Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Put some 'Intolerance' into your life
on Sunday, April 3 at Somerville Theatre

Okay, let me try to catch my breath here after a busy stretch of accompaniment gigs.

The past two weeks each brought stretches of back-to-back screenings over consecutive days.

I'm not complaining, as I love creating music that helps old film connect with new audiences.

But after awhile, the improv-heavy method I use begins to take a mental toll. I start to forget things in the microwave—that sort of thing.

But I'm getting a breather just in time, as the next weekend brings a certified biggie: D.W. Griffith's 'Intolerance' (1916), which we're showing in 35mm at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass. on Sunday, April 2.

Showtime is 2 p.m. Admission is $15 per ticket.

It's the 100th anniversary of this unique movie, which combines tales from four completely separate historic eras and weaves them together the way old J.S. Bach used to stitch together a fugue for organ.

The result was a narrative framework shaped like a four-burner stove, allowing Griffith to bring a quartet of separate stories to a boil simultaneously.

And the result of that was a film in which Griffith could juxtapose happenings from different eras to create a richness of potential meaning that defies easy analysis, I think.

I've done music for the film several times, and each screening gives me more stuff to think about.

For instance, the final outcome of each of the stories, when shown in rapid succession, seems to be hinting at a larger message.

I don't want to give away anything, but three of the stories end one way, but a fourth doesn't.

In structuring his film this way, Griffith amplified the impact as each successive denouement unfolds.

One tale leads you to anticipate what will happen in the next—and when it doesn't, it makes an impact that's hard to create any other way.

I suppose with all the media at our fingertips nowadays, you could try a do-it-yourself version of 'Intolerance' at home. Just take four films and keep swapping through them faster and faster until they all finish at about the same time.

So you could take, for instance, 'Platoon,' 'Full Metal Jacket,' 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Good Morning Vietnam' and run them Intolerance-style, working yourself into a frenzy with the remote.

Or you could just come experience 'Intolerance.' Seen in a theater, with a live audience and live music and if everything else comes together, the effect is mesmerizing.

See for yourself, in the form of a 35mm print from the Museum of Modern Art that we'll be using on Sunday, April 3 at the Somerville Theatre.

More details in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

* * *

Griffith's gi-normous Babylon set.

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

D.W. Griffith's masterpiece 'Intolerance' to screen on Sunday, April 3 at Somerville Theatre

Landmark 1916 silent film epic to be presented in 35mm with live music to celebrate 100th anniversary of original release

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—It was a cinematic breakthrough that changed the movies forever: a three-hour epic knitting together four sweeping stories spanning 2,500 years, all designed to dramatize mankind's struggles and the redeeming power of love throughout human history.

The film was D.W. Griffith's 'Intolerance' (1916), which stunned the movie-going public 100 years ago with its vast scope, enormous sets, large cast, and revolutionary editing. Often named to lists of the 100 best films of all times, critics continue to point to 'Intolerance' as one of the most influential and important milestones of early cinema.

See for yourself with a rare screening of a 35mm print of 'Intolerance' on Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. General admission is $15 per person.

The program, the latest in the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please!' series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.

In reviving 'Intolerance' and other great films of Hollywood's early years, the Somerville Theatre aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in 35mm prints, on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise a live score for 'Intolerance.' "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early Hollywood leap back to life. They featured great stories with compelling characters and universal appeal, so it's no surprise that they hold up and we still respond to them."

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

Wow—67,000 actors! But who's counting?

'Intolerance,' considered one of the great masterpieces of the silent era, intercuts four parallel story lines, each separated by several centuries: A contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; a Judean story of Christ’s mission and death; a French story about the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572; and a story depicting the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC.

The scenes are linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood, rocking a cradle.

Each of the parallel stories are intercut with increasing frequency as the film builds to a climax. The film sets up moral and psychological connections among the different stories.

'Intolerance' was made partly in response to criticism of Griffith's previous film, 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915), which was criticized by the NAACP and other groups as perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the unusual elements of 'Intolerance' is that many of the characters don't have names. Griffith wished them to be emblematic of human types. Thus, the central female character in the modern story is called The Dear One. Her young husband is called The Boy, and the leader of the local Mafia is called The Musketeer of the Slums.

Because of its four intertwined stories, 'Intolerance' does not feature any one performer in a leading role. However, the enormous cast includes many great names from the silent era, including Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Constance Talmadge, Walter Long, and a young Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in an uncredited cameo as a drunken soldier with a monkey.

"This movie was made for the big screen, and this screening at the Somerville is a rare chance to see 'Intolerance' the way it was meant to be seen," said Ian Judge, the Somerville Theatre's manager.

Upcoming screenings in the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents Please!' series include:

• Sunday, May 15: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Rediscover the beguiling talents of Boston-born silent comic Raymond Griffith, who stars in this jewel-heist caper, one of his best surviving films.

• Sunday, June 5: 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926). The MGM drama that put budding megastars Greta Garbo and John Gilbert on the map as the screen's hottest couple.

• Sunday, July 10: 'So's Your Old Man' (1926) and 'It's the Old Army Game' (1926). A pair of vintage W.C. Fields silent feature comedies; program hosted by the great man's granddaughter, Dr. Harriet Fields.

'Intolerance' will be screened in 35mm on Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at the 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 www.somervilletheatreonline.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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