Friday, March 29, 2013

'Joan of Arc' (1928) in Wilton, N.H.
on Easter Sunday, March 31 at 4:30 p.m.

Here's an odd statement about doing music for silent films: no matter what other difficulties exist, there's little chance of running out of new material.

But wait, how can that be? For one thing, they're not making them anymore, other than one-offs like 'The Artist' (2012). And also, about 80 percent of all films released during the silent era (up until about 1929) are lost.

Even so, I've found those that remain form an endless all-you-can-eat buffet of silent cinema that I don't think I'll ever finish consuming -- er, watch. (Can you tell I'm writing this just before dinner?)

Really! I've been doing this for years now, and I continue to encounter films that I never knew existed. At Cinefest (held earlier this month in Syracuse, N.Y.), I had the pleasure of doing music for no less than five different features, all of them worthy, and all of them unknown to me.

In the spirit of exploring this bounty, I've made it a practice to program a certain number of "new" films in the screenings that I do (new to me, that is) rather than rely solely on the tried-and-true warhorses. For one thing, to do the same films again and again would be boring. Also, you never know how a film is going to play until you show it as intended: with live music in a theater, and with an audience.

Because of this, the titles are piling up. As of this month, the list of full-fledged silent feature films I've accompanied with live music has surpassed 135. And it's about to get a little longer with my first-ever presentation of the great French-Danish film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928) this Sunday in Wilton, N.H.

It should be interesting, as the film is noted for its unusual structure, its cinematography and a world class performance by French stage actress Renee Maria Falconetti. You don't have to take my word for it -- check out what no less than Roger Ebert had to say about her work in 'Joan of Arc':

"You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti. In a medium without words, where the filmmakers believed that the camera captured the essence of characters through their faces, to see Falconetti in Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc'' (1928) is to look into eyes that will never leave you."

That's from Ebert's 1997 assessment of the film as part of his 'Great Movies' write-ups. The 'Dreyer' who Ebert mentioned, by the way, is Carl Theodor Dreyer, a Danish director who helmed this unusual film.

Why is it unusual? I hope Roger doesn't mind if I quote him at length:

"There is a language of shooting and editing that we subconsciously expect at the movies. We assume that if two people are talking, the cuts will make it seem that they are looking at one another. We assume that if a judge is questioning a defendant, the camera placement and editing will make it clear where they stand in relation to one another. If we see three people in a room, we expect to be able to say how they are arranged and which is closest to the camera. Almost all such visual cues are missing from "The Passion of Joan of Arc.''

"Instead Dreyer cuts the film into a series of startling images. The prison guards and the ecclesiastics on the court are seen in high contrast, often from a low angle, and although there are often sharp architectural angles behind them, we are not sure exactly what the scale is (are the windows and walls near or far?). Bordwell's book reproduces a shot of three priests, presumably lined up from front to back, but shot in such a way that their heads seem stacked on top of one another. All of the faces of the inquisitors are shot in bright light, without makeup, so that the crevices and flaws of the skin seem to reflect a diseased inner life.

"Falconetti, by contrast, is shot in softer grays, rather than blacks and whites. Also without makeup, she seems solemn and consumed by inner conviction. Consider an exchange where a judge asks her whether St. Michael actually spoke to her. Her impassive face seems to suggest that whatever happened between Michael and herself was so far beyond the scope of the question that no answer is conceivable.

Okay, that's enough from Roger...

Another reason our screening should be interesting is that I have had absolutely no chance to prepare. In fact, I'm writing this on the west coast of Mexico, in the resort town of Ixtapa, the day before we decamp from a family vacation and return to New Hampshire. We'll be back in the wee hours of Sunday morning, which gives me about 14 hours to come up with something, besides sleeping and eating, etc.

Interested to see how it comes out? Then join us for Sunday's screening as I add one more title to must list of features scored. For more info, here's the press release that was sent out awhile back...

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rediscovered French silent religious drama
to be shown in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, March 31

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), long thought lost
until a copy was found in Norway, to be screened with live music

WILTON, N.H.—A ground-breaking European feature film—considered lost for decades until a copy surfaced in Oslo, Norway—will soon return to the big screen in Wilton, N.H.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a film noted for its innovative camera work and an acclaimed performance by actress Maria Falconetti, will be screened on Sunday, March 31 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with donations accepted.

Directed by Denmark's Carl Theodor Dreyer, 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' chronicles the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

The film’s courtroom scenes are shot almost exclusively in close-up, situating all the film’s meaning and drama in the slightest movements of its protagonist’s face.

Of Falconetti's performance in the title role, critic Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." Her performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, the highest of any silent performance on the list. Falconetti, a legendary French stage actress, made only two films during her career.

The film has a history of controversy. The premiere of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' in Paris on Oct. 25, 1928 was delayed because of the longtime efforts of many French nationalists, who objected to the fact that Dreyer was not Catholic and not French and to the then-rumored casting of Lillian Gish as Joan.

Before the premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed. Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version of the film.

It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was released near the end of the silent film era. About 80 percent of all movies made during that time are now lost due to decomposition, carelessness, fire, or neglect. But copies of "missing" films still occasionally turn up in archives and collections around the world, so researchers and archivists continue to make discoveries.

In the case of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' the original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. In 1981, an employee of the Kikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo, Norway found several film cans in a janitor's closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The cans were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that the prints were of Dreyer's original cut of the film before government or church censorship had taken place. No records exist of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then-director of the institution may have requested a special copy.

