Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back to the future: 'Woman in the Moon'
on Monday, Dec. 31 at Red River Theatres

That's 'Woman in the Moon' in English...

The big countdown to 'Woman in the Moon' has begun. In just 12 days, we'll be blasting off for the lunar surface, as imagined by director Fritz Lang and screenwriter Thea von Harbou. The screening is on Monday, Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., with live music by yours truly.

It's the first time I'll be scoring this amazing film, and I'm thrilled at the chance to help bring it to life for a contemporary audience. And what better opportunity than New Year's Eve to show a future that never was, as envisioned by a past that is now long gone.

Please join us on New Year's Eve at Red River for a rare screening of this unique (and I think overlooked) achievement from the very last days of silent film. You'll find a lot more info in the press release below.

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Intrepid explorers trek on the lunar surface.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Celebrate New Year's Eve with
silent sci-fi space adventure flick

'Woman in the Moon,' pioneer drama about first moon voyage,
to be screened with live music at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

CONCORD, N.H.—A sci-fi adventure movie hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be shown on New Year's Eve at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be screened with live music on Monday, Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

The rarely seen full-length movie follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find large deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisors, is noted for anticipating many of the methods actually used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later—for example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

Willy Fritsch gets ready to pull the launch lever.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot and colorful characters, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi story elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a beautiful female scientist and her two male crewmates; a young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfights on the lunar surface.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

"This is simply a bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the screening. "I think it's the perfect movie to ring in the new year. As a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to pass, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

Home sweet home on the lunar surface in 'Woman in the Moon'

Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H., will improvise live musical accompaniment during the screening, using a digitial synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

"As an early sci-fi flick, 'Woman in the Moon' lends itself to a lot of creative scoring," said Rapsis, one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists and a regular performer at Red River.

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."

Director Fritz Lang, also responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled as 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of the German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its depiction of potential valuable rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find.

Paging central casting! Needed: 1 crazy professor; 1 slimeball; 1 beatiful woman; 2 men to compete for her; 1 plucky space-infatuated youngster.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints transferred to digital media are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

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, 'Woman in the Moon' is a great way to experience the medium at its mind-bending 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."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown on Monday, Dec. 31 at 6 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 to buy tickets in advance, visit or call (603) 224-4600. For more information on the music, visit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back to the future as we ring in 2013
with 'Metropolis' and 'Woman in the Moon'

Its the annual pre-holiday lull, the time when I take a few weeks away from the keyboard. But I'm already excited about a double-barrelled dose of silent sci-fi to welcome in 2013:

• On Sunday, Dec. 30, we're screening 'Metropolis' (1927), the eye-popping futuristic fantasy from German director Fritz Lang. It's one of the all-time great silent films, and if you haven't seen it in a theater with live music, you haven't seen it. Plus, it's a terrific film for live music and I have some good material from prior screening to work with. It's at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H.l for more info, visit Free admission!

• Then, on Monday, Dec. 31, we ring in the New Year with 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), an amazing feature film that depicts nothing less than man's first voyage to the lunar surface! Also directed by Fritz Lang, it's a remarkable picture that should be much more widely known, but tends to be overshadowed by 'Metropolis,' its slightly older brother. It's at 7 p.m. at Red River Theaters in Concord, N.H. For more info, visit Admission is $10 per person.

It's the first time I've tackled 'Woman in the Moon,' and I'm already preparing some material for the score. I'll be writing more about it in the weeks to come, but I wanted to at least update things so some info was up here.

Because few people are familiar with 'Woman in the Moon,' let me repost this wonderfully concise description from a DVD selling site:
" 'Woman in the Moon' is:

(a) The first feature-length film to portray space-exploration in a serious manner, paying close attention to the science involved in launching a vessel from the surface of the earth to the valleys of the moon.

(b) A tri-polar potboiler of a picture that manages to combine espionage tale, serial melodrama, and comic-book sci-fi into a storyline that is by turns delirious, hushed, and deranged.

(c) A movie so rife with narrative contradiction and visual ingenuity that it could only be the work of one filmmaker: Fritz Lang.

In this, Lang’s final silent epic, the legendary filmmaker spins a tale involving a wicked cartel of spies who co-opt an experimental mission to the moon in the hope of plundering the satellite’s vast (and highly theoretical) stores of gold. When the crew, helmed by Willy Fritsch and Gerda Maurus, finally reach their impossible destination, they find themselves stranded in a lunar labyrinth without walls — where emotions run scattershot, and the new goal becomes survival.

A modern Daedalus tale which uncannily foretold Germany’s wartime push into rocket-science, 'Woman in the Moon' is as much a warning-sign against human hubris as it is a hopeful depiction of mankind’s potential.

Ready to see it now? Then join us on New Year's Eve. And in the meantime, happy holiday season to all!