Friday, August 10, 2012

On Saturday, Aug. 11: 'Wings' takes flight
at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

It's been quite a week for silent films with which I have a personal attachment.

Last night's screening of 'The Cameraman' was in that category because it's the film that reacquainted me with the magic of silent film after several decades of pretending to be a somewhat normal adult.

And tomorrow night (Saturday, Aug. 11), it's a screening of 'Wings' (1927), the blockbuster about pilots in WWI. This is one that always moves me, in part because it's a good film, but also because my father was a pilot who flew transport planes in World War II and later flew commercially for Northeast Airlines, a regional carrier in our corner of the world.

One of the things I often point out to audiences for 'Wings' is that when this film was made, we have to remember that flying was absolutely new and amazing. It's not like today, when commercial aviation is an ordeal on so many levels.

In 1927, flying was magical — a long-cherished dream of mankind finally realized! Most people had never even seen an airplane, never mind flown in one. So this movie, in which director William Wellman takes us right up into the cockpit, must have been absolutely mind-blowing.

My old man, the future pilot, would have been 11 years old when this film came out. I have no idea if he ever saw it — he died in 1968, alas, when I was four years old, and all his brothers and sisters are gone, so there's no one to ask.

But it seems right to me to think that he must have seen it, and it must have inspired him in some way to dream of flying, just as in the opening scenes of the film. It would be only a few years until he started flying, and it helps me make sense of the world, a little, to think that this film that I accompany might have played a role in steering him toward his destiny.

Somehow, it all helps things fit together. And it helps me remember the power of cinema and the arts in general, especially in the mind of an 11-year-old boy just beginning to awaken to the possibilities of life.

Hope you can join us for the screening of 'Wings' this Saturday night! As an added bonus, we're auctioning off a novelization of the film that I'm donating as a way to raise additional funds for the Brandon Town Hall's restoration. (That's what this is all about, after all.) Check out the picture: it's a nice hard-bound copy that was issued in the era before home video, as a way for people to relive the magic of the film when we didn't have everything on demand.

I haven't read it, but the parts I have skimmed through differ somewhat from the story as shown on screen. On the other hand, it contains about a dozen stills from the picture, and the copy is complete (no pages missing) in pretty good shape.

Curiously, the inside cover is inscribed "Christmas 1928 from Mabel Bartlett," but then the next page is inscribed "Wishing Dear Lauraine Enderly a Merry Merry Xmas From Mabel Xmas 1929." So it appears that our copy was regifted!

For complete details, here's the press release.

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

WWI epic silent film 'Wings' (1927) to be shown on Saturday, Aug. 11

First-ever 'Best Picture' to be screened with live music at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

BRANDON, Vt.—Silent film with live music returns to Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. in August with 'Wings' (1927), a World War I epic drama that won 'Best Picture' honors at the very first Academy Awards. 'Wings' will be revived for one showing only at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m.

The film, a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. 'Wings' stunned audiences with its aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.

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

'Wings' stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, 'Wings' was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

The three stars looking uncharacteristically glum in this still.

'Wings' will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall.

" 'Wings' is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is a great chance for everyone to appreciate what our servicemen and women endured in World War I," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis. "It's a war that has faded from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one's country a century ago."

Aviation buffs will also enjoy 'Wings' as the film is loaded with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

In addition to 'Wings,' other feature films in this year's series of silent films at Brandon Town Hall include:

• Saturday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.: 'The Cameraman' (1928) a comedy starring Buster Keaton.
• Saturday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m.: 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), a thriller starring Lon Chaney.

The screenings allow audiences to experience silent film artistry in the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Rapsis, a New Hampshire composer who specializes in film music, will create the score for 'Wings' on the spot, making up the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the action on the screen as well respond to audience reactions. He will perform the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "But most films at the time weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios left it up to local musicians to come up with an effective score on short notice. The results could vary, but at its best this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

'Wings' is about 2½ hours long and will be shown with an intermission. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

As an added bonus, the evening will include a live auction of a hardcover copy of the novelization of 'Wings,' published in 1927 to go along with the release of the movie. Proceeds from the auction of this original edition, which includes several high-quality photos from the movie, will support the restoration of the Brandon Town Hall.

'Wings' will be screened on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

The screening of 'Wings' is sponsored by Pam & Steve Douglass, the National Bank of Middlebury, and The Reporter.

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