Friday, December 30, 2016

I knew him as 'Commissioner Gordon'...
But Neil Hamiton was a silent-era leading man

"Is this the Caped Crusader? Come to Gotham City Police Headquarters at once!"

In creating music for early cinema, I continue to be surprised by all the connections that exist between silent film and the pop culture of my childhood.

The above gentleman falls into that category: as a kid, I knew him as Gotham City's "Commissioner Gordon," ready to use his red "hotline" telephone to reach Batman at any time.

But four decades prior to that, audiences around the world knew him as affable leading man Neil Hamilton, seen above in the silent film version of 'The Great Gatsby' (1926), one of his more notable roles. Alas, the picture is lost.

But many of his others aren't, and one of them is part of this year's silent film schedule at the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester, N.H.

'The Shield of Honor' (1928) is a police-focused crime drama starring Hamilton and also Thelma Todd in an early appearance.

The film never gets shown, which is why it's on the schedule this year in Manchester.

At left, Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon the 'Batman' TV series, with perennial stooge Sergeant O'Hara.

See, the focus of the series is to give neglected films a chance to be shown in the environment for which they were created: in a theater with a big screen, with live music, and—most importantly—a live audience.

That's where you come in. (And I hope you do!)

For the audience part to work, we need people. Duh, right?

So in 2017, if you're within traveling distance to Manchester, N.H., I hope you'll make it a point to drop in on a few screenings and see for yourself.

The Manchester City Library as depicted on an old postcard.

It's surprising now many pictures not regarded as classics still hold up when shown under the right conditions, which we try to recreate once a month in the library's Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

First up is a light-hearted drama, 'The Power of the Press' (1928), directed by none other than a young Frank Capra!

Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Jobyna Ralson (known best as Harold Lloyd's leading lady through much of the 1920s), it's missing a few scenes but has the potential to be a real winner.

So it may not be recognized as an official masterpiece. But with big names associated with it, 'The Power the The Press' has an impressive pedigree and I think deserves a chance, don't you?

If you do, please join us on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. for the kick-off screening of the 2017 silent film series at the Manchester City Library.

Admission is free, with donations accepted to help defray expenses. Carpenter Memorial Auditorium is located on the lower level of the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.

For more information about the film, and all the titles we've lined up for 2017, check out the press release I've pasted in below.

Thanks—and Happy New Year to all!

* * *

An original poster for 'The Power of the Press' (1928), which we're showing on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library.

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Comedies, dramas, thrillers—plus an early appearance of Batman's 'Commissioner Gordon'

Manchester (N.H.) City Library announces 2017 schedule of monthly silent film screenings with live music

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Films that first caused audiences to fall in love with the movies will be shown throughout 2017 at the Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St. in downtown Manchester, N.H.

The library's monthly series of films from cinema's early years, shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, will continue throughout the coming year.

The programs are free and open to the public, with donations accepted to defray expenses. The shows, which take place generally on the first Tuesday of the month, begin at 6 p.m. and are held in the library's Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

The series is designed to show early cinema the way it was intended to be seen: with a live audience, on the big screen, and with live music.

"Put those elements back together, and the films can sometimes leap right back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire resident who accompanies silent film screenings around the nation.

The library's series focuses on reviving films that rarely receive screenings.

This year's schedule includes an early Frank Capra drama, a Shakespearean adaptation from Germany, and a police drama starring Neil Hamilton, a young leading man who many years later would go on to play Commissioner Gordon in the popular 1960s "Batman" TV series.

A scene from German director Paul Leni's visually imaginative drama 'Waxworks' (1924).

Rapsis said audiences are surprised at how much entertainment value remains in the works of early moviemakers.

"When these films were playing in theaters, no one called them "silent movies," Rapsis said. "They were just "the movies," and told their stories visually and with music, so no one felt anything was missing."

Today the films also function as visual time capsules, allowing audiences to see vividly how daily life was lived a century ago or more.

To score a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The soundtrack is created live in real time as the movie is screened.

Rather than focus on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

First up in 2017 is 'The Power of the Press' a light-hearted drama from 1928 directed by Frank Capra and starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Jobyna Ralston. Clem Rogers (Fairbanks) is a cub reporter writing obits and weather reports when he gets a chance at a story so big he's sure to get the front page.

'The Power of the Press' will be screened on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. in the Carpenter Memorial Auditorium.

Other screenings this year at the Manchester City Library include:

• Tuesday, March 7, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'The Shamrock and the Rose' (1927) starring Mack Swain, Olive Hasbrouck; prepare for St. Patrick's with this vintage ethnic comedy about the Irish Kellys family and the Jewish Cohens, neighbors in home, rivals in business—and now forced to deal with an unexpected inter-family romance!

• Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Othello' (1922) starring Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss; we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (he died this month, too) with an early silent version of the bard's immortal tragedy as brought to the screen in an early German version.

• Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Let's Go' (1923) starring Richard Talmadge, Eileen Percy; light-hearted romp with Talmadge playing scion of a family-owned cement company. A business trip brings headaches over a paving contract, but also a chance at romance.

• Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Tempest' (1928) starring John Gilbert, Camilla Horn; epic drama in which an officer in the Czar's army (Barrymore) falls hard for a haughty princess (Horn), who spurns him and causes him to be stripped of rank. But the tables are turned with the Russian revolution, which upends the aristocracy and puts the soldier and the princess at the mercy of forces that no one can control.

• Tuesday, Aug, 1, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Christine of the Big Tops' (1926) starring Pauline Garon, Cullen Landis; raised in a traveling circus, young orphan Christine is eager to prove her worth on the trapeze. But her real challenge is choosing between the affections of her Guardian and a young doctor.

• Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'The Shield of Honor' (1927) starring Neil Hamilton; long before he played Commissioner Gordon in the iconic 1960s 'Batman' TV show, Neil Hamilton was a leading man, saving the day and getting the girl in a steady stream of films throughout the silent era. This vintage crime drama is a good example of his output.

• Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Waxworks' (1924) with Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, and Werner Krauss; just in time for Halloween: in this masterwork of the German Expressionist movement, a trilogy of terror is woven around the wax figures of a carnival sideshow.

• Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'What Price Glory' (1926) starring Dolores del Río, Victor McLaglen; in the midst of World War I, two American GIs battle each other for the affections of a local girl in France. Comedy/drama was a big sprawling hit.

• Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 6 p.m.: 'Upstream' (1927); backstage intrigue is the name of the game in this John Ford-directed feature film that was considered lost for decades until a copy was recently unearthed in New Zealand.

All screenings are free and open to the public, and take place in Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.

The next film in the Manchester City Library's series of silent cinema with live music is 'The Power of the Press' (1928), directed by a very young Frank Capra, which will be shown with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at 6 p.m.

For more information about the Manchester City Library's programming, call (603) 624-6550. For more information about the silent film series, visit

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thoughts for 2017: I'm right about where
I wanted to be when I was 18 years old

A vintage trade ad for 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926).

We enjoyed a big turnout at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre for the venue's final silent film show this year: Harry Langdon in 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) on Christmas afternoon.

It was also my last show for the year, too. People responded strongly to the program, which also included Laurel & Hardy's classic short 'Big Business' (1929). So it was nice to go out on a high note.

And perhaps appropriate, as the new year brings with it several musical milestones for me:

• In the first part of January, I'm scheduled to record scores for Gloria Swanson's 'Zaza,' which is being issued on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, and for 'Homecoming' (1928), a silent German drama being reissued by Mark Roth of ReelClassicsDVD. com.

• On Sunday, Jan. 22, the New Hampshire Philharmonic will perform the world premiere of a piece for orchestra about Mount Kilimanjaro that I've written. (Lots more on that later!)

• On Sunday, Jan. 31, I'm guest for the day of the music department at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., where I'll lead workshops in improvisation and accompany a screening that evening.

• On Wednesday, Feb. 8, I make my debut "across the pond" at the Kennington Bioscope, a well-known film theatre in London, England which runs occasional silent film programs—er, programmes.

• On Sunday, Feb. 19, I'm manning the mighty Wurlitzer organ at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa for a program of silent comedies, part of this year's prestigious Sioux Falls International Film Festival. I'm eager to do more theater organ, and this is a big break for me!

• On Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25, it's the 21st Annual Kansas Silent Film Festival, where I'll collaborate with Marvin Faulwell and Ben Model to accompany a wide range of shorts and features.

• On Thursday, March 2, it's a Chaplin program at the Carnegie, an art museum in Covington, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati), where I've appeared before and where it's always a pleasure to return.

• And on Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4, I'll be in Cleveland, where John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Cinematheque, has invited me to accompany screenings at the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as his theater.

So lots to look forward to in the first part of 2017.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to make music in so many venues, and to work and collaborate with so many talented people.

In the years since I've returned to making music a large and regular part of my life, I've learned a lot.

I've also developed, little by little, my own sense of the musical language that works for me. And with that, I'm eager to devote more time to fully written-out pieces, either for film scoring or other opportunities, such as the N.H. Philharmonic concert next month.

So it's an exciting time. I've been telling people that in terms of music, I feel I'm finally where I hoped to be at about age 18.

For now, let me just wish everyone a great New Year's holiday.

Thank you for your interest in silent film and your support of the music that I do for it.

Hope to see everyone often in the coming year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A silent film comedy program on Christmas Day,
plus a Kilimanjaro orchestral score update

Stan and Ollie peddle holiday cheer in tree form.

This Christmas, don't let Santa monopolize all the 'ho ho ho.'

Get in a few chortles yourself by attending a special Christmas Day screening of silent film comedies at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

I'll even wear one of my Christmas ties. So if the movies don't make you laugh, maybe my wardrobe choices will.

This all begs the question: how did we end up with a silent film show on Christmas day?

Well, it's all about the timing. For a monthly series, it helps to keep the screenings on the same day of the week and in the same week of each month.

So, as an example: at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library, screenings are always on the first Tuesday of the month.

That way, people get in the habit of knowing when films are running without having to check any listings.

Once in awhile, this backfires. For instance: at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre, shows are the last Sunday afternoon of each month.

So each May, I run into Memorial Day weekend, which leads to low attendance no matter what film we run, as people are out of town, etc.

And this year, the last Sunday of December is Christmas Day itself: Sunday, Dec. 25.

What to do?

Well, we figured enough people will need a break by Christmas afternoon to justify going ahead with the screening as a kind of public service.

And so we are. On Christmas afternoon at 4:30 p.m., I invite you to a program of crackerjack silent comedy accompanied by live music.

Featured attraction is Harry Langdon's breakthrough comedy, 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

With a story by a very young Frank Capra, and with a very young Joan Crawford as Harry's love interest (really!), Harry's first-ever feature-length film has a lot to recommend it.

Original promotional material for 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

Like any solid silent comedy, it's full of great visual gags that remain funny today, 90 years after 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' was released.

But the film also benefits from the antics and idiosyncrasies of Harry's weird man-child character, and also a narrative that displays the Capra-esque touch in embryonic form.

Best of all, much of the movie takes place outdoors, in the wide open spaces. So 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' has the feel of so much of Buster Keaton's best work: a sense of limitless possibilities being discovered and explored for the first time.

Watching these movies, I sometimes get a sense that filmmakers of the silent era, and especially the comedians, must have gone about their business feeling like what a kid feels like on Christmas morning.

There, tied it together! Now you have no excuse to stay home.

But just to be certain, I'm throwing in a surefire Christmas comedy starring two gentlemen named Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Given the immense pressure of the holiday season, it might be refreshing to see how their own dealings with the Yuletide spirit result in anything but peace on earth.

So after all the presents are opened, give yourself the gift of laughter, even if it's directed at my tie.

More details about our holiday program at the Town Hall Theatre are in the press release below.

Don't have my own Kilimanjaro pics handy, so here's one from National Geographic.

Also, I can report that my Kilimanjaro score for orchestra is pretty much complete.

This past weekend I wrapped up the third movement and sent it off. I'll be generating parts now and getting them to the musicians of the New Hampshire Philharmonic for an expected run-through at a rehearsal this Sunday.

I do still need to reshape a couple of things about the first movement, but that should be done soon. If all works out, the group might play all four movements at their upcoming concert on Sunday, Jan. 22.

More details to come. But very exciting to be working with such a talented group and their music director, Mark Latham.

As we get closer, I'll mount a full-court press to get people to attend. For now, save the date: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H.