For 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he creates beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," Rapsis said. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can really get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

Upcoming silent film screenings at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre include:

• Sunday, April 28, 2013, 4:30 p.m.: 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926). Epic Western starring Ronald Coleman, Vilma Banky about the settling and irrigation of California's Imperial Valley, once a wasteland but now an agricultural paradise. With a young Gary Cooper playing a key role. Visually spectacular story filmed largely on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert.

• Sunday, May 26, 2013, 4:30 p.m.: 'Tell It To The Marines' (1926). In honor of Memorial Day: U.S. Marine Sergeant O'Hara (Lon Chaney) has his hands full training raw recruits, one of whom, 'Skeets' Burns, is a particular thorn in his side...especially when it comes to romancing nurse Nora Dale.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will be shown on Sunday, March 31 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with donations encouraged to defray expenses. For more information, visit; for more information on the music, visit

Friday, March 22, 2013

Some old-time religion: Scoring
'The Ten Commandments' and 'Ben Hur'

You know Easter is on its way because we're breaking out the Biblical blockbusters. This year it's Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Ten Commandments' (1923), which we screened last night in Plymouth, N.H., and then tonight it's 'Ben Hur' (1925), which I'm doing in Concord, N.H.

I'm sorry to report that last night's audience at the Flying Monkey was puny — exactly one person for each commandment! When I pointed this out in my remarks, one of my die-hard regulars raised her hand and yelled that she wanted to claim 'adultery.' I got the feeling it was not in the spirit of 'Thou Shalt Not,' but perhaps with other intentions.

Still, off we went with this strangely bifurcated two-films-in-one movie. Unlike the big 1956 remake starring Charlton Heston, the original combines the Moses scenes with a modern-day (for 1923) story about two brothers, one who respects the commandments and another who breaks them. (Guess who has the more interesting life?)

I pondered not saying anything about this before we showed the film, as I think it's always better to let people make their own discoveries. But because people are so familiar with the remake (which is all set in Biblical times), I felt it was an important enough departure to mention in advance.

I had sort of turned off the "accompaniment" part of my brain after Cinefest in Syracuse, and found it was hard to get in the groove for 'The Ten Commandments.' It helped that DeMille's opening scenes are really dramatic and effective. I finally settled on some worthy melodic material that proved versatile enough to cover both the Biblical story as well as the modern day tale.

Most satisfying was music for the 'Golden Calf' scenes, a simple-minded celebratory ditty heavy on repeated notes that was perfect for mindless partying on a grand scale. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but later I realized it was a not-too-distant cousin of music I've played for the Tong War scene in Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman.' Wherever it came from, it sounded great when played at a certain plodding pace, with bass drum and cymbals on the downbeats.

Probably the toughest music was for the dramatic scenes when God reveals the Commandments to Moses one at a time, by way of a reverse explosion, after which the Commandments appear in the sky as if each was the title of a Broadway musical. See the hit show THOU SHALT HONOR AND KEEP THE SABBATH! I figured there would be 10 of these, and playing the same music each time would get tiresome. So, on the fly, I tried to rig it so that each time a new commandment was revealed, things would shift into a different key, and generally upwards.

All this while shifting back and forth to the "golden calf" orgy. In situations like these, it's hard not to get carried away, but I had to keep remembering we were only a quarter of the way into the movie, so had to leave something in reserve.

Would I do it again? Yes, as an audience of 10 people is no way to know if a film still really works. (Possible reasons for low attendance was that the film was shown on a different day of the month than we usually do, and that the local college was on spring break this week.) So look for this one to pop up again at the next excuse for a Biblical epic.

Can anyone tell me when St. Swithin's Day is?

I'm a little more certain of 'Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ' (1925), which we'll uncork tonight at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. Showtime is 7 p.m. If you'd like more info, here's the press release that went out a little while ago.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film epic ‘Ben Hur’ (1925) in Concord, N.H. on Friday, March 22

Biblical-era blockbuster to be screened with live music prior to Holy Week

CONCORD, N.H.—One of early Hollywood's greatest epics returns to the big screen with a showing of 'Ben Hur, A Tale of The Christ' (1925) on Friday, March 22 at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. The screening, with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, starts at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

'Ben Hur,' starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, was among the first motion pictures to tell a Biblical-era story on a gigantic scale. The film, which helped establish MGM as a leading Hollywood studio, employed a cast of thousands and boasted action sequences such as a large-scale sea battle. The film is highlighted by a spell-binding chariot race that still leaves audiences breathless.

Set in the Holy Land at the time of Christ's birth, 'Ben Hur' tells the story of a Jewish family in Jerusalem whose fortune is confiscated by the Romans and its members jailed. The enslaved family heir, Judah Ben Hur (played by Novarro, a leading silent-era heartthrob) is inspired by encounters with Christ to pursue justice, which leads him to a series of epic adventures in his quest to find his mother and sister and restore his family fortune.

The screening is timed to honor Holy Week in the Christian calendar, which includes Palm Sunday on Sunday, March 24 and leads up to Easter on Sunday, March 31.

'Ben Hur,' directed by Fred Niblo, was among the most expensive films of the silent era, taking two years to make and costing between $4 million and $6 million. When released in 1925, it became a huge hit for the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. The film proved so popular, it was successfully re-released in 1931 with a soundtrack, long after talkies had swept away silent film. One reason the film was so expensive to make is because it was partly shot in Italy, where a sea battle scene led to a fire that endangered the many extras on board. No one was hurt, but MGM moved the delay-prone picture back to Hollywood to be finished.

The chariot race scene in 'Ben Hur,' with Novarro and other cast members driving teams of horses at high speed on a mammoth dirt racetrack in a gigantic replica of a Roman stadium, was among the most complicated and dangerous sequences filmed in the silent era. It remains noted for its tight editing, dramatic sweep, and sheer cinematic excitement. The chariot race was re-created virtually shot for shot in MGM's 1959 remake, and more recently imitated in the pod race scene in 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.'

