Saturday, April 30, 2016

Harold Lloyd in Wilton (N.H.) on Sunday, May 1; plus, all about my recent car break-in in Boston

Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in 'A Sailor Made Man' (1921), which I'm accompanying at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, May 1.

It's been an interesting week, with much of it spent dealing with the aftermath of a car break-in while I was down in Boston last Saturday.

But now performances beckon. First up: I'm doing music for a Harold Lloyd program on Sunday, May 1 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. Hope to see you there!

After that, I welcome British silent film expert Amran Vance to the Manchester (N.H.) City Library on Tuesday, May 3. I'm accompanying a double bill that evening of 'The Cheat' (1915), an early Cecil B. Demille melodrama, and 'Shattered Dreams' (1918), a bizarre anti-Bolshevist propaganda film.

And then I head out to San Francisco, where I'm guest accompanist at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on Saturday, May 7. On the program: 'The Square Deal Man' (1917), a Western starring William S. Hart as professional gambler Jack O'Diamonds. Not expecting much subtlety in this one, pardner.

But before all of this, here's an update on what happened in Boston on Saturday, April 23. Looking back, I kinda wish William S. Hart had been on hand for it.

Where's William S. Hart when you need him?

That day I drove to Boston for some non-silent-film business in the Kenmore Square area. It was such a beautiful early spring day, so I decided in advance that I would go for a run along the Charles River.

One reason for this: I'm pursuing a long-term project to run a minimum of 10K (or 6.2 miles) in all 50 states. I've been getting at least one each month since last December. So to keep the streak alive, I decided to tackle nearby Massachusetts this month, as I didn't expect to be going out-of-state otherwise.

And one more option: that night was the final concert of the 2015-16 season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So if I didn't feel like the run, another option was heading over to Symphony Hall and snagging a rush ticket to this gala affair. Maybe. We'll see.

So I ran my errand in Kenmore Square, then I returned to my car, which was parked on Bay State Road, a busy street right off Commonwealth Avenue. It was too nice not to go for a run. So I fed the meter through to 6 p.m.

And off I went, noting the dashboard clock time of 4:05 p.m., and taking only my keys and the moisture-wicking shirt on my back. (Yes, shorts and shoes too.) A knapsack in which I had my wallet, cellphone, and other things was stowed down under the front passenger seat. I also put my black satchel (a.k.a. my "man purse") in the same place.

I should mention that my Subaru Forester was crammed with all my musical gear: a full-size digital workstation and keyboard, a crate filled with cabling, two speakers, and other equipment. A big performance was coming up the next night, so I'd already loaded what I needed.

I made my way to the Mass. Ave. bridge and then down onto the Esplanade, a narrow park that runs along the south bank of the Charles, which at this point functions like a spectacular urban lake separating Boston and Cambridge.

And it was one of those days that everything about Boston looked and felt just perfect: bright sun, blue sky, sailboats crowding the Charles, the paths filled with people holding hands, pushing strollers, walking dogs, walking with walkers: the whole circle of life!

What the Esplanade looks like in spring. Photo by Ingfbruno.

The classy brick townhhouses of Back Bay rose just beyond the trees, which were just beginning to flower and bud. Further beyond rose the city's glass towers, lending a multi-layered feel to the dense urban landscape.

"You know," I thought, plodding downriver towards the Museum of Science. "You can go all around the globe and see the world's great cities. But on a day like this, Boston stands up to any of them!"

I actually laughed out loud. I felt giddy. How fortunate to be here on this beautiful day! I felt young, although I was easily at least twice the age of everyone around me.

This state of mild ecstasy kept me going for 8 miles—turning around at the Museum of Science, then all the way up to Harvard and doubling back.

Returning to where I started, I hauled myself over the Mass. Ave. bridge, eager to reach the oasis of my car. For one thing, I had stowed an egg bagel with olive and pimento spread in the glove compartment, and felt I really needed it. Plus some water. Plus my feet hurt.

I reached Bay State Road maybe about 5:30 p.m.—I'd know for sure when I checked the dashboard clock for my official "end" time. Ahead of me stretched the curving row of parked cars, al hugging the street. Striding forward, I pressed 'Unlock' on my key fob, expecting to hear the beep of my car's response.

Where I parked the car. Click to enlarge.

Nothing. Funny—but it's a busy city street. So I walk a but further, try again. Still no beep.