For tickets and more information about the Philharmonic, visit

* * *

Original promotional poster for 'Tramp Tramp Tramp'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film comedy 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' on Sunday, Dec. 25 at Town Hall Theatre

With live music: Harry Langdon, Joan Crawford star in cross-country comedy created by a young Frank Capra; plus Laurel & Hardy

WILTON, N.H.—This Christmas Day, receive the gift of laughter with a program of vintage silent film comedy screened with live musical accompaniment at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

The screening, on Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m., will be highlighted by classic slapstick from Laurel and Hardy, the most popular movie comedy team of all time.

Featured attraction is 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a full-length comedy starring Harry Langdon and written by a very young Frank Capra, who would later direct the classic Christmas film 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

Joan Crawford, at the very beginning of her career, co-stars with Langdon, a comedian whose popularity rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin for a brief period in the 1920s.

The family-friendly program will be presented at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., in Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

In 'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' Langdon plays a young man determined to rescue the family shoe business from a much larger manufacturer.

To win money, he enters a cross-country walking race, but things get complicated when be develops a hopeless crash on the daughter of the rival factory's owner, whom he only knows through her picture on billboards.

Can Harry beat the odds, win the race, get the girl, and save the family business?

'Tramp Tramp Tramp,' filmed outdoors and on location, takes viewers on a cross-country journey that pits Harry again convicts, police officers, and even Mother Nature.

Can you spot the clown? Harry's cross-country journey takes some unexpected twists.

Langdon, a vaudeville performer and late-comer to silent film comedy, rocketed to sudden stardom in the late 1920s on the strength of 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' and other popular movies.

His character was that of an innocent child-like man constantly bewildered by the complexity of modern life.

Unlike many comedians of the era, Langdon earned laughs not by overreacting, but instead by his extreme slowness to respond.

"It was a whole different way of doing comedy at the time, and was a breath of fresh air in the frenetic world of film comedy," said Jeff Rapsis, who will perform a live score to the movie during the screening.

Langdon's popularity fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies in the late 1920s.

As Langdon's career faded, that of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was taking off. Paired in 1927, the duo first became popular in the final years of silent film-making.

The Christmas Day program will feature one of the last silent comedy short subject made by Laurel and Hardy before their successful switchover to sound.

'Big Business ' (1929) finds the pair selling Christmas trees door-to-door in sunny California, where their interaction with potential customers leads to everything but peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at screenings around the nation. Rapsis will make his debut as an accompanist in London, England in February, 2017.

Seeing 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' at the Town Hall Theatre will give local audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—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 improvises a movie's musical score live during the screening.

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today," he said.

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

The silent film series honors the Town Hall Theatre's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of movie-goers.

Upcoming shows in the Town Hall Theatre's silent series include:

• Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, 4:30 p.m.: 'Way Down East' (1920) starring Lillian Gish. One of the most popular stories of the silent era features Lillian Gish as a wronged woman who can't escape her past. Still-thrilling climax on ice floes heading towards the falls was filmed on the Connecticut River!

'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926), a silent film comedy starring Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission, suggested donation of $5 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit

For more information about the music, visit

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A quiet time for silent film music—but Garbo on the big screen this week at Flying Monkey

Promotional material for 'The Kiss' (1929).

Things are quiet on the silent film performance front right now, but don't let that fool you.

It's actually an intense time for me musically, with a number of projects in the works.

First up: tomorrow night (Sunday, Dec. 4) brings the first run-through of the Kilimanjaro Suite, an orchestral score I've composed.

The New Hampshire Philharmonic is including the work in a concert on Sunday, Jan. 22. So the music will be played almost exactly two years since I was part of group that reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak.

Tomorrow night's rehearsal is the first time the music will actually be played. Crossing my fingers, but the score came together without any really big problems.

I actually completed it last September, and then (in a very uncharacteristic display of maturity) put it away for the autumn to give it time to settle.

A sneak preview of the Bass Clarinet part.

Then in the past few weeks, with rehearsals looming, I went back in and polished things up. Then, just this past week, I generated the parts and conductor's score.

The parts have been sent out to the players. And on Friday I went down to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell to bring conductor Mark Latham a printed and bound copy of the full score.

There's still a lot of work to do. But the composing phase is pretty much done, and it felt good to send the completed piece out to the performers.

It was also weird. Unlike my silent film music, all the notes had to be written down. And that means it'll pretty much stay the way it is until next month's performance.

I'm sure practical adjustments will be needed as we get into the score. But I've learned a lot (as always, just by doing), and it's already been a worthwhile experience.

The N.H. Philharmonic performing 'Carmina Burana' earlier this year.

I'll post more details about the Kilimanjaro Suite as we work our way through rehearsals up to the world premiere.

Like to attend? The performance will be on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H. For tickets and information, visit

Another project this month is that I'll be recording a score for 'Homecoming' (1928), a German drama being released on DVD by Mark Roth of (Hey, another Mark!)

This is another case of me stretching my musical legs, so to speak. Until now, I've focused on live performance and building up my instincts as an accompanist rather than on recording.

But lately, I've felt my own musical language as well as my technique and approach for film scoring are at a place where recording makes sense.

So when Mark reached out with 'Homecoming,' I jumped at the chance. So this month I'll be getting together some equipment to record and edit audio files.

And there's more! In February, I'll be making my London debut as a silent film accompanist. But more on that as we get closer.

For now, there's one final cluster of screenings left on the 2016 calendar, and they're coming up this week:

• Tuesday, Dec. 6, 6:30 p.m.: 'Mockery' (1926) starring Lon Chaney; Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. Free admission, donations accepted. Already tired of Christmas? Then lose yourself in this Russian historical drama. During the Russian Revolution, a mentally challenged peasant saves a beautiful countess from invading Cossacks, then obsesses over her. Often overlooked Chaney drama with heavy helping of class warfare.

• Wednesday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.: Holiday-themed silent film program at the Townsend (Mass.) Public Library, 12 Dudley Road, Townsend, Mass. Free admission! What did people watch before special holiday TV programs such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" made their debut in the 1960s? See for yourself with a special program of holiday classics from way back during the silent film era, all accompanied by live music. Included will be the first-ever film versions of such popular tales as 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' the poem by Clement C. Moore.

• Thursday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m. 'The Kiss' (1929) starring Greta Garbo; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission $10 per person. Take a break from holiday shopping with this steamy romance and courtroom thriller. Will Garbo resort to murder, risking everything for love? Garbo's last silent role and the final silent film released by MGM.