Besides Novarro in the title role, the film stars Francis X. Bushman as Messala, the Roman soldier who imprisons the Hur family; Betty Bronson as Mary, mother of Jesus; May McAvoy as Ben Hur's sister Esther; and Claire McDowell as Ben Hur's mother. 'Ben Hur' was based on the best-selling 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace, which interwove the story of Christ's life with the Ben Hur clan, a fictional Jewish merchant family. Celebrity "extras" in the chariot race scene included stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Lionel Barrymore, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and a very young Clark Gable.

The film was remade by MGM in the 1950s in a color and wide-screen version starring Charleston Heston that garnered 11 Academy Awards. Some critics believe the original 1925 version offers superior drama and story-telling. MGM executives at the time, aware of the quality of the original version, attempted to destroy all prints of the 1925 'Ben Hur,' sending the FBI out to confiscate collector copies in the 1950s. However, the studio did preserve the negative of the 1925 version, so the film remains available today.

The original release of 'Ben Hur' included several early technicolor sequences that were converted to black and white for the 1930 re-release. However, an original 1925 print with the color sequences was discovered in the Czech Republic in the 1980s, and these have been incorporated in the restoration being screened at Red River Theatres.

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 cinema's early years as they were intended: in restored prints, on the big screen, and with live music and an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings. “There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that experience. At their best, silent films were communal experience very different from today’s movies—one in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of the the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

‘Ben Hur’ will be shown on Friday, March 22 at 7 p.m. in the Jaclyn Simchik screening room at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit

Organizers have checked with the Diocese of Manchester and the screening of 'Ben Hur' does not count as attending Mass for Palm Sunday weekend.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

From the piano: 33rd Annual Cinefest
vintage film confab March 14-17, 2013

My usual state between films at Cinefest.

What happens when several hundred movie buffs get together to enjoy four straight days of obscure vintage cinema?

By "straight," I mean from 9 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday, followed by a lighter schedule of just 9 hours of viewing on Sunday. And by "vintage," I mean little-known flicks from way back in the silent and early sound era.

What happens is you get Cinefest, one of the high points of the vintage entertainment calendar. Every March, the film faithful gather at a Holiday Inn outside Syracuse, N.Y. for a multi-day buffet of comedies, dramas, westerns, thrillers, propaganda films, musicals, home movies of Curly Howard, and more. They're often bizarre, but they're always interesting.

To learn more about this annual confab, check out a write-up by critic and author Leonard Maltin, who attends every year with his wife Alice.

Hey! That's me with Leonard Maltin and Alice.

But for a more limited view—my perspective from the piano bench as one of the accompanists, or just wandering the halls—read on.

It might seem a little disjointed, but that's what happens when you score five completely different films (and plenty of shorts) in a few days. Reality begins blurring with what occurred on screen. Also, the place where the music comes from is tapped so often and steadily that it becomes hard to turn off, or starts to behave like a leaky faucet. You begin imagining music while, say, walking across the parking lot to the pharmacy to buy beer or headache tablets.

Thursday, March 14: Day One of Cinefest was proceeded by the previous night's customary trip to the hospitality suite, where I scarfed a couple of sandwiches and helped carry in Leonard Maltin's luggage across the hall. Ah, show business.

Also in the musical line-up: Andrew Simpson, who was here last year, and Jon Mirsalis, one of the big names in the field and someone whose work I really admire. What a privilege to be playing on the same program with two heavy hitters!

And also a little intimidating. But I've found that my own style is what it is. So I can't get too self-conscious or try to be something I'm not — specifically, a concert pianist. Heck, I'd even make a lousy rehearsal pianist! Helpfully, Jon recounted how he felt he was terrible when he started out, which I actually found comforting.

On Thursday morning, accompaniment duties began at 10:45 a.m. with the first installment of 'Lame Brains and Lunatics,' a program of obscure silent short comedies from the Library of Congress compiled by Rob Stone and Steve Massa. Andrew took the lead on this; I followed along with tunes for a couple of shorts in between. Jon had asked to be excused from playing for silent film comedies, which seem to be pretty low on his list of good ways to spend what time we have on this planet, and I can understand.

After lunch, I got to hear Jon play (for me, the first time live) for 'Wild Beauty' (1926), an absurd horse drama that Jon's music transformed into compelling cinema. In live performance, Jon's style and musical vocabulary are instantly recognizable. I kept thinking: present at the creation. It's why people visit Niagara Falls in person rather just look at pictures of it. I was especially impressed with some deep and consistent rumbling that Jon produced for a stampede sequence — it all seemed to be coming from the bottom octave of the keyboard. Later, Jon said the effect was produced by "a lot of notes."

Andrew drew a difficult drama, 'The Whip,' (1917), another horse-related story (more about the humans) but a hodgepodge of scenes that didn't quite make sense and in some cases were clearly in the wrong order. He made it bearable with some great playing, I thought. Things fell together for him much more naturally in 'My Boy' (1921), a melodrama featuring child star Jackie Coogan, then fresh off his triumph in Chaplin's 'The Kid' the year before.

Andrew, with his quadro-textured Italian suitcoat, warms up for 'My Boy' on Thursday afternoon. Note the four buttons in different colors on his coat sleeve.

As cute as Coogan is as a child actor, my problem is that I can't help thinking of him as Uncle Fester in old 'The Addams Family' TV show. (As seen on right.) But Andrew's music helped sweep all that away, creating a score that wrung maximum emotional value from the film.

