifixion climax when I glanced up at the clock and saw it was past 8 p.m.! I wasn't sure we'd make it, but the film finished at 8:20 p.m., sparing us all from being locked overnight in the library. Oh well, at least we'd have stuff to read.

Interestingly, the audience included a priest in full priest uniform: black clothes, white collar. He didn't object to anything in my abbreviated introduction, in which I explained how movies were originally regarded as the work of the devil and it took awhile for them to become respectable enough to depict Jesus.

But he did wonder if Ernest Torrence, who played Peter, ever was cast as "Hopalong Cassidy" in talkie Westerns. (I didn't think so, I said, because Torrence died in 1933; I just checked and phew, I was right. Don't want to go around giving bad info to a priest!) I didn't get a chance to talk to him but hope he comes back again. Love to get his perspective on the Cecil B. DeMille treatment.

I was pretty happy with the music, which was created from almost completely new stuff. (One exception: borrowing the octave leap for 'King of Kings' from Handel's Messiah.) Holy stuff was indicated by a minor chord resolving to a major chord one fourth above. (Try it, it works.) Evil stuff was shown by a climbing minor scale under a rhythmic accompaniment that evolved quite a bit as the evening wore on. Mary Magdalene had her own 3/4 melody (the only one all night) that indicated sin and temptation, later transformed to virtue and devotion. I had a fanfare ready that I had used in prior screening, but it never came up this time. Weird!

But truth be told, I'm still recovering from the marathon 'Napoleon' screening in Oakland, Calif. this past Sunday. I will endeavor to write about it before the passage of time dulls the immediacy of it. So stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'King of Kings' on April 3 at 5:30 p.m.

Okay, just getting a note online here that the 'King of Kings' (1927) screening scheduled for Tuesday, April 3 at the Manchester (N.H.) Public Library starts at 5:30 p.m.. That's a half-hour earlier than our usual starting time of 6 p.m. for these library screenings. We had to move it up because the library closes at 8:30 p.m. and we won't fit the film in if we don't start a bit early.

I'll be doing live music, and anything can happen. An added attraction tonight is that Ryan Liston, a student at the University of New Hampshire, will film the proceedings as part of a project he's doing. I'm not ready for my close-up, but I said it was fine with me.

Here's the press release that went out last month. Hope to see you there tonight as we mark the Easter season with one of the silent film era's big biblical blockbusters!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Celebrate Easter with 'King of Kings,' silent film epic chronicling life of Jesus Christ

Blockbuster to be screened with live music on Tuesday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. at Manchester (N.H.) Public Library

MANCHESTER, N.H.—With Easter coming on Sunday, April 8, it's a great time to take in an epic movie depicting the greatest story of all: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille and featuring a cast of thousands, ‘The King of Kings’ (1927) stands as one of the sensations of Hollywood’s silent film days. Starring H.B. Warner in the title role, the film broke box office records when first released.

In honor of this year’s Easter season, a restored print of ‘The King of Kings’ will be screened with live music on Tuesday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. in the Carpenter Auditorium of the Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. The screening is a chance to experience this landmark film as it was intended to be seen: in a high quality print on the big screen, with live music and with an audience.

Admission to the screening is free; donations are encouraged to defray expenses. Please note the film's starting time is 5:30 p.m., earlier than the usual starting times for the library's silent film screenings, to accommodate the film's 2½-hour length.

As a movie, ‘The King of Kings’ was designed to push the limits of Hollywood story-telling. Director DeMille, already famous for over-the-top historical epics such as the original ‘Ten Commandments’ (1923), demanded and got a then-astronomical budget of $2 million, which he used to construct massive sets, hire thousands of extras, and stage an enormous earthquake and howling hurricane at the film’s climax.

“The monumental devastation unleashed by Christ’s crucifixion dwarfs even the cataclysmic Holy Grail finale of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ ” wrote film historian Charles Musser in 1992, observing that “raw material and non-union labor gave more bang for the buck in 1927.”

The cast included early Hollywood star H.B. Warner as Jesus Christ, winning plaudits for his portrayal of the lead role. (Warner’s later roles included that of druggist Mr. Gower in Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’) Playing Peter is character actor Ernest Torrence, famous as Captain Hook in the original version of ‘Peter Pan’ (1924); the role of Judas is acted by Joseph Schildkraut, already a Hollywood veteran who later went on to play Nicodemus in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (1965), a much-later Hollywood epic on the same topic.

Critics remain impressed by the film’s epic sweep, although they often dismiss how DeMille pandered to a mass audience. “It’s a stupendous exhibition by any standard, though you can practically smell the sawdust and greasepaint,” wrote critic Peter Matthews in 2004. “Despite the baloney (or because of it), ‘The King of Kings’ captures the fervor of naïve devotion. On that level, the movie is a genuinely uplifting experience,” Matthews wrote.

The film will be accompanied by live music performed by local composer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in improvising scores to silent films. Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra, complete with soaring brass and crashing percussion.

‘The King of Kings’ is the latest in a series of monthly silent film screenings at the Manchester Public Library. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by bringing together the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best.

‘The King of Kings’ will be shown one time only on Tuesday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. in the Carpenter Auditorium of the Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. Free admission; donations encouraged to help defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 624-6550. For more about the music, visit

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