Hmm, I think—I must have parked further up than I thought. Sometimes a long run will do that to you.

Only when I reached the end of the block did I first get a sinking sense that my car might not actually be where I left it. And that it might not be there at all.

Almost by reflex, I rejected this absurd notion. I crossed the street, thinking I must have somehow gotten turned around and that the car was on the other side.

But it wasn't there either. From here, I scanned the area across the street where I now definitely remembered parking. The car just wasn't there.

It was gone!

And everything in it—my wallet, my phone, my credit cards, my camera, my driver's license, and so much else. And all the music equipment, with a performance scheduled for the very next day.

And me standing there, sweating and in running clothes, with just a set of keys, like some ape who just blundered into civilization.

I don't know who may read this. But whoever you are, I hope you don't ever have to experience the short but memorable sense of helpless panic that washed over me at that point. I really almost fainted right there on the street.

But again reflex took over: even as I marched back across Bay State Road, I somehow switched to "get 'er done" mode, perhaps as a defense mechanism to keep my mind off the huge questions of what had happened, where my stuff was, and if I'd ever see it again.

Okay, no car. Two young guys were standing on the sidewalk, chatting not far from where I thought my car was.

I apologized for butting in, but did they see anything unusual on this street in the past hour or so? Was there any action, like...well, I don't know, but my car is gone.

After what seemed to me like a very loooooong moment (but which probably wasn't), one said the magic word: YES.

Yes, a police cruiser was here for awhile, and they towed a car from right over there, he said, pointing to pieces of glass scattered along the curb.

Glass? I didn't have time to imagine how that came to be, as the other guy knew which police precinct covered the area and was already calling.

Within a minute I was on his phone with a Boston police dispatcher who confirmed that, yes, my car had indeed been towed.

Why? I fed the meter, I thought, still not able to put it all together.

Someone had smashed the passenger side front window, I was told. Also, a witness had left a note saying the guy had taken two bags from the car and fled the scene on a bicycle.

She even took this picture, which I got later on but will paste in now:

The thief from behind, right after the break-in. (Not the guy on the left walking towards the camera.

And my music equipment? The dispatcher said he'd check, then came back on the line to say he didn't know, but the car was driveable, though missing a window.

So I'd have to come down to the station to retrieve the car.

While on hold, I found myself thinking that I was fortunate to have connected with exactly the right police precinct so quickly.

With no ID, and no money, and ready to keel over after a long run, I might have quickly descended into lunacy at all the uncertainty.

The guy with the phone then let me call my wife back home in New Hampshire, who said she'd just gotten off the phone regarding a fraud alert on one of our credit cards.

About an hour earlier, she said, someone had charged about $610 at the Macy's store in downtown Boston, and then tried to pay for a $47 cab fare, which was declined and triggered the alert.

Could I explain what was going on?

I sure could. Somewhat.

There were other credit cards, but in my name only and all paperwork was at my office. So we'd just have to wait to find out if they'd been used.

For me, the first task was to get to the police station, which turned out to be in South Boston, rather far away: 650 Harrington Ave., a street I'd never heard of.

The phone guy showed me on a map: about 2 miles. There was some talk of buying me an MBTA pass, but I said I'd just walk it.

I got the directions fixed in my head, thanked them, and then marched off towards Mass. Ave.—me and my sweaty running clothes and keys.

A lot remained uncertain, but adrenaline was kicking in. There was a good chance my music stuff hadn't been taken, which was great. A guy on a bike can't easily carry a 70-lb. synthesizer.

On the other hand, I began to realize what was lost if my bags were indeed stolen. Besides the valuables, he got a journal with a year's worth of personal writing, a checkbook with five blank checks in it, the textbook of a college class I teach, some student papers, a day book in which I plan my life six months out, and a lot of other stuff.

On foot, it took seemingly forever to reach the Boston Police Department District 4 station. By the time I arrived, the sun was going down and a chill was in the air.

The officer who responded to the scene happened to be there (another lucky break), and she told me my musical stuff was still in the car.

Well, thank God!

In fact, that's why they had it towed. Sporting a broken window, they didn't want to leave it unattended and risk further larceny.

The bad news, however, was that the car wasn't at the police station. It was actually at a tow lot way out in Brighton, Mass.

