Monday, May 5, 2014

Light as a feather, then heavy as lead:
From 'Her Night Of Romance' to 'Intolerance'

The two lovers-to-be meet in 'Her Night of Romance.' Is that really Constance Talmadge hiding behind those glasses?

What's life without a little contrast?

That's what I'll experience in the next two days, when I do music for a frothy romantic comedy, followed by one of the heaviest, most frothless pieces of silent cinema around.

And then my West Coast debut this weekend! More about which in a bit.

The whipsawing starts with a screening of 'Her Night of Romance' (1925) on Tuesday, May 6 at 6 p.m. at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library, 405 Pine St. This film is so light, it practically needs to be held down with ropes, like one of those big cartoon balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

But it's full of laughs, too, and also full of the vivacious Constance Talmadge, then at the peak of her career. So there's plenty to look at on screen! (Equal opportunity ogling note: And there's Colman for the ladies, too.)

I never get tired of watching Constance on screen. Though not known as a dramatic (and therefore "serious") actress, to me she has the most expressive face of any silent film actress I know. While Constance rarely overplays, her face gets an amazing workout in every film of hers I've seen.

Her eyes, already huge, carry with us from panic to delight as they roll about in their sockets. She can transform her facial expression from confidence to farcical terror, and back again, in an instant. And on the rare occasions when she gets angry...well, hell hath no fury.

Both Talmadge stars (Constance and her sister Norma) were generally accepted as great beauties, so it's a treat to see Constance disguising herself as a frumpy old maid as 'Her Night' opens. At the time, audiences must have found it especially hilarious. (I don't know what it says about me, but I still find her strangely attractive.)

'Her Night of Romance' is one I've never done before, but in previewing it, there are places where I'm betting the film still gets big laughs. We'll see at the screening, which is tomorrow night as I write this.

Then, two days later, I tackle 'Intolerance' (1916), D.W. Griffith's three-hour heavyweight drama that threads together no less than four separate stories. The "fun" begins on Thursday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center at 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Both films are the result of me trying to challenge myself (and keep up my interest) by programming films that I've never done before. With 'Her Night of Romance,' I've previewed it and I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do. But with 'Intolerance,' among the questions I still have to answer are: "Why the heck am I doing this in the first place?"

It's a big film, and yes, contains four different stories. So I'd like the music to reflect these four different epochs so that even if you had your eyes closed, you could tell what time period we're in.

However, with three days to go, I still haven't previewed the film thoroughly, so we'll see what happens. 'Intolerance' is not a film where you want to totally wing it.

If you're interested in seeing this legendary film on the big screen, check out the press release below.

But before that, about my "West Coast Debut." I'll post more on this as it happens, but I wanted to thank all the people associated with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif. (just across the bay from San Francisco) for inviting me to be guest accompanist for their program on Saturday, May 10. I happen to be heading to San Francisco on a business trip the day before, so it worked out perfectly.

I'll even get to see my brother-in-law, who lives out there and first brought his crazy relative-by-marriage to see the Niles set-up, which is extremely impressive.

More detail on that to come. For now, take a big tall drink of the press release for 'Intolerance,' and hope to see you at the screening!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

With 'Intolerance,' four stories better than one

Rarely screened landmark silent film epic
to be shown with live music on Thursday, May 8

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It was a breakthrough that changed the movies forever: a three-hour epic knitting together four sweeping stories spanning 2,500 years, all designed to show the struggle for love throughout human history.

The film was D.W. Griffith's 'Intolerance' (1916), which stunned the movie-going public with its vast scope, enormous sets, large cast, and revolutionary editing. Often named to lists of the 100 best films of all times, critics continue to point to 'Intolerance' as one of the most influential and important milestones of early cinema.

See for yourself with a rare screening of a restored version of 'Intolerance' (1916) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center on Thursday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. The program, the latest in the theater's silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

In reviving 'Intolerance' and other great films of Hollywood's early years, the Flying Monkey aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise a live score for 'Intolerance' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life. They featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

A vintage photo montage promoting the original release of 'Intolerance.'

'Intolerance,' considered one of the great masterpieces of the silent era, intercuts four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries: A contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; a Judean story of Christ’s mission and death; a French story about the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572; and a story depicting the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC.

The scenes are linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood, rocking a cradle.

Each of the parallel stories are intercut with increasing frequency as the film builds to a climax. The film sets up moral and psychological connections among the different stories.

'Intolerance' was made partly in response to criticism of Griffith's previous film, 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915), which was criticized by the NAACP and other groups as perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the unusual characteristics of 'Intolerance' is that many of the characters don't have names. Griffith wished them to be emblematic of human types. Thus, the central female character in the modern story is called The Dear One. Her young husband is called The Boy, and the leader of the local Mafia is called The Musketeer of the Slums.

Because of its four interwined stories, 'Intolerance' does not feature any one performer in a leading role. However, the enormous cast includes many great names from the silent era, including Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Constance Talmadge, Walter Long (a New Hampshire native), and a young Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in an uncredited cameo as a drunken soldier with a monkey.

"This movie was made for the big screen, and this screening at the Flying Monkey is a rare chance to see 'Intolerance' the way it was meant to be seen," Rapsis said.

The Flying Monkey shows silent films on the second Thursday of each month. Other upcoming programs in the Flying Monkey's silent series include:

• Thursday, June 12, 6:30 p.m.: "Metropolis" (1927). German director Fritz Lang's amazing epic about a futuristic society where an educated elite enjoys life in a glittering city, all supported by colonies of workers forced to live deep underground. A film that set new standards for visual design and changed movies forever!

‘Intolerance’ will be shown on Thursday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more information, visit or call (603) 536-2551. For more information about the music, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment