Friday, August 26, 2016

This Saturday: Valentino's 'Son of the Sheik'
with live music at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

Valentino in 'Son of the Sheik.' Showtime at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall is Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.

It's been a good month for media attention!

Earlier this month, I got a nice write-up in the Boston Globe. (See the link on the right of this page.)

This week, the Addison Independent, a twice-weekly paper in Middlebury, Vt., published a terrific piece by Charmaine Lam, a young writer on their staff.

What's great about Charlene's piece is not that it's about me. It's great because Charmaine was able to turn a long and rambling phone interview into a piece that covered a lot of ground, is easy to read, and completely and totally accurate. (Even more miraculously, it made me sound something like coherent!)

I've had to do this, and let me tell you: it's not easy, especially if the subject is totally new to you, which was the case with Charmaine.

So congratulations to her on a job well done. I expect it will bring new folks to our next screening in nearby Brandon, Vt., which is coming up this weekend.

For this one, we turn to drama: Rudolph Valentino in 'Son of the Sheik' (1926). Showtime is Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall.

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

And special thanks to the many sponsors who support the Brandon series, including Pam and Steve Douglass, sponsors of the Valentino program.

* * *

Valentino and Vilma Banky in 'Son of the Sheik' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Iconic screen lover Rudolph Valentino stars at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 27

Silent romantic epic 'Son of the Sheik' to be screened with live music on 90th anniversary of star's tragic early death

BRANDON, Vt.—He was the cinema’s first sex symbol, causing hordes of female moviegoers to flock to his pictures throughout the 1920s.

He starred in films designed to show off his Latin looks, his smoldering eyes, and his dancer’s body. And his untimely death in August, 1926 prompted mob scenes at funeral in New York.

He was Rudolph Valentino, who remains an icon for on-screen passion long after he caused a sensation in the 1920s.

One of Valentino’s most acclaimed films will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt.

The screening is free and open to the public. Donations are accepted to help support the town hall's ongoing renovation and restoration. The screening is sponsored by Brandon residents Pam and Steve Douglass.

Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

In 'Son of the Sheik' Valentino tackles two roles, as a father and his son.

Ahmed (Rudolph Valentino), the son of an Arab sheik and a kidnapped English gentlewoman (Agnes Ayres), loves local dancing girl Yasmin (Vilma Banky).

When he slips out of his father's heavily guarded compound to woo her, he is kidnapped and held for ransom by a group of bandits led by Yasmin's father (George Fawcett) and Ghabah (Montagu Love), the Moor to whom she is betrothed.

Can Valentino escape the clutches of his enemies and win the heart of his true love?

'Son of the Sheik' will be preceded by selected short subjects.

'Son of the Sheik' was a sequel to 1921's 'The Sheik,' an immensely popular film that established Valentino as the silent screen's great lover.

Then actor's final film, ‘Son of the Sheik’ was released following his death on Aug. 23, 1926 from complications from peritonitis. Valentino was only 31 years old.

The death took place at the height of his career, inspiring a day-long mob scene at the actor’s New York funeral.

An Italian immigrant who arrived penniless at Ellis Island in 1913, Valentino rose to superstar status in a series of silent pictures that enflamed the passions of female movie-goers from coast to coast and around the world. But he was more than a pretty face—during his career, critics praised Valentino as a versatile actor capable of playing a variety of roles; his achievements included popularizing the Argentinian tango in the 1921 drama ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’

But Valentino's brief stardom was defined by the ‘Sheik’ roles, which brought a new level of exotic sexuality to the movies, causing a sensation at the time. In theaters, women openly swooned over Valentino’s on-screen image, especially in roles such as the ‘Sheik,’ which featured elaborate costumes. At its peak, his popularity was so immense that it inspired a backlash among many male movie-goers, who decried Valentino’s elegant image and mannerisms as effeminate.

Valentino’s sudden death fueled his status as a legendary romantic icon of the cinema. For years, a mysterious woman dressed in black would visit his grave at the Hollywood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving only a single red rose.

Valentino was aware of his effect on audiences, saying that “Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas upon which the women paint their dreams.”