So I'd need to get out there. Didn't I have a ride? No, I said—I had nothing.

But then another minor miracle—the officer asked me to go outside and meet her out back, and I'd get to the tow lot.

My escort to the tow lot.

So I did, and there she was, pulling up in a cruiser. I had to get in the back, which turned out to have plastic seats with a small amount of liquid sloshing around in them!

"It's just rain water," she said, seeing me hesitate. "The windows were left open when it rained."

So I lowered myself into an unnatural position, trying to keep my running shorts from coming into contact with the "water."

It didn't work. Every time the cruiser slowed for a stop, the water (which was cold) soaked into my shorts. Oh well, I thought. This too shall pass.

By now it was past 7:30 p.m. We were heading up Huntington Avenue when I realized we would go right by Symphony Hall—and there it was, on the left!

The view from a police cruiser.

Crowds of well-dressed people were arriving for the evening's gala concert, the finale of the 2015-16 season.

And I was present as well—passing Symphony Hall in the back of a police cruiser, exhausted and cold, and sitting in a puddle of cold water.

Nice! I thought back to high school, when I pondered being a creator of music. If you had told me then that at age 52 I would pass Symphony Hall in a police cruiser with a wet butt, I would have laughed. Ha ha!

And so I laughed now. The officer asked what was funny. "Nothing," I replied.

The tow yard was quite a ways out in Brighton on Soldiers Field Road. It was on a dismal street with the amazing name of "Goodenough Road." It was dark by the time we got there, but I was never so relieved as to see my vehicle, sporting a smashed window but otherwise looking okay.

Then more bad news: A woman barricaded in a trailer said it would cost $129 to get the car released. Cash only. No checks or credit cards.

So I was stuck. She did me call home to New Hampshire, and I told my wife she'd have to come down after all.

I looked over the car. The front seat was covered with shards of broken glass, which made sense because he smashed in the window.

Also, there was a handwritten note from Jenny, a BU student who witnessed what happened.

I began picking up what I could, depositing it carefully into a nearby dumpster but still getting one nasty glass splinter. Ouch!

And then I waited. With it getting cold, I started the car and turned on the heat. With cool air coming in through the open window, it kind of felt like camping out.

The wait was made bearable by two things: the discovery that the bagel was still in my glove compartment, and also the Boston Symphony concert being broadcast live on WCRB-FM.

So I settled in, listening to the BSO while sitting in a tow yard in a seat with glass still on it. But I didn't care.

My wife arrived about 9:30 p.m., bailed me out, and then we hit the road to New Hampshire. On Route 3, the roar of cold air blasting competed with the BSO playing Ravel's 'La Valse.'

That night, I went right to my office and stopped all the other cards. Fortunately, none had been used.

The next day I spoke with Jenny, and she sent me the photo. What surprised her, she said, was that people were walking right past, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening!

I thanked her for her willingness to get involved.

In the days that followed, I worked my way through the hassle of replacing my credit cards, getting a new driver's license, and so on.

I even put up notices online in the unlikely event the thief might be interested in the idiot he robbed, or if someone found my stuff in a ditch somewhere. So far, no takers.

I also talked with Boston police detectives, who told me "it's like a field day" for car break-ins around Kenmore Square.

But because of the photo, they've taken an interest in the case and are working with Macy's to try to get a better image.

We'll see. But it's unlikely that I'll ever see any of my stuff again.

I was actually hoping to go down the next day and cruise the area, looking to see if he'd dumped the bags somewhere, but wasn't able to.

Altogether, I'm out about $1,000, plus the time and hassle of dealing with this. As for insurance: the car window doesn't exceed the deductible on my auto policy, and the value of the stolen items doesn't exceed the deductible on my homeowner's policy. Oh well.

But on balance, I find myself still so thankful that the car itself wasn't stolen, and that everything in it (besides the bags) was untouched.

I'm also glad there are people like the gal who witnessed the break-in and called police. Thank you! And two guys willing to let a sweaty stranger use their phone—thank you.

Thanks also to the outpouring of support from so many people.

And I have to say, dealing with the Boston Police really exceeded my expectations.

When I first realized my car was actually gone, I had no idea what it would be like to deal with the police department of a big city. I was steeling myself for—well, something less than Sheriff Andy Taylor of the Mayberry P.D.