'The Kiss' is a big one, incidentally, not only because it was MGM's final silent film. Also, a still from the courtroom scene was used on an edition of 'The Parade's Gone By,' Kevin Brownlow's tribute book to the silent film era, thus lending it a kind of iconic status among the vintage film community.

The cover of Mr. Brownlow's book.

For more details on 'The Kiss,' check out the press release below.

And I don't know what the weather will be next Thursday.

But with Garbo on screen, you can be sure that any winter chill will be vanquished.

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'The Kiss' (1929), Garbo's final silent film, to screen at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Dec. 8

Intense romantic who-dunnit to be show with live music; drama concludes Flying Monkey's 2016 silent film series

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It was the very last silent film produced by a major studio in the United States.

Starring Greta Garbo, 'The Kiss' (1929) was released by MGM in November 1929, long after all other Hollywood studios had abandoned the silent genre in favor of the popular new "talkies."

'The Kiss,' an intense romantic murder mystery, will be screened with live music on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Theatre, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Tickets are $10 per person.

In 'The Kiss,' Irene (Greta Garbo) plays a young woman unhappily married to an older gentleman; to add to her woes, she is in love with a young lawyer, André (Conrad Nagel).

Unable to find a solution to continue their romance, they stop seeing each other. Irene starts spending her time with young Pierre (Lew Ayres), the son of her husband's business associate, who is infatuated with her.

When Pierre leaves for college, he begs her for a goodbye kiss. After a chaste kiss, Pierre steals another more passionate one—as Irene's husband takes notice. This sets the stage for a murder mystery, the ensuing trial, and a dramatic conclusion.

Garbo in her final role prior that people hearing that famous accent.

Directed by Jacques Feydau, 'The Kiss' also stars actors Conrad Nagel and Lew Ayres.

MGM kept releasing silent films with Garbo in part because the Swedish actress lacked a solid command of English, which she spoke with a very thick accent.

Worried at damaging the appeal of a highly bankable star, MGM continued to feature Garbo in silents for as long as possible, even as the industry otherwise switched over to sound films.

However, following 'The Kiss,' Garbo found continued success in talking pictures beginning with 'Anna Christie' (1930), her husky and distinctive voice proving to be a large part of her enduring appeal.

'The Kiss' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"Films such as 'The Kiss' were created to be shown on the big screen and in a theater as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So the Flying Monkey's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

'The Kiss' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Flying Monkey.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," Rapsis said. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

Upcoming silent film titles at the Flying Monkey include:

• Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Peter Pan' (1924) starring Betty Bronson, Ernest Torrence. The original silent film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's immortal tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up. Join the Darling children as they follow Peter to Never Never Land to do battle with the evil Captain Hook.

• Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Clinging Vine' (1926) starring Leatrice Joy. Recover from Valentine's Day with this gender-bending comedy in which a high-powered female executive yearns to become more feminine. Surprisingly androgynous performance by Joy, wife of MGM megastar John Gilbert.

• Thursday, March 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Sadie Thompson' (1928) starring Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore. Intense drama of a "fallen woman" who comes to an island in the South Seas to start a new life, but encounters a zealous missionary who wants to force her back to her former life in San Francisco.

• Thursday, April 13, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'King of Kings' (1927) directed by Cecil B. Demille. Just in time for Easter: Cecil B. Demille blockbuster includes crucifixion scene complete with earthquake, landslides, and a cast of thousands.

Original poster for 'Speedway' (1929).

• Thursday, May 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Speedway' (1929) starring William Haines, Ernest Torrance. Fasten your seat belts! We mark the traditional Memorial Day running of the Indianapolis 500 with a vintage race car drama filmed right on the famed track—at speeds topping 115 mph!

'The Kiss' (1929) will be shown on Thursday, Dec. 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 info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit For more info on the music, visit

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Playing at a theater that doesn't yet exist: Join me Thurs., 12/1 for the Park's Annual Meeting

No holiday season is complete without Stan and Ollie doing some 'Big Business' (1929).

Tomorrow night I'm doing live music for a silent film program at an unusual venue.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, I haul my gear out to Jaffrey, N.H. for the 10th Annual Park Theatre Annual Meeting.

Interestingly, the Park Theatre currently doesn't exist.

What's going on is that a local group is working to create a theater and performance space in downtown Jaffrey, a small community in the shadow of Mount Monadnock.

At first, their plan was to reopen the Park Theatre, the town's longtime moviehouse that closed back in 1976.

After getting into it, they found the original structure wasn't salvageable. So plans changed to building a new theater, which will begin to rise next year.

What the Park's interior will look like.

In the meantime, the old place has been razed. So right now, there's no Park Theatre.

But there is an annual meeting, and it's Thursday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. at the Jaffrey Women's Club, 33 Main St.

For me, it's a great chance to learn more about this exciting project, plus demonstrate how silent film with live music could be a part of what a resurrected Park Theatre might offer.

The program is relatively brief and in keeping with the holiday season: two early Edison shorts plus our friends Stan and Ollie in 'Big Business' (1929).

It's open to the public. For more information on attending, see the press release below.

Many thanks to Caroline Hollister, Steve Jackson, and everyone at the Park for inviting me and including silent film/live music into the Park's portfolio of offerings!

Also tomorrow, I'll try something else that's a little different: accompanying silent films on community television!

What happened here was about a month ago, I got a call from Paul Bordeleau, a tireless local pianist who specializes in the Great American Songbook and has been a fixture in our part of the world for decades.

Paul hosts a show on Bedford (N.H.) Community Television in which he does what he does best: each edition finds him playing through maybe six songs.

So Paul wanted to know if I'd be willing to come in and do "five or six songs" of that silent film thing I do.

Being a complete whore for silent film music, I said yes, not quite knowing what "five or six songs" would translate to once we got into the details.

Well, it's worked out that I'll be doing live music in studio for three films: two animated cartoons that are about four minutes each, and then a Snub Pollard one-reeler.

Not a lot, I know, but that's about all you can expect to fit into a half-hour program.

So Thursday promises to be an interesting day of shorter-than-usual silent film shows. Hope you can join me in person, or see you on the air!

* * *

Stan and Ollie celebrate the Yuletide Season with James Finlayson in 'Big Business' (1929). And a happy new ear!

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

The Park Theatre Annual Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 1 features holiday silent film program with live music

Public invited to celebrate the season with timeless Christmas classics created more than a century ago

JAFFREY, N.H.—What did people watch before holiday TV programs such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" first aired in the 1960s?