The Valentino program continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings. “There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes he creates beforehand. None of the the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

Upcoming events in Brandon Town Hall's 2016 silent film series include:

• Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016: Charlie Chaplin in 'The Kid' (1921). In Chaplin's breakthrough feature, a story with "a smile, and perhaps a tear," the Little Tramp raises an orphan. Sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016: Chiller Theatre, 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928). Get into the Halloween spirit with this creepy Gothic thriller starring Conrad Veidt. Sponsored by Omya, Inc.

Rudolph Valentino is 'Son of the Sheik' will be shown on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Coming up: A double dose of Rudolph Valentino
— plus composing, scoring a piece for orchestra

Some of our Kilimanjaro team at Karanga Camp, 12,800 feet, six days into the trek and two days before our summit attempt.

A cluster of shows coming up this week, including two screenings of Valentino's 'Son of the Sheik' (1926) in two very different parts of New England.

And then the decks will be cleared to make progress on a project that I'm very excited about—one involving that big mountain pictured above.

But first things first: the Valentino screenings will honor the 90th anniversary of the star's untimely death, which occurred on Aug. 23, 1926.

To mark this occasion, we're running his final film—'Son of the Sheik' (1926)—at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine on Thursday, Aug. 25, and then again on Saturday, Aug. 27 in Brandon Town Hall up in Brandon, Vt.

Detailed info about either screening can be found by clicking on the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at the upper right.

Coming to a theater near you—if you live in Maine or Vermont.

Valentino is one of the few silent-era stars whose name still holds sway with the public. So we usually get a good turnout when his name is on the program.

It's a great way to experience the special magic that he brought to the silver screen, so hope to see you there!

And then on Sunday, Aug. 28, it's the final installment of our summer series of silent boxing films at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

Keaton puts up his dukes in 'Battling Butler.

We're finishing with Buster Keaton's uproarious comedy, 'Battling Butler' (1926). The bell rings at 4:30 p.m.

Though not regarded as one of Buster's timeless classics, 'Butler' was the highest-grossing of any of Keaton's silent features in the 1920s.

In fact, its box office success was one reason that producer Joe Schenck allowed Keaton to go ahead with his ambitious next film, 'The General.'

So if you've enjoyed the Civil War adventure regarded as Buster's masterpiece, you might want to check out 'Butler,' the film that helped make it possible.

Why boxing? Popular in the 1920s, it remains a compelling marriage of civilization and brutality. Read Joyce Carol Oates' 'On Boxing' and you'll see what I mean.

Okay. what about this new project?

This summer, in-between improv-heavy silent film gigs, I've been putting together something completely different: a written-down piece for orchestra.

It's not a film score. It's a concert piece.

Kilimanjaro: the highest and biggest free-standing mountain the world.

Specifically, it's a musical depiction of Mount Kilimanjaro—you know, the big snow-capped peak in East Africa.

And it's scheduled to be played in January, 2017 by the New Hampshire Philharmonic, an orchestra based right here in my home state!

Just today I noticed the piece is listed on the Philharmonic's Web site (, so I figured it would be okay to go public.

The thing is, I'm still working on it, and expect to continue to do so for awhile yet. So this might help spur me on.

(Leonard Bernstein wrote music based on 'The Age of Anxiety.' Today, we live in 'The Age of Distraction.')

We negotiate the "Kissing Rock" on a cliff known as the Breakfast Wall above Barranco Camp.

Over the years I've been doing live accompaniment for silent films, I've gradually developed a musical vocabulary or language that I feel works for me.

And now I sense it's time to start using it in ways that are different from the improvised movie scores genre.

I still expect most of my musical energies will go towards creating in-the-moment film music.

But I sense it's time to starting writing some things down and see how that goes.

Why Kilimanjaro? Unexpected forces conspired to make this happen.

For starters, I had the good fortune to be part of a team that successfully reached Kilimanjaro's 19,431-foot summit in January 2015.

Our team on Day 5, coming down from Lava Tower Camp at 15,000 feet.

I didn't sign up for artistic purposes. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

But I was surprised to find the 10-day journey of hauling yourself up and then down the highest peak in Africa is an experience filled with music of various types.