But everyone—from the guy who first answered the phone at District 4 to the detectives still working the case—has been great to deal with.

On balance, I would have preferred to skip the whole experience. But all these people I encountered made it a lot easier to take than it might have been.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A quick message to whoever it was
who broke into my car in Boston today

This is a message to whomever smashed the passenger side window of my car this afternoon while it was parked near Kenmore Square in Boston, stealing a bag with my wallet, phone, and some other things in it. Because you know my name, you might be curious enough to check

Here I am, a real person!

If you're here: In the bag you took was a journal that contained more than a year's worth of writing. If you read this and somehow still have the journal, I would really like to have it just sent to my home address, which you know, but I'll put it here anyway: 49 County Road, Bedford, NH 03110. As you know, there was enough in the wallet to cover the postage.

Speaking of the wallet: the one irreplaceable thing in it was an old photo of a dog from my childhood. If you somehow still have the wallet, it would be great if you could send that along, too. Worth a shot asking. She was a great dog and would mean nothing to you.

Thank you for leaving the bagel in my car, which I found after paying $129 to have it released from the lot out in Brighton where the police had it towed after you smashed in the window. A nice lady witnessed the whole affair, by the way. Looks like you hit right after I left. Broad daylight! Well, that's life in the big city, I suppose.

P.S. If you're wondering, the Austrian currency you took is no longer legal tender. It's only exchangeable (for Euros) at the Österreichische Nationalbank in Vienna.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Chico at the piano: 'I can't think of the finish!'
Groucho: 'Funny, I can't think of anything but!

To paraphrase the Talking Heads song 'Once in a Lifetime':

And you may find yourself being asked to be Chico Marx.

And you may ask yourself: How did I get here?

The answer: not by letting the days go by, but doing silent film accompaniment at a Centennial Gala this Sunday at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

I didn't expect to play Chico Marx as part of this—in fact, I found out only last night I'd be doing so.

Of course I said yes. A silent film accompanist has to be ready for anything, after all.

Plus, a chance to channel Chico is a great honor, as the piano-playing Marx was one of my big early influences.

Seriously! Watching the brothers on TV as a child, and seeing Chico cavort at the keyboard, made me first want to pound the horseteeth, as they say.

Plus, I liked how he alone seemed to be able to confound Groucho with a mixture of deliberate misunderstanding, illogic, and ethnic stereotype.

Chico and Groucho match wits in 'Horsefeathers' (1932).

Hey, role models weren't exactly easy to come by for me!

So playing Chico Marx is an unexpected bonus to this event, which is part vaudeville and part silent film screening.

As part of the live show, I'm accompanying performer (and Groucho impersonator) Jerry Bisantz in 'Samovar the Lawyer,' a patter song from the 'Day in Hollywood, Night in the Ukraine' stage musical.

By the way: we ran through the music last night (which was when I found out I was playing Chico) and Jerry really does a great job with it!

But the main reason I'm on hand for the Centennial Gala is to accompany a screening of Mary Pickford in 'Rags,' a 1916 melodrama.

Mary Pickford and friend in 'Rags' (1916).

'Rags' was the very first film shown at the Regent—the main attraction on opening night, actually.

So in planning the Centennial Gala, Leland Stein and his colleagues at the Regent decided to include 'Rags' as a way of celebrating a century of showbiz and entertainment.

Fortunately, the film exists—not the case with most silent films. What's more, it was recently restored by the Mary Pickford Foundation, which supplied the film to the Regent.

So attendees of Sunday's event will get to see a pretty nice-looking edition of this rarelyscreened film, which I've never played for before.

The Gala, which is on Sunday, April 24 at 7 p.m. is packed with a lot of other entertainment, including jugglers, comedians, and more.

But don't take my word for it. Just check out the poster:

I understand seats are still available. So if you want to see 'Rags' in a theater with live music and an audience, please come join us!

You'll also get to see me as Chico Marx, and other performance including burlesque artist "Busty" Keaton.

The Regent is location on 7 Medford St. in Arlington, Mass. For more information, check them out online at

At-sa fine, boss!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

'Metropolis' at Aeronaut Brewing Co.
show SOLD OUT on Sunday, April 17

Not sure whether to celebrate this or offer regrets, but our screening of 'Metropolis' (1927) at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. on Sunday, April 17 is sold out.

