Friday, March 31, 2017

This weekend: Buster Keaton's 'Cameraman'
in the country, then 'Peter Pan' in the city

This weekend's venues for silent film cover a wide range: a Catholic college in rural New Hampshire, and then a hipster brewery in urban Boston.

On Saturday night, it's Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928) at Northeast Catholic College way up in Warner, N.H.

And then on Sunday, it's the original silent film adaptation of 'Peter Pan' (1924) at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass.

Our part of New England is getting a good amount of snow now through Saturday. But that shouldn't impede this pair of silent film shows.

One nice thing about this weekend's screenings has been the publicity.

I always send out press materials, but you never know what will be used, and when, and how.

For this weekend, I've lucked out with some good coverage.

For the Keaton screening, the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, a highly respected daily paper, devoted quite a bit of space to this story. Thanks!

And for the Aeronaut 'Peter Pan' screening, writer Sean Burns did a great job pulling together a fairly lengthy piece, especially by Metro standards.

Also, here's a screen capture of the story in the print edition:

So whether it's country-style silent film you crave, or if you prefer a more urban setting, there's something for every taste this weekend.

Press releases for both films (with a lot more info) are pasted in below. See, I really do send out press materials!

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An original poster for Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928), running on April Fool's Day (Saturday, April 1) at Northeast Catholic College.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' at Northeast Catholic on Saturday, April 1

Classic silent film comedy masterpiece to be screened with live music; program open to the public

WARNER, N.H. — Silent film with live music returns to the big screen at Northeast Catholic College in April with a showing of an acclaimed comedy starring Buster Keaton.

The screening, on Saturday, April 1 at 7 p.m., will feature Keaton's classic comedy 'The Cameraman' (1928). Admission is free for Northeast Catholic students and any others with college ID; general public admission is $5 per person

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The program will include a short comedy, 'Cops,' also starring Buster Keaton.

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman. His efforts result in spectacular failure, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can he parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Buster Keaton's self-referential world of 'The Cameraman.'

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality. The movie contains classic sequences often cited as among Keaton's best.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

'The Cameraman' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of 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 screening at Northeast Catholic College is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

Established as a residential, Catholic liberal arts college in 1973 and located in Warner, N.H., the Northeast Catholic College (formerly the College of Saint Mary Magdalen) seeks to call students to the life-long pursuit of intellectual and moral virtue through the rigorous study and discussion of primary texts and through its vibrantly Catholic student life.

Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be screened with live music on Saturday, April 1 at 7 p.m. at Northeast Catholic College (formerly Magdalen College), 511 Kearsarge Mountain Road, Warner, N.H. Admission is free to students with a college ID; general public is $5 per person.

For more information about Northeast Catholic College, visit For more info on the music, visit

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An original poster for the original screen adaptation of 'Peter Pan' (1924).

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

Silent film version of 'Peter Pan' at Aeronaut on Sunday, April 2

Original adaptation of magical fantasy classic to be shown with live musical score

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—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 Sunday, April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, and will include a classic silent comedy short film. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

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.

Betty Bronson in the title role.

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."

The screening is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to give local artists and audiences a chance to connect in the brewery's performance space.

Just as beer aficionados appreciate a good hand-crafted brew, movie-goers are rediscovering the joys of silent cinema presented as it was intended: on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all the original elements together, the films of early Hollywood still come to life," said Rapsis, who performs regularly at the Aeronaut. "These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

‘Peter Pan’ (1924) will be shown on Sunday, April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info about Aeronaut Brewing, visit For more information about the music, visit

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Oliver Hardy plays the Tin Man, and other reasons to see the silent 'Wizard of Oz' (1925)

We're off to see the 'Wizard'—but not the one with Judy Garland in it.

Probably the most-requested silent film title I get is the 1925 version of 'The Wizard of Oz.'

Oz fans (and there are many) seem especially eager to see this early big-screen adaptation of the beloved fantasy.

And so far I've resisted.

Why? Because I've felt this version of the tale, concocted by comedian Larry Semon, can't help but disappoint audiences, and also reinforces stereotypes of silent film at its worst.

Held up against a familiar Hollywood classic, the 1925 'Wizard of Oz' not only can't compete, but diminishes the whole era that produced it.

So I've managed to avoid it for quite some time.

Until now. Tomorrow (Sunday, March 26) at 4:30 p.m., the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre will run Semon's 'Wizard of Oz,' with music by me.

Expect a thoroughly Judy-Garland-free screening, with Dorothy played by Semon's wife Dorothy Dwan, Semon as the scarecrow, and yes, Semon's then-sidekick Oliver Hardy playing the Tin Man.

And that's about all the silent 'Wizard' has in common with Frank L. Baum's well-loved tale. Semon basically used the material as a jumping off point to create his specialty: cartoonish slapstick mayhem.

Larry Semon, Dorothy Dwan, and Oliver Hardy in the 1925 'Wizard of Oz.'

Audiences at the time didn't know what to make of Semon's 'Wizard.' With years of exposure to the 1939 MGM version, I can't imagine what viewers today will think.