One example: on the final overnight push to the summit, as we slowly ascended a narrow trail through the pre-dawn darkness, Tanzanian guides from several teams spontaneously sang traditional Christian hymns in Swahili. Wow!

Also, not a day goes by on the mountain without people breaking out into "Jambo Bwana," otherwise known as the Kilimanjaro Song.

On a more abstract level, there's the mountain itself. Go there and march all around it, as we did, and you'll find it makes music all its own.

Someone once said that great architecture is music frozen in time. I think that's true with nature, too—or at least that's what I found with Kilimanjaro.

On the summit, dawn, Jan. 10, 2015. Groups generally spend only a half-hour at the top of Kilimanjaro due to lack of oxygen and cold temperatures.

And I felt I wanted to capture some of that: the long trek across the volcanic plains, the drama of scrambling up the "Breakfast Wall," the intense experience of marching one step at a time at high altitude to the frozen summit ridge.

But there's more. It turns out that Mark Latham, the Philharmonic's music director, is from a family of British medical officers with a long history on Kilimanjaro.

Mark's grandfather was the first Englishman to climb to the summit following World War I, after the Germans ceded what was then the colony of "Tanganyika" to the United Kingdom.

Another one of his relatives (I think Mark's great-uncle) was the guy who discovered the frozen leopard on Kilimanjaro's upper slopes that Ernest Hemingway made so much of.

One of the sub peaks is "Latham Peak," and a key spot on the main climbing route is "Stella Point," named after Mark's great aunt, apparently the first woman to ever reach the summit.

Summit photo op. How often do you get to pose with a receding glacier?

And Mark himself was born in Tanzania, and climbed Kilimanjaro some years ago. Prior to our more recent ascent, he let us look through the family's scrapbooks, which was fascinating.

All of this seemed to be drawing us all together and suggesting that we do something musical about Kilimanjaro. And so we are!

So mark your calendars: the Philharmonic has the "Kilimanjaro Suite" on their schedule for Saturday, Jan. 20 and again on Sunday, Jan. 21.

And once this is done, I can start work on that long-awaited Pam Smart opera.

Me at the end of our climb, inspecting the "Tourist Rescue Book."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tonight: scoring 'Metropolis' in Ludlow, Vt.,
plus thoughts about Valentino's "Sheik" films

Working for the man in 'Metropolis' (1927).

Very excited about the chance to do live music tonight (Saturday, Aug. 20) for a screening of 'Metropolis' in Ludlow, Vt.

Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Ludlow Auditorium, which is upstairs from the town offices. It was never designed to be a movie theater, but it's a great place to experience silent film.

Among the reasons: the people are great, and so are the acoustics.

More info about tonight's screening is in the press release below.

For now, a few notes about Rudolph Valentino. His untimely death occurred on Aug. 23, 1926, which means the 90th anniversary is coming up next week.

He's one of the few stars from the silent era who remain a household name. Today, "Valentino" is still a synonym for exotic romance, even among people who've never seen any of his movies.

To help remedy that, I scheduled a spate of Valentino flicks in various places this month, with a special emphasis on 'Son of the Sheik' (1926), Valentino's final film.

Originally, I had intended to run double bills consisting of the original 1921 'The Sheik' as well as 'Son,' which was its sequel.

But a program featuring both titles runs well over three hours. And too much of anything—even Valentino—is not always wise.

So I've pared back most of the screenings to just 'Son of the Sheik,' generally regarded as the better of the two.

Overall, the original 'Sheik' is slower paced and more old-fashioned. The sequel is much zippier, more fun, and technically superior. Movie-making had advanced a lot in just five years.

However, now I'm not so sure. Last week I did run both back-to-back at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

And 'The Sheik' held up better than I expected, while its sequel seemed flat and less focused.

Vilma Banky and Rudy in 'Son of the Sheik.'

Afterwards, I polled the audience (about 40 people), and reaction was split right down the middle. Half preferred 'The Sheik,' while half preferred the sequel.

So we'll see. Maybe it really was just too much all at once, and 'Son of the Shiek' will come into its own when run on its own.

We'll find out next week, when I accompany the film on Thursday, Aug. 25 at the Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine, and then again on Saturday, Aug. 27 up in Brandon, Vt.

