Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Up next: 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924)
on Sept. 26 at Concord's Red River Theatres

Wow! The schedule is so packed lately that there's barely time to post screenings in advance. Tonight's showing of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) is a good example. I mean, the show is tonight at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., and I'm only just getting info about it on this front page right now.

Well, time for a few thoughts. I've long admired 'The Thief of Bagdad' for all the usual reasons: the eye-popping sets, the absorbing story, the energetic performance of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and the film's overall aura of exoticism. It really is one of the high points of Hollywood's silent film era.

But it's only in the past year that I've finally understood a key element of what Fairbanks was going for. In the past, I would sometimes offer mild apologies for his on-screen approach in 'Thief,' which to me seemed to hint of the comical "silent film overacting" syndrome that you sometimes see.

But now, after reading Jeffrey Vance's biography of the actor and his films, I realize that Fairbanks conceived 'Thief' as a kind of ballet. He wanted his performance to be thought of as a dancer, and fashioned it accordingly. Seen in that light, his broad gestures and big reactions make perfect sense. (So do the diaphanous costumes.)

Don't misunderstand me—I think the film holds up stunningly just on its own, with no explanation needed. As a work of fantasy, you could argue that it seems even more fantastical and exotic now than it did when silent film was simply everywhere.

But knowing a little bit about what Fairbanks was after really helps you appreciate 'The Thief of Bagdad' even more fully, I think. And knowing the "ballet" part of it really helps influence the kind of music that I'll do to support the picture.

So even though it's short notice, I hope you'll join me this evening (Wednesday, Sept. 26) at 7 p.m. for a screening of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) in Concord, N.H. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., and help celebrate their fifth anniversary.

More info is on the press release below...

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Red River to screen 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924)
with live music on Sept. 26

Epic silent film fantasy to be shown in Concord, N.H. to kick off theater's 'Cheers to Five Years' anniversary celebration

CONCORD, N.H. — He was the Harrison Ford of his time—the first action hero to entertain movie audiences with thrilling on-screen adventures and feats of derring-do.

He was silent screen idol Douglas Fairbanks Sr., whose best work includes 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), a timeless fantasy that boasts a great story, spectacular sets, and magical special effects.

'The Thief of Bagdad' will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theaters, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

The screening will open Red River's 5th anniversary celebration. Dubbed "Cheers to Five Years," the theater is marking five years of bringing independent films, documentaries, and cultural events to the Capital region and central New Hampshire.

In 'The Thief of Bagdad,' a bare-chested Fairbanks plays a crafty rogue who can easily steal anything his heart desires—everything, that is, except the love of a beautiful princess, daughter of the powerful Caliph of Bagdad. To win her hand, he must not only change his ways, but also convince her of his worthiness over many other highly placed suitors.

In making the film, Fairbanks spared no expense for what some critics still regard as the most lavish fantasy movie ever made, a show-stopping adaptation of the traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" story in which a flying carpet is but one of many eye-popping sights that astounded movies audiences at the time.

Fairbanks, swaggering through massive marketplace sets and cavernous throne rooms as an incorrigible pickpocket, scales towering walls (with the help of a magic rope) and leads merry chases through crowded bazaars in his pursuit of loot—until he falls in love with the princess and vows to win her heart.

The jaunty opening is a preamble to the film's spectacular second half, in which the repentant thief embarks on an odyssey through caverns of fire, underwater caves, and even outer space. The special effects range from a smoke-belching dragon to a magical flying horse, and still glow with a timeless sense of wonder from the early days of movies.

William Cameron Menzies's sets were among the largest ever created for a motion picture. Especially noteworthy is his design for a mythical Bagdad, a unique combination of Art Deco and Islamic elements—a dream city formed from a coalescence of illustrations from story books.

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 was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts. He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Live music for 'The Thief of Bagdad' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound. Rapsis, a Granite State musician, was recently named among the state's top musical performers in New Hampshire Magazine's recent "Best Of" edition.

Nearly 90 nears after its premiere, 'The Thief of Bagdad' continues to be held in high regard. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Fairbanks himself considered 'The Thief of Bagdad' to be his personal favorite of all of his films.

'The Thief of Bagdad' is appropriate for family audiences, although very small children may find some sequences frightening. The film runs 2 hours and 34 minutes.

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.

Red River Theatres includes silent film in its programming to give today's audiences a chance to experience the great films of Hollywood's early years as they were intended: in restored prints, 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 emotions in a way that no other medium can."

'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more information on the screening or other events for the theater's 5th anniversary, visit or call (603) 224-4600. For more information on the music, visit

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