See for yourself with a special program of holiday classics from way back during the silent film era, all accompanied by live music.

Included will be the first-ever film versions of such popular tales as 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' the poem by Clement C. Moore; each is less than 10 minutes long.

The family-friendly program is part of The Park Theatre's 10th Annual Meeting and Reception, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Jaffrey Women's Club, 33 Main St., Jaffrey.

The meeting and film program are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to register in advance by either calling (603) 532-8888 or online at

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

This year’s meeting and entertainment will follow the tradition of meetings past that featured live music, delicious refreshments, sing-a-longs, comedians, Boy Scout Troop presentations, and performances by the Peterborough Chamber Choir, Small Pond Productions, Project Shakespeare, and stage readings by local stars.

The program will include the first known movie versions of 'A Christmas Carol' (1910) and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' (1905).

The films each run less than 10 minutes long and were both produced as novelties by Thomas Edison, the inventor credited with pioneering the motion picture.

The evening will be highlighted by a screening of 'Big Business' (1929), a Christmas-themed silent film comedy starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

"Even in the early days of cinema, the movies helped popularize classic holiday stories," Rapsis said. "So it's a real treat for us to turn back the clock and see where the tradition of holiday movies and TV specials first began."

The Park Theatre's holiday program will give local audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was meant to be seen—on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Also, it's a sample of the entertainment and cultural possibilities that a revitalized Park Theatre would offer the community.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who improvises a movie's musical score live as it screens.

"Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that can still move audiences today," Rapsis said.

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

The Park Theatre is the dream of Romulo Vanni, an Italian immigrant who sought to better his community with the bold idea of a movie and vaudeville house right downtown.

The original Park Theatre in 1941.

In 1922 Romolo cut his house in half and raised it on columns so patrons could pass under it and into his barn for movies and shows. For 54 years, The Theatre was a vibrant center of Jaffrey’s cultural and community life before going “dark” in 1976.

Rediscovered in 2001, the Theatre has become the focus of a community-wide revitalization effort.

Once reopened, it will present movies, children’s programs and live fine arts performances in a state-of-the-art facility. After more than a decade of planning and fund-raising, construction on the new Park Theatre is scheduled to begin in 2017.

A program of holiday silent film classics will be shown as part of The Park Theatre Annual Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Jaffrey Women's Club, 33 Main St., Jaffrey.

The meeting and film program is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to register in advance by either calling (603) 532-8888 or online at

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sunday 11/27, Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre
Burn off holiday calories with group laughter

'Hands Up' (1926), part of a double bill of Raymond Griffith comedies this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Been away from the blog because so much is going on.

But there's a good silent film program coming up on Sunday afternoon and wanted to get out the word.

The name "Raymond Griffith" doesn't inspire a lot of name recognition these days.

One reason is that many of his films aren't available to be seen and enjoyed.

But at his peak in the mid-1920s, Griffith rivaled Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd as one of Hollywood's top laugh-getters.

We're fortunate, however, to have two titles that show Griffith at his best: 'Paths To Paradise' (1925) and 'Hands Up!' (1926).

Both make a great double bill, and that's what we're running on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

So burn off those extra holiday calories by joining in a great aerobic exercise: communal laughter.

Here's info about Griffith and the two films in the form of a press release that never got sent out. Told you I'm behind!

Hope to see you there.

Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson in 'Paths To Paradise' (1925)

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film comic Raymond Griffith's rare films in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Nov. 27

Double feature with live music resurrects forgotten comedy star with a Granite State connection

WILTON, N.H.—He was a silent film actor who really couldn't talk, thanks to a childhood vocal injury. He was Raymond Griffith, the "Silk Hat" comedian, whose film star popularity in the 1920s rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. But Griffith's lack of a speaking voice prompted an abrupt end to his on-screen career when talkies arrived in 1929. Most of his starring feature films have since disappeared, causing Griffith to be virtual unknown today.

But the elegantly dressed comic, who as a youngster attended St. Anselm Prep School in Goffstown, N.H., will return to the cinematic spotlight once again on Saturday, Nov. 26 with a double feature of two of his surviving works. 'Paths to Paradise' (1925) and 'Hands Up!' (1926), a pair of comedies regarded as his best, will be screened with live music on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per person.

"Griffith's character was that of a worldly, shrewd, and quick-thinking gentleman, usually dressed in a top hat and a cape, who enjoyed outwitting con artists and crooks at their own game," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician who will improvise scores for both films. "It turns out he was very different from Chaplin or Keaton, and so were his films—they seem a bit more cynical and so perhaps more modern. But we've shown them before and they hold up well with a live audience today."

'Paths to Paradise' (1925) stars Griffith as a polished con man who competes with a feisty female jewel thief to steal a heavily guarded diamond necklace. The film finishes with a wild car chase through the California desert. Unfortunately, all existing prints of 'Paths to Paradise' are missing the final 10 minutes, but the film ends at a point that completes the plot and provides a satisfying finish.

Raymond Griffith rides a different kind of underground railroad in the Civil War comedy 'Hands Up!' (1926).

'Hands Up!' (1926) features Griffith as a Confederate spy during the Civil War whose mission is to prevent a shipment of gold from reaching Northern forces. The film survives complete, and is considered by most critics to be Griffith's masterpiece. Both films were produced and released by Paramount Pictures, where Griffith was under contract in the 1920s as one of the studio's leading stars.

"All of these films were designed to be seen in theaters by large audiences, not on a small television screen by people sitting at home," said Rapsis, who provides music for the Flying Monkey's monthly silent film series, which aims to honor the recently renovated venue's historic roots as a local moviehouse.. "In showing silent films, the Flying Monkey aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema comedy by bringing together crucial elements for its success—the best available prints, projection on the big screen, a live audience, and, in the case of silent films, live music."

Born in Boston in 1895, Griffith injured his vocal cords at an early age, rendering him unable to speak above the level of a hoarse whisper. After appearing in circuses and attending at least one year (1905-06) at St. Anselm Preparatory School in Goffstown, N.H., he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy prior to World War I and in 1915 wound up in Hollywood, where the movie business was already booming.

Early on, Griffith worked at Mack Sennett's Keystone studio, where he developed a reputation as an excellent actor and a superb comedy writer and director. He eventually gravitated to behind-the-camera duties, serving as Sennett's right-hand man for a time. He eventually moved to the then-new Paramount studios in the early 1920s, where he began to appear again in on-camera roles.