The one reqret I have about not running both films is that I lose the opportunity to create two intersecting scores.

Example: In 'The Sheik,' throughout the film I used a certain bold melodic signature for Valentino's title character and wove it into the score.

Then, for 'Son of the Sheik,' I used a completely different motif for the title character (the Sheik's son), and otherwise completely different material around it as well.

So THEN, when the Sheik's father shows up in the latter film, I brought back the original motif from the first movie, a move I thought was really effective.

But you can't achieve effects like that when you run only one title. Still, I'll do my best to help 'Son' connect with audiences curious about the Valentino appeal.

Poster for the original 'Sheik' film in 1921.

Speaking of which: one thing about 'Son' that's necessary to explain is that Valentino was to some extent making fun of his reputation as the screen's greatest lover.

Watch both Sheik films in succession, it's easy to see this. But without context, some of his moves in 'Son' might get taken the wrong way. "Oh, those primitive silent movies!" So it necessary to say a few works about that.

The good news is that both pictures hold up quite well on their own, so I'm looking forward to presenting more Valentino later this month.

But first, the imagined future beckons. Come up to Ludlow, Vt. tonight and see one of the biggies! More info in the press release below.

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Futuristic silent film epic 'Metropolis' (1927)
to be shown in Ludlow on Saturday, Aug. 20

Landmark early sci-fi fantasy movie, with half-hour of rediscovered footage, to be shown with live music at Ludlow (Vt.) Town Hall Auditorium

LUDLOW, Vt.—A silent film hailed as the granddaddy of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. at Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium.

The screening, sponsored by FOLA (Friends of the Ludlow Auditorium), will allow audiences to experience silent film in the way its creators originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

The show, like all movies at the Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium, is free and open to the public. 'Metropolis' will be preceded by a short silent comedy film starring Buster Keaton.

"'Metropolis' is one of the great all-time classics of cinema, and we're thrilled to present it so fans can experience it with an audience and live music," said Ralph Pace, programmer and organizer of the series.

Original music for 'Metropolis' will be performed live by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and silent film accompanist who performs at screenings around the nation.

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a futuristic city where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live deep underground.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and flying cars, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.'

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, FOLA aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, 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 will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

Brigitte Helm works her triceps in 'Metropolis.'

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened in Ludlow a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927. The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

Evil Scientist! Boo!

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

In 1984, the film was reissued with additional footage, color tints, and a pop rock score (but with many of its intertitles removed) by music producer Giorgio Moroder. A more archival restoration was completed in 1987, under the direction of Enno Patalas of the Munich Film Archive, in which missing scenes were represented with title cards and still photographs.

More recently, a 2001 restoration combined footage from four archives and was widely believed that this would be the most complete version of Lang's film that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see. But in the summer of 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included not merely a few additional snippets, but 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery of such a significant amount of material called for yet another restoration, which debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened in Ludlow.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who provides live music for silent film screenings throughout New England.

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

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. at Ludlow Town Hall Auditorium, 137 Depot St. in Ludlow, Vt. The screening is sponsored by the Friends of Ludlow Auditorium. Admission is free; donations are encouraged. For more information about the FOLA and its events, visit or call (802) 228-7239.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Next up at the Somerville Theatre:
'Stella Maris' in 35mm on Sunday, Aug. 14

Conway Tearle and Mary Pickford in 'Stella Maris' (1918).

Very excited for the Boston Globe (our region's biggest newspaper) to publish a preview about our screening of Mary Pickford's 'Stella Maris' (1918) on Sunday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m.

Writer Loren King put together a nice piece on the film and on my approach to accompanying it.

It's online here, although you may need to be a subscriber to see the whole thing.

I've also posted it as a separate page under the "More Information" area to the right. Check it out!

I'm behind on postings and previews due to a heavy performance schedule in the past week.

Got back this past Monday from our stay in Rome, Italy, and then it was a silent film screening every single night for the rest of the week!

Tuesday, Aug. 9 was 'Desert Nights' (1929), a late MGM silent with John Gilbert, Mary Nolan, and Ernest Torrance battling to survive in the Kalahari Desert.

I love these end-of-the-road silents because they were generally overlooked when first released, and often contain some really good stuff.

