Friday, October 16, 2015

This weekend: "Chiller Theater" in Vermont,
followed by Buster Keaton in New Hampshire

Ivor Novello is dressed appropriately for cold weather in Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger.'

The coldest weather of the season arrives this weekend, just in time for the annual "Chiller Theater" silent film program in Brandon, Vt.

It's called "Chiller Theater" in part because the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center lacks a functioning central heating system.

But the show must go on, so bring blankets and mittens and whatever else you need to keep warm for our screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927) on Saturday night.

More details about the screening can be found in the press release below.

But 'The Lodger' is a great film for music, which I rediscovered while accompanying the film this past Wednesday at the Rogers Center for the Performing Arts at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

It was one of those occasions where I had some good material to work with, and didn't try to overthink things or ramp things up too quickly.

With Hitchcock, sometimes a single held note can accomplish more than anything else you could play. I think I'm getting better at recognizing these moments and taking advantage of them.

Hitchcock's first-ever cameo role (that's him leaning over the desk) comes near the start of 'The Lodger.'

Hitchcock know how to incorporate surprise into his films, so perhaps it's fitting that something unusual happened during the Rogers Center screening.

Prior to the show, I went over the program with the projectionist, a nice guy with whom I'd never worked before.

When I'm working with someone new, I'm careful to lay out how I'd prefer the ending of the program to be managed.

With a film on DVD, when "The End" flashes, I like to have the movie paused on screen and then for the lights to come up while I finish out the score.

Okay, fine. Simple enough, no problem.

But 'The Lodger' has a false ending. After the film's climax winds down, a transitional title comes up that says this: "Every Story Has an Ending."

So the projectionist his pause. But the problem is, the film had five more minutes to go!

I sat there playing transition music, somehow hoping that he'd realize it wasn't over and would unpause the film.

But no! The lights started coming up, and people began applauding as if 'The Lodger' was all done.

Now the decision became whether to just go with it and take a bow, or to turn around and call out to the projectionist (and the audience—about 80 people) that the film wasn't over!

I finally turned around and did just that. So people quieted down, the houselights dimmed again, and then the film resumed.

But alas, the spell had been broken. Robbed of its momentum, 'The Lodger' limped to a finish that lacked the impact that Hitchcock intended. Rats!

Here's what I felt like doing when 'The Lodger' was paused prematurely.

This was all my fault for not anticipating how confusing the titles would be to a projectionist not familiar with the film. Live and learn!

But I had to think that Hitchcock, master of the intentional distraction, would have been amused by what happened.

Well, I'm doing music for 'The Lodger' again in Brandon on Saturday night, so we'll see how that goes. (And I do the film three more times before Halloween.)

I'm then overnighting in Rutland because I have another show the next day in Charlestown, N.H.: a Buster Keaton double feature at the Silsby Free Library in downtown Charlestown.

The screening, which includes 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Seven Chances' (1925) is Sunday, Oct. 18 at 2 p.m.

I always enjoy returning to Charlestown, a community I covered as a reporter in the late 1980s for the Eagle-Times daily newspaper.

I may have changed a bit in the nearly 30 years since, but Charlestown hasn't. That's the charm of the place. It's kinda like a New Hampshire version of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon.

Even the local grocery store is named "Ralph's."

Okay, below are more details about 'The Lodger' up in Brandon, Vt. on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

It's the final show of our 2015 season of silent film, which has seen record crowds attend the monthly events.

Hope to see you there. And bring some firewood just in case!

* * *

An original French poster for 'The Lodger' retitled the film 'Golden Hair,' correctly highlighting one of Hitchcock's obsessions.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Hitchcock's first, 'The Lodger,' to screen Saturday, Oct. 17 in Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

Creepy silent thriller about London murders marked legendary director's debut; to be shown on the big screen with live music

Note to Editors: Some previously released info on this program included incorrect event date. Correct date of event is Saturday, Oct. 17.

BRANDON, Vt.—A half-century of murder has to start somewhere.

And for movie director Alfred Hitchcock, it began with 'The Lodger' (1927), a silent thriller that stunned audiences when it was first released, and contained many of his trademark touches.

'The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,' is the featured attraction of this year's "Chiller Theater" event at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7 in downtown Brandon, Vt. on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

The program, the final installment of the Brandon Town Hall's 2015 silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

"What better way to get into the Halloween spirit a little early than a silent film from Alfred Hitchcock?" Rapsis asked.

Admission is free; donations are welcome, with all proceeds to support the town hall's ongoing renovation. The screening is sponsored by local residents Gary and Nancy Meffe.

The program is billed as "Chiller Theater" not only due to the spooky subject matter, but also because the Town Hall lacks a central heating system. Depending on the temperature, attendees are advised to wear coats and bring blankets.

'The Lodger' used distinctive title cards that seem inspired by expressionist filmmakers in Germany, where Hitchcock worked for a time in the 1920s.

'The Lodger,' shot in England and based on a story and stage play by Marie Belloc Lowndes, concerns the hunt for a serial killer in London. British matinee idol Ivor Novello plays Jonathan Drew, a quiet, secretive young man who rents a room in a London boarding house. Drew's arrival coincides with the reign of terror orchestrated by a mysterious "Jack The Ripper"-like killer, who murders a blonde woman every Tuesday evening.

As the film progresses, circumstantial evidence begins to mount, pointing to Drew as the murderer. Suspense and drama escalate in true Hitchcock fashion as the viewer wonders if the lodger really could be the killer—and if so, what danger awaits the landlord's daughter, who is falling in love with the mysterious stranger. The all-British cast includes Malcom Keen, Arthur Chesney, and Marie Ault.

'The Lodger' introduced themes that would run through much of Hitchcock’s later work: an innocent man on the run, hunted down by a self-righteous society, a strong link between sexuality and murder, and a fixation on blonde women. About 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto wrote that for "the first time Hitchcock has revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death."

Let's hope the on-screen action between Marie Ault and Ivor Novello is enough to warm up the heatless Brandon Town Hall.

'The Lodger' also launched the Hitchcock tradition of making a cameo appearance in each of his films. In 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock appears briefly about three minutes into the film, sitting at a desk in a newsroom with his back to the camera and using a telephone. The cameo appearance tradition, which continued for the rest of his long career, came about in 'The Lodger' when the actor supposed to play the part of the telephone operator failed to turn up, and Hitchcock filled the role.

Some critics say 'The Lodger' broke new ground in the previously moribund British cinema, showing a truly cinematic eye at work. In creating the movie, Hitchcock had clearly been watching contemporary films by German directors F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, whose influence can be seen in the ominous camera angles and claustrophobic lighting.

While Hitchcock had made two previous films, in later years the director would refer to 'The Lodger,' his first thriller, as the first true "Hitchcock thriller." The movie has since been remade several times, most recently in 2009, in an updated version starring Alfred Molina and Hope Davis.

The Brandon Town Hall's silent film series aims to recreate the full silent film experience, with restored prints projected on the big screen, live music, and the presence of an audience. All these elements are essential to seeing silent films they way they were intended, Rapsis said.

"If you can put it all together again, these films still contain a lot of great entertainment," Rapsis said. "By attending these screenings, you can see why people first fell in love with the movies."

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

‘The Lodger' will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; free will donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit

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