When the lights came up at the end, I was surprised to see Andrew in tears! How great to witness such genuine emotion, for a silent film or for anything, really. He mentioned that thoughts of his own two-year-old son prompted the response, and the film really got to him. Wow! In the presence of some powerful stuff there.

And me? I'd just spent the whole day listening to two masterful accompanists, with occasional breaks to wonder what I was doing on the same program.

But there I was. And my first at-bat came Thursday night after dinner, with music for a program of seldom-screened Mary Pickford pics: the short 'So Near and Yet So Far' (1912) and the early feature 'The Foundling' (1916), an unusual film because it was made twice — the original footage burned in a fire before the picture was released, so they went back and shot it all over again!

Alas, I was really all over the place for the short. Neither film nor accompanist seemed to settle down. But I had some "A List" ideas ready for 'The Foundling,' and once it started, I was relieved when things came together pretty quickly. The film was easy to follow, so I never lost the story thread, which makes a big difference. Things kept clicking, with one nice moment after another. As we approached the two-thirds mark, I got the feeling I was nailing it, and so headed into the last part playing with confidence.

And yes, at the big climax, I uncorked the full treatment of my main theme, cycling the first two bars of it (C Major and E minor) until Mary revealed her true identity to her father, which was my cue to push the melody forward to what Rachmaninoff would identify as the "purple moment," that one high point that everything else is leading to, in one way or another. It was one of those moments that worked out in a way that would have been impossible to plan for in advance, and I thought it was a fitting way to handle what was clearly the big emotional moment.

As the film ended, I rolled into a closing cadence and finished with a flourish. Lights up, generous applause, and the great relief that in my initial outing, I'd hit a home run. So many nice comments afterwards, especially from the Pickford people, who hadn't realized I was improvising the score and had never seen the picture before. And I was especially pleased when Jon Miralis said he thought the music was "haunting." Wow!

Afterwards, a kindly older gentleman complimented me on the way I had used a theme from a Schubert string quartet. This was surprising because I hadn't used one—well, at least not that I was aware of. But it's entirely possible that some fragment of melody I heard long ago lodged somewhere in my head and was only jarred loose by Mary Pickford's curls. You never know. Hey, with only 12 notes to work with, things are bound to sound similar once in awhile.

Andrew and Jon during the first day.

Friday, March 15: Long day for me, making up for the drought on Thursday: two features plus another round of short comedies from the Library of Congress under the 'Lame Brains and Lunatics' banner. I lucked out on the first feature, 'Ladies of Leisure' (1926), a generally light comedy with a few serious scenes salted in, but ultimately played for laughs. The material I picked for this seemed to fit well, and also got to do some faux-minimalist stuff during the dramatic scenes, which were pretty predictable. When the distraught woman hails a streetcar that says "To Brooklyn Bridge," you know what's going to happen. So the score held together, but just barely. By the ending, I was ready for lunch.

For that, we hauled down the road to Heidi's of Liverpool, an iconic hot dog stand, where I accidentally stuck my foot in wet cement in fine silent comedy style. After that adventure, I was next up for 'Bolshevism on Trial' (1919), a strange propaganda film for which I had high hopes. But entering the darkened room about 15 minutes before showtime, I was thrown when I found the audience watching a silent film being projected with no music! What?! Was I supposed to be up there? What was happening?

I made my way up to the front, thinking I'd somehow disappointed everyone by not being on hand, and was just about to sit down at the keyboard when the film clip ended, and then started again, this time with recorded sound. I immediately realized that the previous clip was unrestored film that lacked the synchronized discs, and was just being shown to give audiences an idea of what the materials looked like before they were put back together.

Still, it was enough to rattle me so that I had trouble finding my groove for the propaganda film. It ought to have been easy to play for, as the plot was transparent and the action entirely predictable. But the material I'd chosen to work with just wasn't a good match, and my efforts todo things like twist around phrases of the Star-Spangled Banner didn't generate much energy, either. I was glad when it ended, and felt it had been my low point so far. (Three features down, two to go.)

The highlight of Friday, I thought, was Jon Mirsalis playing for 'The Ice Flood' (1926), a Universal drama centered on exactly that: a big ice jam in logging country in the Pacific Northwest. Not any kind of classic, but the kind of picture you can imagine people getting really excited about when this was first released. It's in the same category of the fire film that Kevin Brownlow uses to start off his great "Pioneers" documentary of silent film.

Film archivist Bruce Lawton and me in the sprawling dealers' room.

After dinner, another session of 'Lame Brains and Lunatics' short comedies, and I wasn't happy with how this worked out, either. Andrew is a natural for this sort of thing, spinning out honky-tonk accompaniment without apparent effort, and I gain a lot from hearing what he does. I think I just need to sit and do one or two of these a day just to get into the habit of responding to them. Maybe it's just nerves—the unfamiliar room and the big and knowledgeable audience made it that much harder to forget myself and get inside these films.

Friday night gabfast in the Holiday Inn lobby. In plaid is Rob Stone from the Library of Congress; at his left is silent comedy guru Steve Massa, about to be author of 'Lame Brains and Lunatics,' a newly published book on the field.

Saturday, March 16: An early day. Hearty breakfast at Carl's Kountry Kitchen on Teall Avenue, then fellow accompanist Andrew Simpson and I arrived at the Palace Theater on James Street at 8 a.m. for a day of 35mm prints. Me, I was in what I can now identify as my 'mid-Cinefest funk' — that place where you feel you've done your best work and it's going to be tough to try to summon up the energy (and the ideas) to equal or surpass the mark.