Well, we'll find out soon enough. If you'd like to judge for yourself, please attend! More details are contained in the press release pasted below.

Before that, I want to thank Jessica Pappathan and everyone at the Aviation Museum of N.H. for inviting me in for a silent film program on Friday, March 24.

On the bill: a double feature of two obscure aviation thrillers, each full of aerial acrobatics and daring stunt pilot work.

'The Phantom Flyer' (1928), a Universal "Thrill Picture," which marries airplane derring-do with a melodramatic plot, got an especially big response.

And people readily cheered Champion the Dog in 'Sky Rider' (1928) as time and again he outsmarted all the humans in the picture.

Neither of these pictures are celebrated as classics or studied in film schools.

But run them on a big screen with live music and a receptive audience, and they still do what they were designed to do: keep eyes glued to the screen and stir a crowd to a frenzy.

I think part of the formula is matching the right pictures to the right audiences. In this cause, for a program at an aviation museum, vintage airplane melodramas were a natural.

I'll do a similar program in May at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. To mark the annual Memorial Day running of the Indy 500, we're running the MGM drama 'Speedway' (1929), starring William Haines and Ernest Torrence.

The film was made on location at the actual Indianapolis 500 track, and is filled with scenes of period race cars zipping along at astonishing speeds of 90 mph or more!

And we're doing it at the request of a group of antique car enthusiasts, who are planning to hold their regular business meeting in the theater prior to the show.

So in programming these films, part of the fun is matching the right film with the right audience. It's great it happens!

Okay, here's more info on the silent film version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925), which we're running tomorrow in Wilton, N.H. Hope to see you there!

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Larry Semon as the Scarecrow.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rare silent film version of 'Wizard of Oz' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, March 26

Feature-length Oz epic released in 1925 includes comedian Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man; to be screened with live music

WILTON, N.H. — You won't find Judy Garland in this version of Oz, or much of anything else that's familiar. That's because it's the forgotten 1925 silent film version of the famous tale.

Long overshadowed by the immensely popular 1939 remake, the rarely seen silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925) will be screened one time only on Sunday, March 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The program, which will include an earlier short Oz film also based on stories and characters of author L. Frank Baum, will be accompanied by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

The silent version, released by Chadwick Pictures, was intended as a vehicle for slapstick comedian Larry Semon, who directed the picture and played the role of the scarecrow.

Dorothy is played by Dorothy Dwan, Semon's wife. Also in the cast is Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. Prior to his teaming with comedian Stan Laurel later in the 1920s, Hardy often played Semon's comic foil.

The silent 'Wizard of Oz' bears little resemblance to the highly polished MGM musical released just 14 years later. However, due to the enduring worldwide popularity of Baum's 'Oz' characters and stories, the silent 'Wizard of Oz' remains an object of great curiosity among fans.

The film departs radically from the novel upon which it is based, introducing new characters and exploits. Along with a completely different plot, the film is all set in a world that is only barely recognizable as the Land of Oz from the books. The film focuses mainly upon Semon's character, who is analogous to Ray Bolger's Scarecrow character in the 1939 version.

The major departure from the book and film is that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion are not actually characters, but are in fact disguises donned by three farm hands who find themselves swept into Oz by a tornado. Dorothy is here played by Dorothy Dwan — Semon's wife - as a young woman. In a drastic departure from the original book, the Tin Man (played by Oliver Hardy) is a villain.

Some elements of the narrative have their roots in earlier adaptations of The Wizard of Oz. For example, Prime Minister Kruel has a predecessor in King Krewl, the antagonist of His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. The note explaining Princess Dorothea's true heritage is signed "Pastoria", a name used for the exiled King of Oz in the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz and for the father of Princess Ozma in The Marvelous Land of Oz and later Oz books.

Legend has it that Semon's version of 'Wizard' was so poorly received, Chadwick Studios was forced to file for bankruptcy while the picture was in theaters. In truth, the picture was a modest success, and Chadwick continued to release films through 1928, when the studio shut down prior to the industry's switch to synchronized sound.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating music that bridges the gap between an older film and the expectations of today's audiences. Using a digital synthesizer that recreates the texture of a full orchestra, he improvises scores in real time as a movie unfolds, so that the music for no two screenings is the same.

"It's kind of a high wire act, but it helps create an emotional energy that's part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "It's easier to be in tune with the emotional line of the movie and the audience's reaction when I'm able to follow what's on screen, rather than be buried in sheet music," he said.

Because silent films were designed to be shown to large audiences in theaters with live music, the best way to experience them is to recreate the conditions in which they were first shown, Rapsis said.

"Films such as 'The Wizard of Oz' were created to be shown on the big screen to large audiences as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, silent films come to life in the way their makers intended. Not only are they entertaining, but they give today's audiences a chance to understand what caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

The silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925) and other Oz-related silent films will be shown on Sunday, March 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This Friday: Airborne thrills, spills, and chills
in double feature of vintage aviation dramas!