I wanted to post that here so that anyone planning to travel to Somerville, Mass. for this show is aware.

Of course I don't like the idea of turning anyone away, but the Aeronaut has a strict limit to its occupancy permit and as of now, they're full up.

If you're a fan who really planned on coming down to take in this screening, please call me at (603) 236-9237 and we'll see what we can do.

Also, because of the overwhelming response to this event, the folks at the Aeronaut are considering an encore screening at some point. I'll post info here as soon as we know.

Sorry to disappoint anyone, but there will be other chances to catch this amazing movie. Thanks for understanding!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Celebrate Tax Day with gangster movie
'Underworld' at Red River on Friday, 4/15

Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent on a poster for 'Underworld.'

When programming a silent film series, I sometimes look for occasions to celebrate.

If a screening is around July 14 (Bastille Day), then that's a good reason to run 'Orphans of the Storm' (1922), D.W. Griffith's French Revolution epic.

So in putting together this year's schedule for Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., I saw one of the dates was April 15.

April 15? Well, there's a day that's well-known to all U.S. residents, as it's the deadline for federal income tax filings.

What silent film would be appropriate for that? There's none about IRS agents that I can think of.

So I settled for a picture that would be something of a catharsis: a movie in which people battle government agents.

It's 'Underworld' (1927), a Josef von Sternberg drama set in the world of 1920s urban gangsters.

They're always one step ahead of the law, of course. What's more, the movie has extended shoot-outs with federal agents.

So what better way to blow off some steam after ponying up to the federal government to pay your share for all it does?

Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent in 'Underworld.'

Plus, it's one of those pictures I put in the category of "mature" silent film: the really polished productions that were hitting theaters in the last three or four years before talkies took over.

Well worth a look see. So pull the trigger and come join us this evening at Red River Theatres for 'Underworld.' You're sure to get a bang out of it.

More details? Check out the press release I've included below.

* * *

A color-enhanced still for 'Underworld.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Underworld' to screen with live music at Concord's Red River Theatres on Friday, April 15

Oscar-winning silent crime drama directed by Josef von Sternberg was forerunner of Hollywood 'gangster' movies

CONCORD, N.H.—'Underworld' (1927), a silent drama that spurred a boom in 'gangster' movies, will be screened with live music on Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

The film will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

'Underworld,' directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring George Bancroft, is notable for being the first major motion picture to portray a criminal in a sympathetic light instead of as a villain. Its popularity touched off a Prohibition-era boom in Hollywood gangster pictures that reached its peak following the stock market crash of 1929.

"We figured a fitting way to mark the date our taxes are due was to screen a picture full of people battling federal agents," Rapsis said.

The story of 'Underworld' follows gangster Bull Weed (George Bancroft), who becomes entangled in a love triangle involving a reformed drunkard, “Rolls Royce” (Clive Brook) whom he takes on as his right-hand man, and Bull’s girlfriend “Feathers” (Evelyn Brent). Bull Weed's imprisonment leads to a dramatic climax.

Bancroft's performance in 'Underworld' set the stage for memorable characterizations of gangster protagonists by Jimmy Cagney ('Public Enemy,' 1931), Paul Muni ('Scarface,' 1932), and Edward G. Robinson ('Little Caesar,' 1930), which all follow directly on from the model created by 'Underworld.'

The film's script, by Chicago newspaperman Ben Hecht, earned an Oscar for Best Screenwriting at the first-ever Academy Awards. The film is also noted for director von Sternberg's innovative use of black-and-white photography, which presaged many film noir techniques in following decades.

Director Von Sternberg was obsessed by light, and developed methods of “painting” his compositions with the arrangements of lamps, scrims, and reflectors on the set. Today he is remembered most for having used that skill in a series of films he made with Marlene Dietrich, starting with 'The Blue Angel' (1930) and continuing in six more star vehicles made in Hollywood, including 'Morocco' (1930) and 'Shanghai Express' (1932).

'Underworld' 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.

Using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra, Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

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

"So Red River'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.

'Underworld' is the latest in an monthly series of great silent films with live music at Red River. Upcoming programs include:

• Friday, May 13: 'The Golem' (1920), a pioneering German fantasy in which a rabbi brings a statue to life protect the Jews of 16th century Prague from persecution.

• Friday, June 10: 'The General' (1927), Buster Keaton's classic comic adventure epic of an Southern engineer and his locomotive during the U.S. Civil War.