'Desert Nights' was a prime example: a big MGM production with a strong cast and technically quite accomplished, and a film I'd never heard of or accompanied before.

Audience reaction at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library was strong. 'Desert Nights' still holds up. So it's one to file in the "unknown but surprisingly good" category.

The entrance to the Biltmore ballroom, site of a 1925 "world premiere."

Wednesday, Aug. 10 brought an unusual gig at the vintage Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence, R.I.

I accompanied the great 1925 comedy 'Her Sister From Paris' in a ballroom packed with people dressed as vacationers from the 1890s through the 1920s.

This was part of a week-long "seaside vacation" experience run by "Moments in Time," a Connecticut-based group dedicated to reviving vintage holiday-making, with an emphasis on period dress and dance.

The events attract people from all over the nation: at the pre-show dinner, among my tablemates were a couple from North Carolina who clearly enjoyed the chance to visit a bygone era, sartorially and otherwise.

Showing a silent film with live music was a new wrinkle in this group's activities, and I'm pleased to report it was a smash hit.

Really! You know you're in for a good time when even the open titles generate raucous laughter.

But this turned out to be one of those great, great nights, where the film clicks right from the start and audience response is non-stop.

Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman and a ballroom full of people dressed in vintage clothing. What's not to like?

Backstage at the Biltmore: what employees see when exiting any of the three service elevators, one of which is reserved exclusively for room service.

Because it was in an upstairs ballroom in an actual working hotel, I myself had the unusual experience of having to load-in not through the lobby, but "back stage" through the loading dock and service elevators.

It being a humid night with temps in the 90s, I have renewed respect and sympathy for the people who delivery room service. And I appreciated the "Smile, You're About to Go On Stage" reminders (in English and Spanish) in the employee elevators.

But everyone could not have been nicer and more helpful. So here's hoping there's room for more silent film screenings in future "Moments in Time" activities.

The Clayton family (owners of the Leavitt Theatre) always outdo themselves in producing large-format "sandwich board" sidewalk placards, even for obscure films.

Thursday, Aug. 11 saw me returning to the historic Leavitt Theatre (opened in 1923 and virtually unchanged since) in Ogunquit, Maine for "Silent Comedy Night" featuring Harry Langdon in 'Tramp Tramp Tramp' (1926).

Prior to the show, I polled the audience to see if any Langdon groupies were on hand. Surprisingly, some were!

With a modest turnout of about 50 people (and another warm night) one took a while to get going.

But no matter what else happens, it always comes to life when Harry winds up literally hanging by a thread over a cliffside. And that's what happened on Thursday night, and it was smooth sailing (and much laughter) from that point on.

A one-sheet promo for 'The Yankee Clipper.'

Friday, Aug. 12 brought me to Concord's Red River Theatres and 'The Yankee Clipper' (1927) starring William Boyd, known today mostly for his later work as "Hopalong Cassidy" in innumerable Westerns.

It was the latest installment of our monthly silent film program.

In summer, turnout for this series is sometimes anemic. But not the case this time: we nearly filled the small screening room with a crowd pumped for adventure on the high seas.

To try to stir up appropriate excitement, I opened my introduction like this:

Me: "Okay, how many Hopalong Cassidy fans do we have here tonight?"

Crowd: Yay!

Me: "And how many people here are fans of those great sailing vessels, the tall ships and the clipper ships?"

Crowd: Bigger Yay!

Me: "And how many fans do we have of U.S. President Zachary Taylor?!"

Crowd: Biggest yay of all, but possibly ironic.

But they really, really enjoyed the flick, a Cecil B. DeMille production that really holds up well. The fact that it's set in the 1840s gives it a timeless quality and a "history comes to life" kind of appeal similar to Buster Keaton's 'The General.'

As an added bonus, 'The Yankee Clipper' cast includes New Hampshire native Walter Long in yet another "tough guy" role, in this case "Ironhead Joe" who meets his requisite end only after having tobacco "chaw" being spit in his face by Junior Coughlin.

Long's appearance shouldn't be a surprise, though, as he seems to have appeared in about 70 percent of all films made during the silent era.

Someone should write a book about this interesting guy, who acted in everything from 'The Birth of a Nation' and 'Intolerance' to Laurel and Hardy comedies.