As organizer Joe Yranski jokes, a theater sporting the name 'Palace' is often anything but. And yes, the Palace on James Street is far from grand. It's a modest one-screen affair in a funky neighborhood that somehow endured into the age of the multiplex, and only this past May ceased running first-run films when the economics finally gave out.

But I like the place, which wears the understated quirkiness of another era. Inside, there's just enough architectural schmaltz to make it endearing without being ridiculous. And the 38th anniversary wishes to Leonard and Alice Maltin on the marquee was a nice touch.

However, since they pulled the plug on first-run shows, the projection booth discipline has apparently deteriorated somewhat. We had films out of order and appear when they weren't supposed to, including one I was supposed to play, 'Come On Over,' a 1922 Colleen Moore vehicle about a gal from the Emerald Isle. 'Come On Over' started in the middle of a collection of technicolor fragments that Jon Mirsalis was playing. When it came on, Jon sat and waited, but when it was apparent the Moore film wasn't going to stop, he invited me to jump in, which I did.

Not the best set-up for effective film scoring, but I had some material in mind and was surprised when I picked up the film no problem and things began to jell. (I later joked that I'm one-quarter Irish, and the score reflected about that ratio.) I kept it light, as the film itself was light as a feather, driven by misunderstandings and with no real villain. Plot threads were tied up without much drama, and then it was time to party.

Joe Yranski had tipped me off in advance that 'Come On Over' contained an Irish jig near the end. Sure enough, when the old guy with the bagpipes was brought in, I was ready with open fifths droning in the bass and 6/8 figures whirling above, with a sharped fourth to add a little sparkle to the racket.

What surprised me, however, was the jig was not just a scene, but turned out to be the actual ending of the film. I didn't expect this, but as it unfolded and kept going, it became increasingly clear that we were done with the story and now it was time for everyone to dance. And one by one, they each got a turn—young folks, old folks, everyone. It was structured like a Bollywood movie!

This realization dawned on me at about the time the Colleen Moore character brought out a door to dance on as her final statement of jig superiority. This is the film's real climax! I had been holding back, but at that point I sensed it was time to amp things up, so began building to a climax, with the right hand working its way up the keyboard.

And sure enough, just as I got the place where there ain't no place else to go, the frantic jig scene faded out to 'The End.' So I poured on what little I had left, keeping the energy going for a few more bars to finish out with a clanging 6/8 flourish, tone clusters and all, including that sharped fourth. And as I realized I'd nailed it, I was overcome with a happiness and satisfaction that's hard to describe. But I can say that it ranks as one of the most satisfying moments I've had in accompanying silent films.

I even ended with a showy downward glissando!

And before I move on, let me tip my non-existent cap to Andrew Simpson, who opened the morning with a completely polished and totally compelling score for 'Three Women' (1924), a sophisticated Ernst Lubitsch drama. I thought this was Andrew's very best stuff of the event, a flawless match of music and movie.

After 'Come On Over,' we then played round robin for the Library of Congress 'Mostly Lost' presentation, with me drawing a Hank Mann comedy and a fragment of a Western that I thought was a comedy for the first few minutes until I realized it was being played straight. Luckily, I had chosen a strategy of "straight music" instead of comic in the hopes that it would bring out the comedy, so I wasn't in too bad a place when the comedy never came.

I went back to the hotel for the afternoon, and so missed one of the great moments of Cinefest 2013. Jon Mirsalis was accompanying the Norma Talmadge drama 'The Woman Disputed' (1928), and during a climactic battle scene, somehow the lamp fell off the keyboard. Not only that — it crashed onto the microphone that had been set up behind the keyboard, causing the bulb to break with a resounding smash that was broadcast to the entire theater.

Amazingly, all this happened in exact synchronization with a huge on-screen explosion, making it one of the most well-timed technical disasters in the history of live film scores. When we reconvened at the hotel on Saturday night, I had the honor of saying a few words to the crowd, and presented Jon a new bulb to make up for the one lost during his performance.

Accompanist Jon Mirsalis holds up his replacement light bulb.

Back at the hotel that night, my last feature was 'Partners Again' (1926), a "middle class Jewish" comedy that I don't think I had the right material for. But I kept things light and staccato throughout, which helped, and then did my best to lend some high velocity thrills to an airborne climax that seemed to last about five minutes longer than really necessary. Later, I was amazed to learn that I was playing for the first public screening of this film since its original release in 1926!

Still, I sensed I wasn't quite pulling off the approach I had chosen, so not the most satisfying experience of the event. As Groucho Marx said, "Sorry folks, they can't all be gems."

But afterwards, I was surprised when no less a film authority than Scott Margolin, who leads the Vitaphone Project, came over and congratulated me on what he said was a superb performance! I was grateful for his remarks, which were a reminder that people hear and respond to a score in many different ways.

Jon then sat down for a bravura score to 'Behind the Door' (1919), an intense 'atrocity' film from the Ince studios. Highlighted by incredible photography (especially at sea) and appallingly gruesome subject matter, Jon's music to this was the highlight of the festival for me.

Andrew finished the night with 'The Quarterback' (1926), a college football comedy starring Richard Dix and Esther Ralston. Andrew had started the day at 8:30 a.m. at the Palace, and here he was playing the last flick of the day, starting after 11 p.m. At some point this ceases to be fun, and as the opening titles rolled for 'The Quarterback,' I got the sense that we'd reached that spot. Still, Andrew turned in an energetic "rah rah" football score, which really impressed me with its effectiveness as well as its musicianship.

Your three accompanists: Jon, Andrew, and someone who should know better than to wear that much black. (Festival organizer Gerry Orlando is in back.)