Teaching new dance steps in 'Hands Up!'

Griffith's mastery of character parts made him immediately popular, prompting Paramount to star him in his own movies starting in 1924. In the next few years, he completed a dozen feature films, most of which today are lost due to neglect or improper storage. If not cared for properly, older film stock will decompose and sometimes burst into flames. About 80 percent of all silent film is presumed lost due to this and other factors.

Following the arrival of sound pictures in 1929, Griffith's lack of a speaking voice forced a return to behind-the-camera work, with one notable exception: he played a non-talking role as a dying French soldier in Lewis Milestone's World War I classic 'All Quiet on the Western Front,' (1930) which won that year's Academy Award for Best Picture.

As a producer, Griffith's work included the classic family film 'Heidi' (1937) and 'The Mark of Zorro' (1940). He retired in 1940, and died in 1957 at age 62 after choking at a Los Angeles restaurant.

"Though he's not as well known today as Charlie Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Raymond Griffith was doing some really good work during the peak of his career," Rapsis said. "It's great that the public will get a chance to appreciate the two wonderful Griffith films as part of the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series."

Review of 'Hands Up!':

"This is one buried treasure that deserves a wider audience. Griffith is thoroughly ingratiating; it's a pity that so many of his movies have disappeared and the survivors are so seldom revived." —

'Paths to Paradise' and 'Hands Up' will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit For more info on the music, visit

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

'Wings' on Friday, Nov. 4 at the Aviation Museum of N.H.: This time, it's personal

An original poster for 'Wings' (1927).

Because it was the first big drama for which I created live music, 'Wings' (1927) has a special place for me.

So I couldn't be more pleased to be doing music again on Friday, Nov. 4, at a screening to benefit the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.

The screening will take place in the exhibit hall of the museum, which is housed in the original terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Talk about a fitting location! The hall resembles a working hanger, and we're hoping a good turnout will fill the place up.

Showtime is 7 p.m.; tickets ($15 for members, $20 for non-members) will be available at the door.

More info about the screening and the film is in the press release at the bottom of this post.

But with 'Wings,' there's another reason the film has special significance to me.

My father, who died back in 1968 when I was just age 4, was a career pilot who flew military (in World War II) and commercial.

He loved aviation from childhood. In fact, he got his first pilot's license before he learned to drive!

I recall my grandmother saying that with his brothers, she'd find pictures of girls until their pillows, but with Jack (my Dad), she'd find pictures of airplanes.

Dad was born way back in 1916, and so would have been 11 years old when 'Wings' swept the nation. (Gad, he'd be 100 years old now, if he was still with us.)

Buddy Rogers and Clara Bow in front of a surprisingly cheesy backdrop to promote 'Wings' (1927).

Well, 11 seems to be just the right age for a boy to be really impressionable about certain things.

And so we'll never know this for sure, but I have a feeling that Dad must have gone to a screening of 'Wings' that late summer of 1927, when the film was in theaters.

And I have this idea that the movie fired his imagination enough to make airplanes and flying a major interest from then on, and eventually his profession and his life's work.

As I said, we'll never know. But something in me feels certain that this took place to some extent.

Absent concrete information, I suppose we're entitled to make up our own myths. And so one of mine involves a young boy in Nashua, N.H. going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon in August, perhaps unwillingly, because it's a "grown-up" drama and a long one to boot.

But once there, he becomes absorbed by the story, and then fascinated by the close-up views of the magical machines that give people to ability to fly through the sky!

When the lights come up, it's all over. His mind is flooded by visions of airplanes, pilots, and flight. He doesn't know it yet, but the course of his life is forever changed.

Well, it's a nice idea, and gives the 'Wings' special significance to me each time I've accompanied it.

And maybe something like my Dad's experience will happen again this Friday at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire. Bring a pre-teen along and see what happens.

Okay, below is the text of the press release:

* * *

Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow, and Richard Arlen in 'Wings' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Epic silent film 'Wings' (1927) to be shown on Friday, Nov. 4 at Aviation Museum of N.H.

Sprawling story of U.S. aviators in World War I won first-ever 'Best Picture'; benefit screening features live musical accompaniment

LONDONDERRY, N.H.—The Aviation Museum of New Hampshire will go Hollywood this week with a special benefit screening of 'Wings' (1927), an epic adventure film set in World War I that won 'Best Picture' honors at the very first Academy Awards ceremony.

'Wings' will be revived for one showing only on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. in the exhibit space of the museum, which is located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. There will be a cash bar reception starting at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for museum members, and $20 for non-members. Tickets may be purchased online at

The screening will feature live music by New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

The show will allow audiences to experience silent film the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'Wings,' a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. 'Wings' stunned audiences with its aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.

'Wings' stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, 'Wings' was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

'Wings' is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy 'Wings' as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

Promotional artwork for 'Wings'.

Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was underway in Europe a century ago. The U.S. entered the war in 1917.

" 'Wings' is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured," accompanist Jeff Rapsis said. "It's a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one's country a century ago."

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for 'Wings' on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "At the time, most films weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

'Wings' is about 2½ hours long. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

‘Wings’ will be shown with live music on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. Tickets are $15 for museum members, and $20 for non-members. Tickets may be purchased online at For information, contact the museum at (603) 669-4820.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wrapping up a silent film Halloween...
...or are the scariest days yet to come?

A pseudo-audience member awaits 'The Man Who Laughs' at the Leavitt Theatre.

Okay, finished the annual Halloween marathon strong with three very intense screenings this past weekend:

• On Friday, Oct. 28, created a live score for 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

• On Saturday, Oct. 29, did music for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

• And finally, on Sunday, Oct. 30, accompanied 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

For each of these shows, the music fell together a very satisfying way. I felt I was able to come up with suitably dramatic and/or spooky music when needed, but also stuff that allowed the humor in each film to come out.

Put another way: each of the films was able to breathe.

Pre-show prep at the Leavitt Theatre, with fog and fake attendees.

For 'Nosferatu,' it was the only time this year I played for this film, so it had a freshness and excitement that's sometimes difficult to manage when you've already accompanied a title, say, three times in two weeks.

I know the movie well enough, so I didn't even preview it prior to the screening, which drew a huge crowd to the Regent.