If they do, here's a working title: "Witness to Hollywood."

And that brings us up to today, when I'll head down to Beantown (otherwise known as Boston) and do music for 'Stella Maris' at the Somerville Theatre.

Not only does the cast include Mary Pickford playing two roles, but also features the legendary actor Gustav Von Seyffertitz (who would later play the evil "baby farm" owner in Pickford's 'Sparrows' in 1926) and Teddy the Dog, on loan from Mack Sennett's studio, where he routinely rescued damsels in distress. (Here he gets to experience more lasting satisfaction.)

Showtime is 2 p.m. The print is 35mm. What are you waiting for?

For more info, check out the press release I've pasted in below.

And for even more info, here's a great write-up from a Pickford blog-a-thon from a few years ago.

And here's a different perspective (and somewhat less charitable) from a paper in Asheville, N.C. prior to a recent screening.

For a film that's nearly a century old, 'Stella Maris' still gets a lot of press!

See you there!

* * *

The wonders of 1918 split-screen photography bring us Mary Pickford and Mary Pickford playing two lead roles in 'Stella Maris.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Somerville Theatre to show rare silent feature film starring Mary Pickford

Intense melodrama 'Stella Maris' (1918) to be screened in 35mm and with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—She was a pioneering figure in early cinema, and all the more remarkable because she worked in an otherwise male-dominated industry.

She was Mary Pickford, one of biggest superstars of the silent film era, as well as a major force behind the cameras during her long career.

Rediscover Pickford's unique appeal with a screening of 'Stella Maris' (1918), a melodrama starring Pickford, which will be shown with live music on Sunday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

The film will be screened using a 35mm print from the U.S. Library of Congress. General admission to program is $15 per person.

Pickford was a screen veteran with nearly 10 years of experience and already a major star when she made 'Stella Maris,' a melodrama in which she played two roles.

Stella Maris (Mary Pickford), paralyzed since birth, lives in an opulent mansion and has virtually no knowledge of the outside world. She adores her frequent visitor John Risca (Conway Tearle), a journalist stuck in a loveless marriage to Louise (Marcia Manon).

After Louise viciously beats her maid Unity Blake (also Pickford), she is jailed, and Unity too falls in love with John. The two young women are hopelessly enamored of the same man, and after Louise's release something has to give.

'Stella Maris' is a classic example of the kind of emotionally charged melodrama that was immensely popular during the silent era, and which still holds up today when screened as intended—with live music, in a theater, and with an audience.

The film was directed by Marshall Neilan, a frequent Pickford collaborator.

Pickford, a pioneering film superstar, was a major force in early Hollywood, helping establish the United Artists studio and serving as a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which to this day bestows the annual Oscar awards.

However, Pickford's films receive comparatively little attention today, in part due to the myth that Pickford often played wholesome and traditional female characters that conformed with society's expectations at the time.

In truth, Pickford's best movies often featured her in roles that required her to take action, challenge authority, and play strong roles uncommon for a woman of the era.

Pickford would go on to make many successful films throughout the silent period, and further cemented her status as Hollywood royalty by marrying swashbuckling adventure icon Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1920.

The Pickford program is the latest installment of the Somerville Theatre's monthly "Silents, Please!" series, designed to showcase the silent era's best feature films the way they were intended to be shown—using actual 35mm film prints projected on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all these elements together, the films come to life in a way that's surprising to modern audiences," said Ian Judge, the Somerville's general manager. "Our silent film series has been very successful at attracting an audience, we're thrilled to continue it on a monthly basis."

'Stella Maris' will be accompanied by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician and composer.

For silent film, Rapsis improvises music in real time, while the film is running, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the "movie score" texture of a full orchestra.

"Making up a score live is a bit of a high-wire act, but it allows me to follow and support the film a lot more effectively than if I was buried in sheet music," Rapsis said. "Instead, I'm free to follow the film right in the moment. Each time it's different, which lends a certain energy and immediacy and excitement to the experience."

'Stella Maris,' a silent melodrama starring Mary Pickford, will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission is $15 adults, $12 students/seniors; general admission seating. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit For more info on the music, visit