Friday, November 14, 2014

Encore screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) tonight
(Friday, 11/14) at Red River, Concord, N.H.;
Plus, W.C. Fields as an abusive husband?

He knows if you've been sleeping, he knows if you're awake...

If the prospect of Christmas in six weeks isn't enough to terrify the bejesus out of you, then come see this evening's screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922).

It's an encore presentation of the pioneer silent horror film, prompted by a sold-out screening prior to Halloween.

We'll be running 'Nosferatu' tonight (Friday, Nov. 14) at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. Live music by yours truly.

More info in the press release below.

But first, a few words on last night's screening of 'Running Wild' (1927), a silent comedy starring W.C. Fields as a hen-pecked husband who undergoes a drastic change of personality following an encounter with a vaudeville hypnotist.

This film, screened before a small but enthusiastic audience at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H., is a perfect example of a silent film not regarded as any kind of classic, but which really comes to life and holds up well when shown in the right environment.

By that, I mean screened in a theater, with live music, and with an audience. Take any of those elements away, and you're likely to rob any silent film of much of its intended impact.

That was certainly true with 'Running Wild.' All it takes is a few people laughing to prompt others to join in. And before you know it, you have that great silent comedy bonfire of laughter going.

In terms of accompaniment, I've found an important element to keep the bonfire going is to not overplay the music. If it's too loud, an audience can't hear itself laughing, and so the spontaneous combustion never sets in. Once it does, however, you can grow the music with it.

I'm especially excited by the audience reaction to 'Running Wild' because the transfer we used last night was from a 16mm print. So the visual quality was okay, but not pristine. Even so, that didn't seem to impede the audience response at all, which was generous throughout.

We're running this same film at the Somerville Theatre next year, but using a 35mm print from the Library of Congress. So I have high hopes that the visual quality will be at a whole other level, which ought to really help this film go over even better. We'll see. It's part of a double bill of W.C. Fields silents on Sunday, March 8 at the Somerville, the other being 'Sally of the Sawdust' (1925).

Either way, 'Running Wild' is also a great example of a film that's perhaps more interesting to us now that when it was first released.

In this case, attitudes toward male and female roles have changed so much that what's presented as normal in a domestic comedy such as 'Running Wild' comes across as utterly astonishing to audiences today.

In the world of 'Running Wild,' a businessman is supposed to be physically intimidating as a matter of course, and also be willing to resort to violence in a moment's notice. Just look at what it takes to collect a disputed bill!

In the case of 'Running Wild,' as in so many other silent films, this alternate view of reality enriches the experience, I think. Not only does it add to the comedy, but it shows a viewer how different things were not that long ago.

And that, to me, serves to underscore the idea that very few things in life remain fixed as we move from generation to generation. Change is constant—in attitudes, in fashion, technology, in the roles we play, in what's acceptable behavior, and so much more.

Family man or abusive husband?

Near the end of 'Running Wild,' look at the way Fields treats his wife and then his stepson. He physically intimidates both, wrecking the house in the process, and actually flogs the kid during an extended beating that doesn't stint on the violence. Wow!

And this action is presented in support of Fields as a good husband and a man worthy of respect! After Fields manhandles and bullies his wife enough to cause her to faint, the first thing she says to him upon awakening is to tell him he's "so wonderful."

Apparently no "anger management" classes at the local community college.

However you feel about Fields' behavior, and even factoring in for comedy, it suggests that domestic violence wasn't just the norm, but it was expected and even necessary in a well-run household. Yes, there's some satire involved (he's 'Running Wild, after all), but underlying it all is a very different vision of what's acceptable under one's roof.

Was it better? Can we learn something from seeing it depicted in a film like this, however exaggerated it might have been for comic effect? Have we lost anything in moving on from this vision?

Interesting questions that make 'Running Wild' an interesting cultural artifact.

But a few things don't change. Most of us still center our lives around family. Most of us struggle with balancing life's priorities. Most of us struggle with temptation, with moral dilemmas, with questions that have vexed humanity for centuries. Most of us, if we're truly alive, will experience the BIG emotions of life from time to time: Love, Hate, Joy, Anger, Despair, and so on.

And as more years pass, even a mild domestic comedy such as 'Running Wild' can provide an increasingly clear window into what about life changes and what remains constant. What's ephemeral, and what's lasting. What will change, and what won't.

Even as it still makes us laugh! Imagine that!

* * *

Actor Max Schreck plays the title role in F. W. Murnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Encore screening of 'Nosferatu' at Red River Theatres on Friday, Nov. 14

Sold-out Halloween show prompts follow-up screening of pioneer classic horror movie on the big screen with live music

CONCORD, N.H.—If you missed out for Halloween, you have another chance to get frightened.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Friday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

The show has been scheduled as an encore presentation following a sold-out pre-Halloween screening at Red River.

The film will include live music performed by New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

"Last month's screening of 'Nosferatu' proved popular enough to sell out," said Shelly Hudson, Red River's executive director. "So we scheduled this encore screening to provide another chance to see this great film presented with live music."

'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 contribute to an overall sense of terror. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by," said Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H. who ranks as one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists.

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.

Director F.W. Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too much for very young children to enjoy.

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.”

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.

Upcoming events in Red River's silent film programming include:

• Friday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.: 'Charlie Chaplin Comedy Night.' Spend part of Thanksgiving weekend with the Little Tramp on the 100th anniversary of his first screen appearances. The whole family will enjoy restored prints of some of Chaplin's most popular comedies shown the way they were intended: on the big screen, with live music, and an audience.

An encore presentation of ‘Nosferatu’ will take place on Friday, Nov. 14 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 For more information about the music, visit

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