Friday, November 20, 2015

'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in 35mm
on Sunday, Nov. 22 at Somerville Theatre

Here's a challenge: I defy you not to be moved by the ending of this movie.

And that's all I'll say, other than I urge you to attend a screening of 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921) at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.

Yes, it's famous as Rudolph Valentino's break-through film, and also for starting a craze for the tango.

But beyond that, I want you to discover this film on your own terms, as I did some time ago. And I hope you don't mind if I share some context that might help.

In scoring silent films, I am often struck by how fast the medium of the motion picture matured.

It took less than 20 years for film to go from technically primitive one-reel dramas to sprawling big-budget spectacles such as 'Ben Hur' (1925) and 'Wings' (1927).

To me, even some of the really important films of the 1910s, including big Griffith epics such as 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915), seem somewhat stage-bound and old-fashioned as motion pictures.

But silents made just a few years later often have a polish and sheen and fluidity of technique that meet our expectations of cinema, even today. They look like real movies.

Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino cut a rug in 'Four Horsemen.'

So part of the joy of exploring the silent film archive is seeing movie-makers discover the possibilities of this new medium, often right before your eyes.

And that brings us to 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.' More than any other film I know, it serves as a bridge between early silent movies and the more mature Hollywood of the 1920s and beyond.

I often wondered how movies got from Point A to Point B. Since becoming acquainted with 'Four Horsemen,' I now think of it as the missing link — the film that exploited the full range of cinema's potential. And it's success pulled movie-making to another level.

Seen today, 'Four Horsemen' is full-blooded silent film story-telling in a movie language we still can understand. It's cinema without the training wheels.

So for me, it's a real privilege to do live music for Sunday's showing at the Somerville, which will recreate the conditions that were essential to silent film: not just live music, but a 35mm print on a really big screen in a real theater, and with a live audience present. (This means you!)

I intend to put everything I've learned into this screening, just as director Rex Ingram and his production team put everything they knew into making the movie.

And as further proof of what a big deal this is turning into, we're actually bringing my mother down from New Hampshire to experience it. If she can make it, so can you!

For more information about the screening, please check out the press release that's been pasted in below. Hope to see you on Sunday.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rudolph Valentino in 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' on Sunday, Nov. 22 at Somerville Theatre

Ground-breaking WWI silent film epic propelled Valentino to stardom, started tango dance craze; to be screened in 35mm with live musical accompaniment

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—An epic drama that launched the career of silent film heartthrob and megastar Rudolph Valentino will be shown in November at the Somerville Theater.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' (1921), a multi-generational family saga that climaxes during World War I, will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

Admission to the screening, part of the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please' series, is $15 per person, $12 students / seniors.

Based on a novel by Spanish author Vicente Blasco IbaƱez, 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' tells the story of an extended Argentine family with mixed ethnic background: one side is German, while the other is French.

The family get drawn into World War I in far-off Europe, with members ending up on opposing sides. With brothers pitted against one another on the battlefield, the destruction of war changes lives forever.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' had a huge cultural impact, becoming the top-grossing film of 1921, beating out Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid,' and going on to become the sixth-best-grossing silent film of all time.

Also, the film turned then-little-known actor Rudolph Valentino into a superstar and associated him with the image of the Latin Lover. In addition, the film inspired a tango craze and such fashion fads as gaucho pants.

Directed by Rex Ingram for Metro Pictures (an ancestor of MGM studios), 'Four Horsemen' grew into a mammoth production: over $1 million was poured into it and more than 12,000 people were involved. The film was hugely successful at the box office, grossing nearly $5 million during its initial run, an enormous sum at the time.

The film was notable as one of the first major Hollywood productions to include World War I (then known as the 'Great War') in its storyline, and also in that it did not glorify the recent conflict or look past the tragedy that it brought.

"I knew them all!" A scene from 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'

Although Valentino dominates the film, other actors of note are featured. Alice Terry, the billed star as well as Ingram's wife, was a popular actress of her day. She would be cast in the next Ingram/Valentino flick rushed out in the same year before Rudy's jump to Paramount, The Conquering Power (1921).

Alan Hale Sr. appears in a supporting role; he was perhaps best known as Errol Flynn's sidekick in numerous films, his role of Little John in several Robin Hood flicks, and as the father of Alan Hale, Jr., who played the Skipper on the television series Gilligan's Island.

'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' was the brainchild of Metro screenwriter June Mathis, who went on to become one of the most powerful woman in early Hollywood, helping Valentino manage his career until his untimely death of peritonitis at age 31 in 1926.

The film was remade as '4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in 1962, with the setting changed to World War II.

In 1995, the silent version of 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Regarding the title: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death.

"This is a big sprawling drama, and a great chance to see Rudolph Valentino in the picture that launched his celebrity," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the screening.

Rapsis will improvise live musical accompaniment during the show, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' live as the film is screened. In creating accompaniment for classic cinema, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's really crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.

All movies in the Somerville Theater's 'Silents, Please' series were popular when first released, but are rarely screened today in a way that allows them to be seen at their best.

In reviving silent films, the theater aims to show them as they were intended—in 35mm prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

All entries in the Somerville's silent movie series are shown using actual film, the native format for cinema that few theaters are now equipped to run following Hollywood's transition to digital formats.

‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino will be shown with live music on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. at Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

Admission to the screening is $15 or $12 seniors/students. For more info, call (617) 625-5700 or visit For more info on the music, visit

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