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

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