Monday, January 9, 2017

'Peter Pan' (1924) on Thursday, 1/12 at Flying Monkey; also, Sunday's 'Metropolis' sell-out

Original poster art for 'Peter Pan' (1924).

Up next on the accompaniment calendar: the original silent film version of 'Peter Pan' (1924), which we're running on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

More details about that screening are in the press release pasted at the end of this post.

For now, bulletin from the recent past, meaning Sunday, Jan. 8:

A capacity crowd cheered 'Metropolis' (1927) last night, which I accompanied at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

And when I say "capacity," that's what I mean. The brewery's main room, which doubles as a performance space, was absolutely packed from one side to the other.

That "standing room only" syndrome often creates the kind of excitement that helps a silent film come to life, and that's what happened last night.

Also, with outside temperatures hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it helped keep everyone warm and cozy!

Look for details soon about a special "pre-Valentine's Day" silent film screening at Aeronaut on Sunday, Feb. 12.

I haven't looked back at the records, but 'Metropolis' is probably the one film I've accompanied live more than any other.

It's a perennial favorite and seems to always produce a strong turn-out—heck, we did it at Aeronaut just last April, and this repeat show still sold out. People just never seem to tire of it.

Because of how frequently I've done music for it, I have a set of 'Metropolis' melodies and chord sequences that I've come to use in scoring the film.

The music always comes out differently, because during the screening I improvise freely. But I draw from the same set of maybe a half-dozen themes that I've developed over the years.

There's a set of chords and a melody for the machines and the great city. There's another melody for Freder Fredersen, and one for his father, both of which get used extensively beyond just signifying the each character.

Freder's tune comes to signify the noble aspirations of the brotherhood the working man, while his father's tune gets used when needed to illustrate the imposition of the will of the upper class in oppressing the working people.

And one melody is a favorite: a kind of futuristic brassy Broadway dance tune that gets used when the "machine Maria" first seduces the upper class, and then comes to signify her insidious influence in leading the workers to rise up.

There are others, but one that I've never had a satisfying tune for is Rotwang, the mad scientist.

Every time I do 'Metropolis,' I try to come up with something for Rotwang that's distinct and helps his pronouncements and actions stand out. But I never seem to get it just right.

Until last night: at the Aeronaut, I surprised myself by playing a nervous melody that squirrels around a bit for a few notes, and then jumps up to two higher notes as if surprised, and instantly I knew I had it!

In 'Metropolis': Rotwang finally gets his own tune.

It's funny, too—the music I use for 'Metropolis' rarely gets recycled for other films that I accompany. It just doesn't fit any other movie but 'Metropolis,' I think.

So now that I have a full set of material for 'Metropolis,' I'm thinking of writing it out in some way so that it's not just in my head.

Because the movie is structured in three parts, and each is labeled with a musical term, it seems natural to get the music into a three-movement form that mirrors that outline.

With the upcoming premier of my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra, I've been eager to put more music to paper, and this sounds like a natural to add to the list.

About the 'Kilimanjaro' piece: I don't want to overdo it, but here's an update.

One unfortunate by-product of last night's 'Metropolis' screening was that I was unable to attend a New Hampshire Philharmonic rehearsal in which they played through parts of the score.

But they'll be rehearsing again next Sunday, and you can bet your buttons I'll be on hand for that. :)

In the meantime, we'll have press releases going out this week to all local media about the concert, and I'll post them here (on my Kilimanjaro page, at right) when the time comes.

First up, however, is 'Peter Pan' (1924), which probably runs a close second to 'Metropolis' in terms of how many times I've accompanied it live.

Hoping for a strong turnout for the screening on Thursday night. Here's all the info in a press release:

* * *

Betty Bronson in 'Peter Pan' (1924), the original silent film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's famous fantasy.

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

Silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Jan. 12

Magical family movie classic to be shown with live musical score

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It was the film that introduced movie-goers to visions of flying children, magical fairies, human-like animals and menacing pirates.

It was the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan,' a picture personally supervised by author J.M. Barrie. The film was a major hit when released in 1924, with audiences eager to get their first big-screen look at the wonders of Neverland.

Movie fans can see for themselves when the first 'Peter Pan' (1924) is screened on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The film is appropriate for all ages, making for a unique evening of family entertainment. Admission is $10 per person.

Thought lost for many years, and overshadowed by more recent adaptations, the original silent 'Peter Pan' maintains its freshness and charm 90 years after its original release.

In the story, first presented as a stage play in 1904, three children in London are visited one night by Peter Pan, a youth in search of his shadow. Pan shows his new friends how to fly, and then convinces them to join him in a journey to Neverland.

There they encounter Indians, mermaids, and a band of pirates whose leader, Captain Hook, is Pan's sworn enemy. The children are captured by Hook and taken prisoner aboard his pirate ship, setting the stage for an epic battle, the outcome of which will determine if the children may ever return home.

Though the Peter Pan story is well-known today due to subsequent adaptations (and also merchandising that includes a ubiquitous brand of peanut butter), the tale was virtually new when Hollywood first brought it to film in the early 1920s.

In England, author Barrie gave his blessing to the first-ever screen adaptation, though he retained control over casting and insisted that any written titles in the film be taken directly from his own text.

After a major talent search, Barrie settled on unknown 18-year-old actress Betty Bronson for the title role, and filming began in 1924. The role of Captain Hook was played by noted character actor Ernest Torrence, who invented the now-iconic villainous pirate persona that would become a Hollywood legend.

The film's highlights include special effects that maintain their ability to dazzle even today. The film's memorable images include a group of mermaids entering the sea, a miniature Tinkerbell interacting with full-sized children and adults, and a pirate ship lifting out of the water and taking flight.

'Peter Pan' also includes a cast of animal characters played by humans in costume, including the family dog Nana and an alligator who serves as Hook's nemesis, lending the film a magical quality.

After the film's release, no copies of the original 'Peter Pan' were known to exist, and for many years the film was regarded as lost. However, in the 1950s a single surviving print turned up in the George Eastman Archives in Rochester, N.Y., from which all copies today have descended.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 100 performances per year, and has created music for more than 250 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

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

Rapsis said it's currently a new golden age for silent film because so many titles have been restored, and are now available to watch at home or via online streaming.

However, the Flying Monkey series enables film fans to really understand the power of early cinema, which was intended to be shown on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put those elements together like we do at the Flying Monkey, and films from the silent era spring right back to life in a way that helps you understand why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

Upcoming silent film titles at the Flying Monkey include:

• 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.

• 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!

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Thursday, Jan. 12 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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