Sunday, March 17: I had to get an early start back to home base in New Hampshire, so bid everyone goodbye without attending events of screenings. (Jon handled the one silent film that afternoon.) Surprisingly, I found myself reluctant to leave. Despite the ups and downs of wrestling with accompaniment, I had come to feel at home in this environment. What if this was really my job and I had to do this every day? If it was like the most recent Cinefest, I wouldn't mind at all!

But for now, I'll have to wait until March 13, 2014 to return for the final installment of my three-year engagement. Better start practicing.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Buster Keaton comes to the rescue
of the Ioka Theater in Exeter, N.H.

What the crowd looked like from the stage. Photo by Trevor Bartlett

The place was packed and the energy palpable! That's what it was like last night (Saturday, March 9) for a Buster Keaton double feature at Exeter (N.H.) Town Hall, an event staged to rally support for reopening a nearby one-screen movie theater.

The program? 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two films about film. It was a nice way, I thought, to raise awareness about Exeter's Ioka Theater, which opened way back in 1915 (with 'Birth of Nation,' no less), and enjoyed a long run as the community's downtown movie theater until closing in 2008.

Reopening the Ioka hasn't been easy. In hopes of helping, I offered to do music for a silent film night to raise money and awareness. Faced with a crucial fundraising deadline at the end of this month, organizers took me up on the offer, setting March 9 as the date.

One reason for joining in is that I want the Ioka to open as much as anyone. Not only is it an original silent film house, but the name alone makes it worth the effort. (Apparently it means "happy gathering place" in the tongue of a local Native American tribe.) Also, I was eager to do a screening in Exeter Town Hall because it's one of those classic New England public buildings (wood floor, high ceiling) with wonderfully live acoustics.

But would it work? Would people $15 a head to give up a Saturday night and help support reopening the Ioka? We got great press in the weeks before showtime, but still, you're never quite sure.

The next thing I knew, it was 20 minutes until showtime, and I was playing warm-up music while the crowd noise built behind me. I'm a little superstitious about looking over my shoulder at the house prior to a show, but by then I could tell we were in for a big night. By 7:30 p.m., the place was jammed, with everyone raring to go.

Emcee Trevor Bartlett welcomed all and led us in singing 'Happy Birthday' to a fellow organizer. I kept my remarks uncharacteristically brief, and then 'Sherlock Jr.' took over.

For me, it was the same challenge that all comedies present: the need to keep it light so that people can hear others laughing, which helps build overall audience reaction.

I've done 'Sherlock Jr.' many times, and I've found it's usually touch-and-go until the "money in the trash" scene, which produces the first reliable big laugh. Depending on how that goes, you can usually tell what kind of screening it'll be.

Well, last night there was no doubt. You could not have asked for a more enthusiastic audience. The first key scene produced a huge explosion of laughter, so I knew it would be a good ride from then on. The trick would be to stay back and let the on-screen action carry the comedy, and resist the temptation to overdo it.

Keeping things in check requires some energy. But I was able to manage it, to the point of using total silence in a few places to bring out the comedy. Even so, I actually think I could have played chopsticks during the film and the audience would have loved it anyway.

Reaction was strong throughout, even during the sequence when Buster jumps into the screen and then the setting keep changing on him. This stands as one of Buster's great achievements, but I've found it rarely gets big laughs. Well, it did last night. (Weirdly, the interior of the movie theater in 'Sherlock Jr.' looks uncannily like the Ioka!)

After intermission, 'The Cameraman' (1928) produced gales of laughter. At one point, people laughed at something that I'd never noticed before. After the frosted glass in an office door is destroyed three times, there's a scene where employees enter the office and the door is briefly glimpsed. People laughed, and I saw why: the glass was backed by a tight metal mesh! Never caught that before until the Exeter audience pointed it out.

I did kinda let loose during the Tong War sequence, but still modulated things as Buster worked the scene for laughs.

One nice success, I thought, was in the changing room scene, where Buster and Ed Brophy mix it up. At a screening in January, I was flummoxed when this scene produced almost no laughter. I think what happened was that I had the music too frantic and too "funny" too soon, and once you get into that pattern, it's hard to pull back.

So this time, I kept it as simple as possible. A very spare (but graceful) waltz setting of the main theme I was using, as if accompanying a very delicate ballet. And it worked!

I'm not sure if it was just the different audience, but the scene really seemed to build in a way that was very satisfying. Also, I lucked out in that the pauses in the action seemed to match up to ends of the phrases I was spinning out, so that helped it all come across, I thought.

The last 10 minutes of 'The Cameraman' are very special to me for several reasons, so it was a special thrill to accompany them in Exeter and get such a huge response.

At the film's end, the crowd just went nuts! The lights came on, and I was honored to get a standing ovation. But the applause was really for Buster, and for me it remains immensely satisfying to help bring his work to life for audiences today.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hoping for a big turnout for the IOKA
on Saturday, March 9 in Exeter, N.H.

What would you do if your town boasted a one-screen moviehouse that opened back in 1915, and continued to show films into the 21st century? You'd celebrate it a community landmark, one with a long history of bringing together people for the shared experience of the cinema, right?

But what would you do if that theater closed in 2008 and was threatened with demolition? You'd try your darndest to keep that from happening, right?

Well, I'm pleased to report that's what's happening in Exeter, N.H., where efforts are underway to restore and reopen the IOKA theater. The one-screen moviehouse did indeed open its doors in 1915 (with a screening of 'Birth of a Nation,' no less), but closed in 2008, in part for lack of a modern fire supression system.

You can't keep a good theater down, though, and so a community group is hoping to transform the now-shuttered IOKA into a community performing arts center.