I actually did remember one thing about 'Nosferatu': that I need a musical signature for the images of a rooster crowing, which form an important part of the film's climax.

This time I remembered, and it all worked very effectively. But on the other hand, I muffed one of the two scenes where the clock is striking midnight.

The first time, it's pretty easy: the camera cuts to a clock, which is when I start the chimes: in my case, a small bellhop bell tapped steadily 12 time, if I count right.

But the second time (on the next night), the character of Hutter hears the chimes sounding, and reacts to them, before the scene cuts to the same clock, with the ringing in progress.

On Friday night, poor Hutter reacted quite visibly to chimes that couldn't be heard until the camera cut to them. Ooops!

The perils of trying to time sound effects to on-screen action. But afterwards, a guy said he thought I totally nailed it. So go figure!

The next night, the screening of 'The Man Who Laughs' up at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine was memorable as much for the atmosphere as for the music.

Patrons of the Leavitt Theatre had to negotiate this display outside the lobby.

As a gay-friendly seaside resort, Ogunquit doesn't hold back at Halloween. The costumes of people bar-hopping downtown are amazing: I saw several men dressed as Las Vegas chorus girls tottering

And at the Leavitt Theatre, the Clayton family had transformed their vintage building (opened in 1923), into a "haunted theater," filling the interior with cobwebs and stage fog.

During the day, visitors brave enough to enter were taken inside, where mannequins sat motionless in the chairs and spirits were liable to pop out from anywhere!

The tours continued past 7 p.m., and all the decorations were left in place, so the theater just sort of morphed into a movie theater at some point prior to our show, with me using a pipe organ patch to play spooky funeral parlor music on my keyboard.

Ian Clayton of the Leavitt on stage above my cob-webby keyboard in the pit.

That night's screening of 'The Man Who Laughs' was the last of four I'd accompanied in the past two weeks. (Strangely, all four were in different stages: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts!)

I had accumulated some good material, I thought, and so was able work it up into something pretty effective for Saturday's final go-round. Very gratifying to help this great film come to life and connect with audiences.

For 'Phantom of the Opera' on Sunday, I was able to once more use the opening line that I developed for this season's screenings: "Nothing is more appropriate for Halloween than a silent film because EVERYONE in this picture is DEAD!"

It produces laughs. What can I say?

Well, in Wilton, I said that until very recently, everyone in 'Phantom' was NOT dead. Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal Studios boss Carl Laemmle, danced in 'Phantom' as a teenager. And by God if she still wasn't with us all the way up until 2014, when she died at age 104.

This earned Carla a spontaneous round of applause!

Carla still going strong in her later years.

I also tried out the "audience participation" approach I've developed with Phantom screenings.

The Wilton crowd, one of the largest we've ever hosted, was into it: they applauded lustily during the on-screen opera house ovations, and shrieked pretty convincingly when the chandelier dropped and you-know-who got unmasked.

And with that we enter November, and with that the calendar lightens up a bit.

But not right away. Tomorrow night, I have a "fire and water" double feature at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library. The two flicks on the program are firefighting drama 'The Third Alarm' (1922) and Coast Guard adventure 'Coast Patrol' (1925).

And then I take a deep breath before tackling 'Wings' on Friday night for the Aviation Museum of N.H., which is screening the film as a benefit in their hanger on the grounds of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. More on that in a follow-up post.

And then the next morning, I return to the same airport to fly out on my way to San Francisco, where that night I'm accompanying William S. Hart's very first film, 'The Bargain' (1914) at the wonderful Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Ronald Colman matches wits with Constance Talmadge in 'Her Sister From Paris' (1925).

And then I'm doing 'Her Sister From Paris' (1925) on Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. And then...

So what was I saying about slowing down?

Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe Halloween isn't really over yet.

After all, with the Presidential election just eight days away, perhaps the scariest times are yet to come!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Phantom' in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, 10/30:
Plus traffic jams, Peruvian food, aspect ratios

See 'Phantom' on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

We're getting near the end of this year's Halloween silent film decathlon, with just two shows remaining.

Tonight (Saturday, Oct. 29), I'll do music for this year's final screening of 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), the film in this year's "rotation."

And then Sunday afternoon, it's Lon Chaney in 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Showtime is at 4:30 p.m.; more details in the press release attached to the end of this post.

It's been such an eventful week that there's a lot to round up. Here's what happened since last time I checked in, day by day.

John Barrymore and English actor Brandon Hurst in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (1920). I've seen a lot of Hurst this month, who also plays Barkilphedro in 'The Man Who Laughs.'

Sunday, Oct. 23: Pulled into the parking lot of library/town office building in Whitingham Vt. at precisely 1 p.m. to see a large sign promoting their silent film 1 p.m.!

What?! I thought showtime was 2 p.m. Ooops!

I rushed into the library to find librarian Kristine Sweeter completely unruffled.

"It's okay," she said. "We're pretty relaxed around here."

And so they were.

It's embarrassing to blow into a venue at the exact time when everyone expected the show to start, but the people of Whitingham could not have been nicer.

Geography note: the library is technically in the Village of Jacksonville, which is part of the Town of Whitingham. Just to be clear.

After setting up in record time, the screening of John Barrymore in 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' (1920) took place in a corner of a sprawling 19th century function hall, with people arrayed in chairs behind me.

No one was more than 15 feet from the screen, I think. And it all went very well—people really enjoyed the experience, and lots of good questions afterwards.

Fun fact about Whitingham: It's the birthplace of Brigham Young!

I would have stayed longer, but had to hit the road for the drive to Boston, a two-hour-plus Nantucket Sleigh Ride mostly along Massachusetts Route 2 that took me from deepest rural New England to the big city, where I would accompany 'Phantom' that night at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass.

I pulled out of Whitingham at 3:30 p.m., which allowed exactly enough time for a half-hour stop at Machu Chicken, a Peruvian "pollaria" in Somerville's Union Square (not far from the Aeronaut) that does a great inexpensive roasted chicken.

And don't confuse it with Boston Market: the place received a special permit to import a rotisserie oven from Peru, similar to the kind you'll see in the windows of restaurants lining the streets in Peruvian cities. It's roasted chicken, but really quite different.

And thus would I fortify myself for what promised to be a big show at the Aeronaut: not only was a heavy turnout expected, but a well known and highly regarded silent film accompanist was in town and planning to drop in.

