Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Coming to the Manchester (N.H.) City Library:
Werewolves, time travel, and earthquakes!

Greta Garbo and Nils Asther fog up the big screen in 'Wild Orchid' (1929), on the schedule this season at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library.

Who says there's no future in silent film?

I've just puzzled out titles through the end of 2016 for our monthly screenings at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library.

December 2016 sounds like the future to me, so there!

The schedule is packed with a wide variety of titles, with one exception: no well-known silent-era classics.

Nope. 'The General?' Sorry. 'Metropolis?' Not here.

Don't get me wrong—these pictures are great, and I love doing music for them.

But for the Manchester City Library series, the emphasis is on films that rarely get shown, with priority given to those I've never had a chance to see or accompany before.

One reason for this is that the Carpenter Auditorium is relatively small—maybe 150 seats. So it lends itself to niche programming. Another reason it that doing unfamiliar films helps me develop my craft.

But most importantly, I continue to be amazed at silent-era films that I've never heard of but which hold the screen if given a chance to run as intended: on a screen, with live music, and in front of an audience.

Outlets such as TCM are great. But with silent film, there's no substitute for seeing it in a theater with a group of people. It's a completely different experience from seeing it on, say, your home entertainment center with just you and your dog in attendance.

With so many vintage titles lost forever through decomposition and neglect, you'd think that the pickings from the silent era would be slim.

But instead, the pickings are actually quite fat. Even with about 75 percent of U.S. silent feature-length films gone, several thousand still survive in one form or another. This adds up to a huge world that film buffs can explore for years, discovering surprises all the time.

That's what it's been like for me, anyway.

And so that's what the library series is all about: celebrating the vast amount of silent cinema that has come down to us intact, and giving it a chance to be seen as intended.

So what's coming up? I've updated my "Upcoming Silent Film screenings" page to list everything through December, 2016.

But the text of the press release below includes a convenient one-stop schedule for you to ponder. Check it out, and hope to see you at these programs.

* * *

Dolores Costello awaits the big shake-up in 'Old San Francisco' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Manchester (N.H.) Library announces 2015-16 line-up of silent films with live music

Schedule includes the first-ever "werewolf" flick, a drama about time travel, and Hollywood's original "disaster" movie

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Silent film with live music continues at the Manchester City Library with the release of the 2015-16 season schedule.

Upcoming programs include stories of time travel, forbidden romance, airborne border patrol agents, and vintage anti-Communist propaganda.

A highlight of the schedule is Hollywood's first-ever disaster flick: 'Old San Francisco' (1927) from Warner Bros., a drama about racism climaxed by a recreation of the catastrophic 1906 earthquake that destroyed the city.

Another notable title is the first-ever "werewolf" movie: 'Wolf Blood' (1925), an outdoors adventure in which an injured lumber camp boss receives a transfusion of wolf blood and—well, you know.

The films are shown on the first Tuesday of the month in the lower level auditorium of Carpenter Memorial Library, 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester.

All screenings begin at 6 p.m. The public is welcome and admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggested to help defray expenses.

Live music for all screenings is provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

Rapsis, who performs at film festivals and screenings around the country, organizes the Manchester City Library screenings as a way to practice his craft and present seldom-seen silents as they were intended—with live music and with an audience.

The series focuses on obscure movies that may have been popular or notable or significant when first released, but which since have faded into obscurity.

"Rather than celebrated masterpieces, the films we show in Manchester are more typical of what people would find playing at their neighborhood movie house in the first decades of cinema," Rapsis said.

Screening silent films in a theater setting with live music allows their entertainment and cultural value to be enjoyed by modern audiences, Rapsis said. That's true with any vintage motion picture—even those that aren't well-known classics, Rapsis said.

"There's a reason people fell hard for the movies right from the start, and putting the silent film experience back together helps us to experience that same excitement even today, no matter what the specific film is," Rapsis said.

Because some early feature films run less than an hour, the upcoming schedule includes two programs of double features.

Rapsis creates live musical scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer that can reproduce the texture of the full orchestra. The accompaniment is improvised in real time using musical material Rapsis creates beforehand augmented by ideas that occur during the screening.

"Creating a score in real time is kind of a high-wire act, but I think it adds an essential element of spontaneity and excitement to any silent film screening," Rapsis said. "You never know exactly how it's going to turn out."

The 2015-16 silent film schedule at the Manchester City Library through next May (monthly programs except January 2016) is as follows:

• Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, 6 p.m.: 'Wolf Blood' (1925). Get ready for Halloween with this early try at turning the werewolf legend into a movie. An injured lumber camp boss receives a transfusion of wolf blood during an operation, and...well, you can take it from there.

• Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, 2015, 6 p.m: 'My Friend from India' (1927). Dandy Tommy Valentine (Franklin Pangborn) meets and falls for Barbara, the niece of Socialite Bedelia Smith, but fails to learn her name, so he is forced to consult a "Swami mystic." Light-hearted romantic comedy starring a lesser-known star of early cinema who later flourished as a character actor in talkies.

• Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, 6 p.m.: 'The Road to Yesterday' (1925). Bizarre Cecil B. Demille drama about a married couple who find their strained relationship is the result of unhappiness they experienced in past lives; epic tale encompasses a fiery train wreck, flappers, and time travel.

• Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, 6 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1929). Steamy tale of forbidden romance: An older man takes his young wife (Greta Garbo) on a business trip to Java. Aboard ship, she witnesses a wealthy passenger brutally thrashing a servant. The violent man is immediately taken by Garbo's beauty and resolves to meet her.

• Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 6 p.m.: 'Melodrama Double Feature.' Twin bill of classic low budget melodramas: 'Tentacles of the North' (1926) about two ships trapped in the Arctic ice; and 'The Phantom Flyer' (1928) about an airborne border patrol officer who uses his flying skills to save his sweetheart from a band of cattle rustlers.

• Tuesday, April 5, 2016, 6 p.m.: 'Old San Francisco' (1927). Big-budget Warner Bros. historical drama starring Dolores Costello, Warner Oland; story about racial strife in 'Frisco climaxed by a recreation of the city's catastrophic 1906 earthquake. Pioneering film paved the way for all disaster flicks that followed!

• Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 6 p.m.: Scandal! Two Early Potboilers. Double bill of early drama: 'The Cheat' (1915), an early Cecil B. Demille story about financial scandal; plus 'Shattered Dreams' (1919), an anti-Bolshevist tale in which a rich businessman attempts to teach his idealist son a lesson by buying him an island off the coast of Florida to establish a Communist paradise.

• Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 6 p.m.: 'The Rag Man' (1925). Seldom-screened drama in which young Jackie Coogan plays a child who runs away from an orphanage fire and takes refuge with Max, a junk man played by underrated silent comic actor Max Davidson.

The next film in the Manchester City Library's monthly silent film series is 'Wolf Blood' (1925), which will be screened with live music on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, lower level of Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.

The program is free and open to the public. A donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more information about the Manchester City Library, call (603) 624-6550 or visit http://www.manchester.lib.nh.us. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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