It won't be easy. For one thing, the Exeter Theater Company ( must raise quite a bit of money this month just to stay on track. To that end, we're staging a benefit silent film screening on Saturday, March 9. It's at Exeter Town Hall, just across the street from the Ioka, and I hope it helps give people a sense of the possiblities of restoring and reopening a vintage downtown theater.

Tickets are $15; doors open at 7 and showtime is 7:30 p.m. We're screening two films about film: Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr' (1924) and then, after an intermission, 'The Cameraman' (1928). Should be fun, not only because both films are Keaton at his peak and great pictures for new audiences, but interior of the theater in 'Sherlock Jr.' looks remarkably similar to the IOKA.

If you're in the area, please come join us on Saturday night. We've received quite a bit of publicity and so I'm hoping for a good crowd. In any case, it has all the makings of one of those laugh-filled nights, so I encourage all to attend, both to support the IOKA and to laugh your fool head off.

Here's the press release that went out awhile back. See you there!

*  *  *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton's 'Cameraman' at Exeter Town Hall on Saturday, March 9

Classic silent film comedy with live music to support effort to reopen IOKA Theater

EXETER, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s. Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, Keaton's movies remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The Cameraman' (1928), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. at Exeter Town Hall, 10 Front St. in Exeter, N.H. Admission is $15 per person, with proceeds to support the campaign to restore and reopen the IOKA Theater.

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman. His efforts result in spectacular failure, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can he parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

The program will be accompanied by live music performed by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis.

"Jeff is a true artist and his work represents exactly the kind of fun, innovative films we plan to show at the IOKA when it re-opens," said Trevor Bartlett, Programming Chair of the Exeter Theater Company's board of directors. "A live performance like this is a rare thing indeed and we're honored that Jeff is hosting this special event for our benefit."

The Exeter Theater Company is spearheading efforts to restore and reopen the IOKA, a historic theater in downtown Exeter. The theater served as the community's downtown moviehouse and performance center for nearly a century before closing in 2008.

The benefit screening at Exeter Town Hall is presented with support from Mechanical Forensics Engineering Services of Rochester ( in cooperation with the Town of Exeter.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton creates comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality. The movie contains several classic sequences often cited as among Keaton's best, including a scene where Keaton and a large man both struggle to change into swimsuits in a tiny dressing room. The scene, which runs several minutes long, was filmed in one take.

'The Cameraman' will be preceded by a shorter Keaton picture, 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924), which is also a film about film. In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Keaton plays a movie projectionist hoping to become a great detective. The fun begins when he dreams himself into the plot of his theater's latest crime melodrama, with unexpected results.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies." But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

An entirely intuitive artist, Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly absorbed by the new medium. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era's leading talents. A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era with no special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist, will provide live music for both films. Rapsis, who accompanies silent film screenings at venues around the nation, improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreat the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

Rapsis said the Keaton movies, like all silent films, were made to be shown not only with live music, but also on the big screen to large audiences.

"They weren't intended to be watched on a home entertainment center by, say, just you and your dog," Rapsis said. "However, if you can put all the elements back together, the films really do spring back to life. At its best, it's possible for today's audiences to experience why people first fell in love with the movies."

Rapsis said the Keaton program in Exeter is a great way to remind local audiences why it's important to restore and reopen a facility such as the IOKA Theater.

"These films were intended to be communal experiences, and they're part of the DNA of the IOKA," Rapsis said. "We hope that showing the Keaton films to a live audience will help area residents understand another reason why it's important to save the IOKA. Silent film is just one of many types of performance and art that can bring people together and add to a community's quality of life."

Buster Keaton's ‘The Cameraman’ will be shown on Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. at Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H. Admission is $15 per person. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Notes from the Kansas Silent Film Festival

Accompanist Greg Foreman (at left) and I flank a familiar figure at this year's Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka, Kansas.

You know, I've come to think of the Kansas Silent Festival as my own personal Brigadoon.

Once a year, I parachute into Topeka, Kansas, a community to which I have absolutely no connection whatsoever, and take part in a two-day silent film festival. (Sometimes my wife joins in.) And then I disappear for 363 days, until it happens again. And there it all is again: the organizers, the volunteers, the musicians, the fans, the White Concert Hall at Washburn University, the fried pickles at the Hanover Pancake House, and eternally-under-renovation state capitol building.

I don't know what the Topekans make of this annual pilgrimage, but I really get a lot out of it. I think going somewhere different and working with people for a limited time on something you all care about is good for soul. It's kinda like having grandchildren, I guess: all the pleasure of shared experience but without the week-in, week-out slog of day-to-day responsibilities. Or maybe it's the same attraction offered by a cause like 'Habitat for Humanity,' but instead of affordable housing being the common denominator, it's the cinematic accomplishments of Mack Swain and Fatty Arbuckle

This year's festival (Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013) was more of a bonding experience than ever due to bad winter weather augmented by personal mishaps. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, regular featured performers at the festival, made it about halfway from Colorado before getting stranded in Hays, Kansas on Thursday, the day before the festival opened. Facing full-blown blizzard conditions, a partial shut-down of Interstate 70, and then one of the musicians getting ill, band leader Rodney Sauer made the tough decision to turn back.

Wow! You'd think that the loss of the marquee musical act would put a crimp in a festival featuring live music as one of the chief attractions . But the remaining musicians (Marvin Faulwell, Greg Foreman, Phil Figgs, and yours truly) were able to fill in, and the schedule went on as planned. Yes, the snow delayed my arrival from Thursday to Friday, but I got there in time. Yes, Greg Foreman's car broke down outside Lawrence, Kansas, but a new battery did the trick. And yes, the head projectionist couldn't make it up from Wichita, but other folks filled in.