For me, it's always a big deal when another accompanist is in the audience. It serves as special motivation to be at the top of your game and do your very best.

I made it all the way to Somerville right on schedule. Great! About a quarter mile from Union Square, I was just starting to congratulate myself on how everything was working out when blue lights appeared ahead.

The street was closed! (I found out later it was for a Halloween Parade in, yes, Union Square.) And cops were directing all vehicles into a maze of sidestreets where traffic just STOPPED.

When we didmove, it was half a car length before stopping again. Dinner time came and went. And never mind dinner—I began to be concerned I wouldn't make it to the Aeronaut in time.

I eventually made my way in a giant improvised loop through streets I'd never heard of, finally getting to Park Street and reaching the Aeronaut via the back way.

It was 6:20 p.m., with showtime at 7 p.m. So not as close as Whitingham, but close enough!

We did have a good turnout, and reaction was strong. (And for the first time ever, I was preceded by a magician!)

Alas, our guest of honor was waylaid and couldn't make it. But it lent an air of excitement to the evening that I think helped the performance. Hey, whatever it takes!

One interesting wrinkle to 'Phantom' was that we tried to work in an audience participation angle, billing it as a "Collaborative Phantom."

Prior to screening, I asked the audience to be prepared to do two things.

One was any time there were scenes of the opera house audience applauding, I needed them to applaud, too.

The other was at two points, they needed to scream their heads off.

The first time was when the chandelier falls from the ceiling, crashing to the ground floor. The second: when the Phantom's mask is removed.

We tried a few practice runs, and everyone seemed into it. And during the film, it worked great!

The unmasking scene seemed especially magnified by the intentional loud shrieks. So I might keep doing it.

Afterwards, two very stylishly dressed women with jet black hair came up to chat. Turned out they were visiting from Peru!

We had a nice talk about Inca Cola and other things peruvian, including my missed “Pollo a la Brasa” meal.

They said it sounded like the place where Peruvian families would go on a Sunday when no one wanted to cook.

Afterwards, this was enough for me to circle around Union Square on the off chance that Machu Chicken was still open at 10 p.m. on a Sunday—and it was!

So yeah, I had a couple of good screenings. But boy did I enjoy that Peruvian barbecued chicken!

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) in Plymouth, and several other locations.

Tuesday, Oct. 25: Driving north for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H., hit my first snow squall of the season.

This Halloween, 'The Man Who Laughs' is my "project" film: the one I run in multiple places as an antidote to all the screenings of 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom.'

Audiences have really responded to it, and Plymouth was no exception. Lots of great conversation about this film, which is based on one of Victor Hugo's lesser-known works.

I recall someone wondering how the book differed from the movie. I didn't know, but someone said something along the lines of, "I bet the book ended with everyone dying, and Hollywood had to change it to a happy ending."

Afterwards, I checked. That's exactly what happened!

Original promotional layout for 'The Man Who Laughs.'

Wednesday, Oct. 26: 'The Man Who Laughs' again, this time at Merrimack College's Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

Very large turnout for this—maybe about 80 people. Another good screening highlighted by my goofy remark referring to larges jars of candy in the lobby.

"Halloween is fast approaching, yes, and the organizers of tonight's event hope you enjoyed your share of the candy out in the lobby. Tonight's screening, by the way, is sponsored by the American Dental Association."

Chaney and friends in 'The Unholy Three.'

Thursday, Oct. 27: Drove in driving rain down to the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass. to do music for 'The Unholy Three' (1925), a very strange vehicle in which Lon Chaney plays a sideshow ventriloquist who turns his talents to crime.

This being the first screening at a new venue for me, so turnout was limited. I think we had about a dozen people.

Alas, no image check was done prior to the show. I didn't think to ask for it because the Capitol is sister theater to the Somerville Theater, where I've done shows for years now, and where on-screen image concerns are top priority.

So I was surprised to see 'The Unholy Three' start up in wide-screen ratio! What? It didn't help that the first image of the film is of the "fat lady" in the circus, who was wide enough without being stretched further.

After a minute, when I sensed that no one was going to fix this, I decided I had to stop and fix this. So I did something I almost never do: I stopped playing, stood up, and told the people there we had to stop and start over because the picture was in the wrong aspect ratio.

They stopped the picture, but then nothing happened. So I went back to the keyboard to play some interlude music while things were fixed.

After a few minutes, a woman comes down to talk with me. It's the manager. And she's great and understanding and all, but says there's simply nothing they can do to change what's on the screen.


So we chatted, and it was soon clear that yes, they had no ability to fix the problem on the equipment in the booth. Sheesh!

So I had to stand up and change my whole pitch to the audience, saying that we were now going to discover how good this film was by finding out if its impact is at all diminished by showing it in the wrong proportions.

No one seemed to mind, though. And off we went, it after awhile you really do kind of forget about how things are stretched horizontally.

Makes me wonder what else we come to accept as natural even if it's dead wrong. I guess we'll find out with the upcoming Presidential election. Har!

On the marquee! In green!

Friday, Oct. 28: My one screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) this year is at the Regent Theatre, not that far from the Capitol. (See yesterday.)

The Regent, a busy artistic hub for all manner of performances, does show film, and silent film with live music worked so well as part of their 100th anniversary celebration last April, they thought it was worth trying again, hence tonight's screening.

Wasn't sure what to make of the Regent's "ear plug box."

Well, they were right: About 140 people crowded into the screening, one of those where everything really came together. Great audience reaction throughout, and a fairly sizeable group came down to the keyboard for questions some demonstration.

One woman was so into it, she pumped me for details about tonight's screening at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where I'm doing one more 'The Man Who Laughs.'

We call it 'Chiller Theatre' in part because it's Halloween weekend, and also because the summer-only theater has no central heating.

It's tonight at 8 p.m., and she's planning to go. Hope you are, too!

And if you'd like more information about 'Phantom of the Opera' on Sunday, Oct. 30 in Wilton, N.H., here's the press release:

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Lon Chaney as the 'Phantom.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 30

Just in time for Halloween: classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music

WILTON, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a nerve-rattling silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the first screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggestion to help defray expenses.

The screening is part of the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing monthly silent film series.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made the picture 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 screenings.

"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and accompanies films at venues around the nation. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.

The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.

Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).

The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Mummy (1932).

The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; suggested donation of $5 per person. For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456.