Thursday, October 18, 2012

Up next: Murnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922)
at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

Max Schreck as the vampire 'Nosferatu' traveling by ship.

With Halloween around the corner, it's the one time each year where a silent film accompanist actually feels in demand. I'm doing no less than four screenings of 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) in two weeks, and also 'Nosferatu' (1922) on Friday, Oct. 19 at Red River Theatres in Concord. Somewhere in there is also a screening of 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) and even 'The Hands of Orlac' (1924), which I've never done until this season. (For details, check the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at right.)

Why the big surge? I think for most people, silent film has a kind of otherworldly quality. And that lends itself to Halloween, the one big holiday that celebrates other-worldliness. I've tried to use silent films to mark other holidays: 'King of Kings' (1927) for Easter, 'The Big Parade' (1925) for Veterans Day, even 'Orphans of the Storm' (1921) for Bastille Day, all with mixed results. But you don't have to work hard to get crowds to turn out at Halloween.

And 'Nosferatu' is one of the big ones, and I'm looking forward to doing it on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. (Admission $10 per person.) I've done music for this movie several times before, and it has a special place in my heart because I consider it a "lucky" film.

Why? Because a few years ago, I was supposed to do music for 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' as part of a 'Festival of Terror' organized by a friend. (That's the kind of friends I have.) But come screening time, no copy of the film was on hand. Ooops! But there was a copy of 'Nosferatu' available, so we substituted that at the last minute, even though I had never scored the film and hadn't seen it in years.

Well, off we went, and it turned into one of those memorable screenings where everything falls together just right, at least in terms of the music. I came up with stuff that worked immediately and could be used throughout, caught all the big moments, and paced it in a way that really helped bring out the drama and emotion in the film, I thought. Even though I hadn't seen the film in a long time, I seemed to anticipate what Murnau would do next, even as it was happening on the screen. And the lack of preparation seemed to add to the energy I brought to the whole affair. In short, I just nailed it.

So now, whenever it's time for 'Nosferatu,' I always sit down with a good feeling. Weird for a film that's supposed to inspire terror and fright, but hey—all in a day's work for your cool-as-a-cucumber silent film accompanist. :)

I do hope you'll join me for my only screening of 'Nosferatu' this Halloween season, which is on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. For more info, here's the text of the press release:

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film frightfest
at Red River on Friday, Oct. 19

'Nosferatu' (1922), pioneer classic horror flick, to be screened with live music in Concord, N.H.

CONCORD, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film. 'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. on Friday, Oct. 19. The show starts at 7 p.m. and will feature live accompaniment by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $10 per person.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to create an overall sense of terror. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made both this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly. It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will augment by improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

In 'Nosferatu,' German actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence. A rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch. “Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently. Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of the German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel. For instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement. However, bootleg copies of the the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be screened today as audiences originally saw it.

The screening is part of 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.

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, 'Nosferatu' is a great way to experience the medium at its best," said Jeff Rapsis, the film's accompanist. "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."

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Tickets are $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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