 Attendance was down a bit due to the snow, but there was a certain "the show must go on" energy that lent an edge to the proceedings. (Above, that's Karl Mischler from New York and Trevor Jost from Kansas putting up a banner on Washburn University's snow-covered White Concert Hall.) Just about everyone I expect to encounter each year was there, and I had the privilege of meeting some new folks, too, including guests of honor Paul Gierucki and Brittany Valente of Cinemusem, Inc., invited because of their work restoring a collection of 100 Keystone films in honor of the pioneering slapstick studio's recent 100th birthday.

My first "sub" work came Friday night on 'Fatty and Mabel Adrift' (1916), an ambitious Keystone comedy that Mont Alto was scheduled to play. Sitting at the piano, I was worried that it might come across as 'Fatty and Mabel and Accompanist Adrift,' but it seemed to hold together, and no one threw anything. (Except on screen—it was a Keystone film, after all.) Funny, but this situation was tailor-made for my seat-of-the-pants improv-heavy approach, so it was actually kind of fun to be of service.

Saturday was marked by real-life slapstick, in the form of festival director Bill Shaffer slipping on ice, an accident that left him with several stitches, a horribly swollen eye, and a sore shoulder and upper arm where he fell. But thankfully, it wasn't any worse. It's good that my wife came along this year; as an occupational therapist, she helped Bill with some exercises for his shoulder, and is now the festival's unofficial on-call first aid and rehab specialist.

Even with Bill injured, we all soldiered on through the day's programs, with organist Marvin Faulwell doing an impressive job filling in for some of the bigger Mont Alto gaps (features such as Keaton's 'The Three Ages' (1923) and William S. Hart in 'The Narrow Trail' (1917), and me taking some of the shorter flicks.

I got a chance to take in Raymond Griffith's film 'Hands Up!' as an audience member instead of accompanist (as Greg Foreman did the music), and I was surprised at what a difference film speed seemed to make. I've done the film several times off a disc that plays at probably 21 frames per second, and it never fails to produce gales of laughter as Griffith works his way out of jam after jam.

Raymond Griffith teaches more up-to-date dance steps to his captors in one of the best moments, I think, from 'Hands Up!' (1926).

But the festival ran a 16mm print at 24 frames per second, which speeded up the action noticeably and made the whole affair much more cartoon-like. Alas, I think that short-circuited a lot of the timing and pacing of Griffith's comedy, which rushed by before the audience could process and respond. Was it the speed, or some other factor? Well, for whatever reason, the film didn't get the strong reaction I thought it would. Interesting how sometimes the reaction happens, and sometimes it doesn't. Film speed? Sun spots? The next snowstorm coming in on Sunday?

For me, a highlight of this year's edition was improvising accompaniment to Gierucki's Keystone presentation at the festival's Cinema Dinner, held on Saturday before the evening's program. I came up with upbeat material that seemed to fit the films quite nicely, which is a really satisfying thing when it happens—especially at such a prominent event. Some people yearn to score a hole-in-one; I seek that perfect off-the-cuff one-reel piano score. (Some people go to Aruba in February; I go to Topeka.)

I'm pleased to report that festival director Bill Shaffer is on the mend, and also that the dates have been set for next year's Kansas Silent Film Festival. It's Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March 1, 2014. See you there! We'll bring the bandages!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hey! That's me on "New Hampshire Chronicle"

A screen capture from tonight's piece on me by New Hampshire Chronicle.

Just a quick note to welcome any folks who've been steered here by the "New Hampshire Chronicle" segment on me. Thanks for stopping by!

I maintain this blog as a source of info about upcoming screenings (which you can get via the 'upcoming screenings' link at right), and also as a repository of running commentary and thoughts about the process of creating live scores for silent films.

"New Hampshire Chronicle" is a five-nights-a-week half-hour local show on WMUR-TV Channel 9 (based in Manchester, N.H.) featuring people and places in the Granite State.

It's very well done and I was thrilled to have the producers contact me last month to ask about doing a segment.

But it's not the first time I've been on Channel 9. Back in 1971, age the ripe old age of 7, I was scheduled to be in the audience of the Uncle Gus Show, the station's old afternoon kiddie program, but we were pre-empted by live coverage of the launch of Apollo 14! Darn!

Years later, by complete dumb luck, I was the first driver (after Gov. John Sununu's limosine) to travel on a newly opened stretch of Route 101 in Raymond. This was in the winter of 1985, and I was home from college, wearing my Holden Caufield hunting cap complete with ear flaps.

After being yelled at by a state cop for stopping in a travel lane (the road was barricaded and I didn't know what to do), I was interviewed from behind the wheel by Channel 9's Odetta Rogers. ("You used to have to go all around, but now you can go straight through.") We still pull out the tape once in awhile if someone wants a good laugh at my expense.

Well, here I am on Channel 9 again, along with Parker's Maple Barn and Fritz Wetherbee on Tuftonboro's funny names. Weirdly, I won't get to see the segment tonight when it's broadcast (at 7 p.m.) because I'll be in the middle of accompanying Johnny Hines in 'Conductor 1492' at the Manchester Public Library. Show starts at 6 p.m. and it's a corker of a comedy, so hope to see you there!

For now, I want to thank Mary-Paige Provost and her team from Chronicle for spending so much time and effort following me around in the past few weeks, and for all their interest. I'm especially thrilled that they were so impressed with the Wilton Town Hall Theatre (one of favorite venues) that the crew returned later to host all of this week's episodes there. Nice!

To visit Chronicle online, and see the segment once it's posted, visit the show's online home.