• Friday, July 15: 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926) starring John Gilbert in a big MGM historical swashbuckling adventure thought lost for decades until a print was found recently in France.

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

'Underworld' (1927) will be shown at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. on Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit For more information about the music, visit

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Epic adventure on Thursday, April 14:
'The Thief of Bagdad' in Plymouth, N.H.

An original poster for 'The Thief of Bagdad.

It's almost like getting two films in one!

That's the thought I have about 'The Thief of Bagdad,' the great adventure film that probably marked the high point in the career of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

It was an age when filmmakers were exploring the limits of what this new medium, the motion picture, could do. And Fairbanks wanted to keep up.

So he created this adaptation of the 'One Thousand and One Nights' legends of Arabia. And he really hit it out of the park, if you ask me.

More than most silent films, this one puts me in the mind of a child going to see this film when it was first released. What a wonder it must have been!

And today, if you allow your inner child to come forth, 'The Thief of Bagdad' still is.

So what about those two films in one?

Well, the film's first half plays like a fantastical romance. Set in a mythical Bagdad of yore (created in Art Deco style by William Cameron Menzies), the first half contains more than enough story and visual splendor to satisfy a movie-goer of the time, or of any time, really.

But then!

In the second half, Fairbanks busts out of the boundaries of Bagdad and takes the film into flights of pure visual fantasy.

We get underwater sequences, battles with monsters, animated trees—not to mention the famous flying carpet.

There had been nothing like it in cinema, and really hasn't been anything quite like it since, I think.

See it for yourself on the big screen on Thursday, April 14, when we screen 'The Thief of Bagdad' at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

More details in the press release below. Hope you can join us!

* * *

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. playing the title role in 'The Thief of Bagdad.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Flying Monkey to screen 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) with live music on Thursday, April 14

Epic silent film fantasy classic starring Douglas Fairbanks set new standards for Hollywood magic

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — Silent film with live music returns to the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center with a screening of one of early Hollywood's most exciting fantasy adventure movies.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. stars in 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), to be shown on Thursday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 South Main St. in Plymouth.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

The screening continues the Flying Monkey's monthly series of silent film screenings, which aims to revive big-screen showings of great silent features—the films that first caused audiences to fall in love with the movies.

"If you've never seen a silent film in a theater with live music and an audience, the Fairbanks pictures are a great way to experience the medium at its best," Rapsis said. "When you put all the elements together, silent film has an ability to stir up emotions in a way that no other medium can."

The athletic Fairbanks was the Harrison Ford of his time—a pioneering action hero among the first to entertain movie audiences with thrilling on-screen adventures. Among his best work is 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924), a timeless adventure boasting a great story, spectacular sets, and magical special effects.

In 'The Thief of Bagdad,' a bare-chested Fairbanks plays a crafty rogue who easily steals everything his heart desires—everything, that is, except the love of a beautiful princess, daughter of the powerful Caliph of Bagdad.

To win her hand, he must not only change his ways, but also convince her of his worthiness over many other highly placed suitors.

In making the film, Fairbanks spared no expense for what some critics still regard as the most lavish fantasy movie ever made, a show-stopping adaptation of the traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" story in which a flying carpet is just one of many eye-popping sights that astounded movies audiences at the time.

Fairbanks, swaggering through massive marketplace sets and cavernous throne rooms as an incorrigible pickpocket, scales towering walls (with the help of a magic rope) and leads merry chases through crowded bazaars in his pursuit of loot—until he falls in love with the princess and vows to win her heart.

The jaunty opening is a preamble to the film's spectacular second half, in which the repentant thief embarks on an odyssey through caverns of fire, underwater palaces, and even outer space. Special effects range from a smoke-belching dragon to a magical flying horse, and still glow with a timeless sense of wonder from the early days of movies.

Soaring over a stylized Bagdad skyline.

William Cameron Menzies's sets were among the largest ever created for a motion picture. Especially noteworthy is his design for a mythical Bagdad, a unique combination of Art Deco and Islamic elements—a dream city inspired by illustrations from story books.

