Thursday, August 23, 2012

Up next: 'The Iron Mask' on Sunday, Aug. 26
at Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre

At this point, I've done live music for well over 100 different silent features, so it's only natural to expect some repeats. Last night's screening of Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1921) at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. was a good example: I think I've done the film at least a half-dozen times over the past five years.

I'm not complaining, as 'The Kid' is a great picture and an especially good one for music. Our audience of about 60 people responded strongly to the movie, and to the two Chaplin Mutuals we screened ('The Pawnshop' and 'The Cure') as a warm-up.

But I do enjoy tackling a film that I've never done before, and that's what we have coming up this weekend at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. It's 'The Iron Mask' (1929), the last silent from Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and the final film in our summer tribute to this great artist.

A new film often motivates me to create new material, which in turn gives me more to work with for other future screenings. And there's the thrill of discovery — again and again, I've been surprised at films I hadn't known, either well-known classics or obscure titles, by twists and turns and so many other things.

So to me, there's nothing like the spell that can be woven when seeing a film that's completely new to a viewer, and that often prompts me to go the extra mile in creating new music to make it work for modern audiences.

The challenge is a bit more complicated than usual for 'The Iron Mask,' as the film has two dialogue sequences that we'll be including intact. So, like we did with 1928's 'Noah's Ark' (another part-talkie) last spring, we'll rig up a switch where I can turn the soundtrack on and off when needed.

Will it all work? Join us for Sunday's screening and see (and hear!) for yourself. For more details about the film, the press release is below.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'The Iron Mask' (1929) to screen
with live music on Sunday, Aug. 26 in Wilton, N.H.

Silent film swashbuckler stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Hollywood's original action-adventure hero

WILTON, N.H. — A summer-long celebration of the great movies of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. concludes this month with a screening of 'The Iron Mask' (1929), the filmmaker's final silent epic.

'The Iron Mask' will be screened on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main Street, Wilton N.H. Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with donations accepted to help defray expenses.

Fairbanks, early Hollywood's original action-adventure hero, entertained movie audiences of the silent era with thrilling on-screen adventures and feats of derring-do. A gifted athlete, Fairbanks was famous for performing his own stunts.

In 'The Iron Mask,' Fairbanks reprises his role as 17th century French patriot d'Artangan from his earlier adaptation of 'The Three Musketeers' (1921), only now as an older swordsmanship instructor to young King Louis XIV of France.

The long-secret existence of a twin brother of the king, separated at birth, leads to a plot to kidnap the now-grown king and usurp the monarchy, causing the true king to be imprisoned in an iron mask so that he can't be recognized.

Fairbanks, as the king's guardian, is left to save the day—but only if he can reunite the long-disbanded Three Musketeers to aid him.

With the silent era coming to a close, Fairbanks produced 'The Iron Mask' as a rousing farewell to the form. Sets, costumes, and production design were all conceived on a grand scale, and with careful attention to historical authenticity.

Because 'The Iron Mask' was released during the transition from silent movies to talking pictures, the film includes two sequences of dialogue that will be included in the screening.

'The Iron Mask' marks the final installment in the Wilton Town Hall Theatre's summer-long Fairbanks salute. Fairbanks, one of the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011).

Fairbanks used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for great stories, grand adventures, and athletic stunts, making him one of cinema's first superstars. He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Live music for 'The Iron Mask' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of the full orchestra.

"The Fairbanks series this summer has been a terrific one for music," said Rapsis, who improvises accompaniment using themes or melodies he composes beforehand. "His films can still generate an immense amount of excitement, and it's been a thrill to create music that helps them come to life for today's viewers," he said.

'The Iron Mask' is appropriate for family audiences, though it includes intense dueling and fighting scenes that may be frightening for very small children. The film runs 95 minutes.

The summer-long Fairbanks salute is part of the Wilton Town Hall Theatre's monthly silent film series, which gives today's audiences a chance to experience the great films of Hollywood's early years as they were intended: in restored prints, in a theater on the big screen, and with live music and an audience.

"If you've never seen a silent film in a theater with live music and an audience, the Fairbanks pictures are a great way to experience the medium at its best," Rapsis said. "When you put all the elements together, silent film still has an ability to stir up an audience in a way that no other medium can."

Upcoming silent films at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre include:

• Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, 4:30 p.m.: "Spies" (1928). Director Fritz Lang's epic tale of espionage was the forerunner of all movie spy sagas, packed with double agents, hi-tech gadgets, beautiful (and dangerous) women, and all revolving around an evil genius with a plan to take over the world. A surprising (and rarely screened) silent film gem. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, 4:30 p.m.: "The Hands of Orlac" (1924). A concert pianist, Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt), loses his hands in a railway accident. Replacement hands are transplanted onto him in an experimental procedure, but the hands are those of a recently-executed murderer. The pianist is then tortured by panic attacks and irrational fears. Admission free, donations encouraged.

'The Iron Mask' (1929) will be screened on Sunday, Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with donations accepted to defray expenses. For more information, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

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