Fairbanks, one of the most popular stars of the 1920s, was the inspiration for the character of George Valentin in the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture 'The Artist' (2011). Fairbanks was known for films that used the then-new medium of motion pictures to transport audiences to historical time periods for grand adventures and athletic stunts. He's often referred to as "Douglas Fairbanks Sr." to avoid confusion with his son, the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Live music for 'The Thief of Bagdad' will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to create a traditional full orchestra "movie score" sound.

More than 90 nears after its premiere, 'The Thief of Bagdad' continues to be held in high regard. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Fairbanks himself considered 'The Thief of Bagdad' to be his personal favorite of all of his films.

'The Thief of Bagdad' is appropriate for family audiences, although very small children may find some sequences frightening. The film runs 2 hours and 34 minutes.

Upcoming programs in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Thursday, May 12, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: "Paths to Paradise" (1925) and "Hands Up!" (1926). A double feature of films starring Raymond Griffith, a talented comic who at one time rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the silent comedy pantheon.

• Thursday, June 9, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: "The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1926). Epic Western drama starring Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper about the settling and irrigation of California's Imperial Valley, once a wasteland but now an agricultural paradise.

All movies in Flying Monkey's silent film series are rarely screened in a way that allows them to be seen at their best. To revive them, organizers aim to show the films as they were intended—in top quality restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks will be screened with live music on Thursday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St. in Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person. For more information, call the theater at (603) 536-2551 or visit; for more information on the music, visit

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On different versions of silent films:
It may have no arms, but it's still a masterpiece

I've recently accompanied two film prints of widely known silent movies that had significant differences from what I expected.

In one case, it was a 35mm print of 'Intolerance' (1916) that was missing dozens of key scenes, often substituted for with frame grabs.

In another case, it was a 16mm print of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928) that was missing key information in titles, and so didn't make much sense to the audience.

In both examples, I've seen other versions of the films that each had the missing footage or titles. But these prints just didn't have them.

When this happens, I tell people that silent film often has to be considered in the same we the "Venus De Milo" is looked at in sculpture.

Yes, it has no arms. But it's still recognized as a masterpiece.

And the lack of arms is part of the sculpture's greatness, I think, as it shows so visibly the perilous journey of anything from antiquity that has come down to us today.

It also invites us to collaborate, in a way. We can't help but imagine what to us would be the most perfect arms, their position, their placement, and so on.

Like a lot of art, it prompts us to come up with our own visions to complete it. And each person's vision is bound to be unique and different and perhaps more perfect (to you) than any sculptor could have made them.

Franz Schubert, composer of the 'Unfinished' Symphony.

Same thing in music with Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony. Okay, it's missing the last two movements of the typical format of a symphony of its time.

But it stands on its own as a satisfying and complete piece of music. And part of its special beauty is that it leaves us wondering what might have been.

And so it is with a lot of silent film, I say.

Many films, including well-known classics like the two mentioned above, exist in different versions, different formats, and sometimes with significant pieces missing: lost arms, so to speak.

This can seem surprising to people because we live in an age where a movie is always expected to be complete, a whole thing, either in a theater or DVD or online or whatever.

No matter how you watched 'Frozen,' it's the same film.

No so with early cinema, where archaeology is a useful frame of mind to have. Often, to assemble a reasonably complete version of even a well-known title requires pulling material from archives all over the world.

And then there's the whole conundrum of European versions vs. American versions; home cut-downs vs. full theatrical releases; prints butchered by local censors and projection booth mishaps.

Even at the time of original release, there was often no one definitive version of a film. After releasing 'Intolerance,' director D.W. Griffith would visit projection booths where the film was running and try to edit the prints on the spot!

Raymond Griffith in 'Paths to Paradise' (1925).

One of the best examples of a film that's missing a big chunk, but still worth watching, is Raymond Griffith's 'Paths to Paradise' (1925), which I'm accompanying next month at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. and also the Somerville Theatre in Boston.

In the version that's come down to us, the film ends with a crackerjack cross-country chase worthy of Buster Keaton. In my experience, it never fails to get an audience going.

So afterwards, people are stunned to learn that the film is actually missing its entire last reel!

From what I understand, after a pause for the audience to catch its collective breath, Griffith takes his chase one big step further for the film's real climax.

Does it work? We can't say because no one has ever found a copy of the last reel.

It may still be out there. A century after silent film flourished, reels of original nitrate film turn up in the most unlikely of places.

So keep looking.

And while you're at it, if you happen to spot a pair of marble arms, let me know.