For me, one of the greatest pleasures in exploring the silent film era is discovering movies that are totally forgotten, have little or no artistic merit, but which still hold an audience like nobody's business.

Time and time again, I'm astonished at how some low-rent picture can spring to life when shown in front of a group of people with live music. It's like long ago filmmakers are reaching across the decades to show they still have the stuff.

If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then I encourage you to attend a program on Friday, March 24 at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.

That night, I'm accompanying a double-feature of two aviation melodramas—films you've never heard of, but which are packed with the thrills, spills, and chills of early airplane derring-do.

The two pictures: 'The Phantom Flyer' (1928) starring stunt flyer Al Wilson, and 'The Sky Rider' (19280, starring Champion the Wonder Dog.

See, I was right—you'd never heard of either of them. But what an experience awaits for those who can come to enjoy this cinematic time capsule!

Both pictures were made to capitalize on interest in the new field of aviation, so they're filled with vintage aircraft, airports, and so on.

But they're also built on refreshingly simple stories where people are either all good or all bad, and so letting yourself get swept up in something so grounded (odd for aviation dramas) can be kind of cathartic.

Also, we all like the satisfaction of seeing the good guys (and gals) win, and for the baddies to get punished.

So hope you can join us for what promises to be a fun program. As a bonus, the museum is on the grounds of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and we'll be watching the films mere yards from an active runway!

Start time is 7 p.m. More info in the press release below. See you there!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Aviation Museum of N.H. to screen rare 'daredevil' early biplane melodramas

Program of vintage rip-roaring early aviation films accompanied by live music to be shown Friday, March 24

LONDONDERRY, N.H.—Join fellow flyboys and flygals for a program of rarely seen vintage silent melodramas featuring 1920s biplane action, all accompanied by live music.

The "Dare-Devil Aviation Double Feature" takes off on Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m. in the exhibit space of the Aviation Museum of N.H. at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. A cash bar reception will open at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for museum members, and $20 for non-members. Tickets may be purchased online at

The screening will feature live music by New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England based composer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

The show will allow audiences to experience silent film the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

In 'The Phantom Flyer' (1928) famous stunt flyer Al Wilson portrays a border patrol aviator who must use his pilot skills to save girlfriend Mary (Lillian Gilmore) from cattle rustlers.

And in 'The Sky Rider' (1928), join Champion the Wonder Dog as he flies along with his master Dick to foil the plot of a disinherited nephew to get even with—well, it's complicated!

Come see for yourself as the Museum recreates the silent film experience (planes included) that caused people to first fall in love with the movies: the big screen, live music, and an audience to get riled up about it all.

And all this in a hanger-like space right alongside Runway 17-35 at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

The event is sponsored by Hearthside Realty in Manchester.

"We had such a good response to our screening of the classic silent film 'Wings' last November that we wanted to do a follow-up program to screen more early aviation dramas," said Jessica Pappathan, the museum's executive director.

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create scores for the two movies on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions.

Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "At the time, most films weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

‘The Phantom Flyer’ (1928) and 'The Sky Rider' (1928) will be shown with live music on Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry. Tickets are $15 for museum members, and $20 for non-members. Tickets may be purchased online at For information, contact the museum at (603) 669-4820. For more about the music, visit

Monday, March 20, 2017

Coming up: 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'
on Wednesday, March 22 at Rogers Center

Maria Falconetti in 'The Passion of Joan of Arc.'

I hope you'll join us on Wednesday this week for a movie that will change your mind about silent film.

It's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a feature from Danish director Carl Dreyer. I'm doing music for it on Wednesday, March 22 at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

Why will this change your mind about silent film?

Because more than any other film I can think of from that era, it demonstrates how cinema (a brand new art form at the time) had qualities that were distinct from other art forms that came before it.

And it did all this without dialogue or a sound track. It did this through images alone.

In doing so, Dreyer's film hinted at the true potential for this new art form in its purest state, meaning a story told through pictures that moved.

Alas, a cinema of images (and without dialogue) was already in the process of being swept aside by cinema with synchronized dialogue, sound, and effects.

But still, Dreyer was able to give us a sense of what was possible, even without all these added attractions. And in that sense, he helped change my mind about silent film, and I hope 'Joan of Arc' has the same effect on you.

To find out, come see it! Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center, which is on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

And if all that's not enough, how about this? Admission is free!

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An original poster for Carl Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rediscovered silent religious drama to be shown at Rogers Center for the Arts on Wednesday, March 22

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), long thought lost until a copy was found in Norway, to be screened with live music

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—A ground-breaking European feature film—considered lost for decades until a copy surfaced in Oslo, Norway—will soon return to the big screen at the Rogers Center for the Arts.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a film noted for its innovative camera work and an acclaimed performance by actress Maria Falconetti, will be screened on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. as part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Directed by Denmark's Carl Theodor Dreyer, 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' chronicles the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

The film’s courtroom scenes are shot almost exclusively in close-up, situating all the film’s meaning and drama in the slightest movements of its protagonist’s face.

Of Falconetti's performance in the title role, critic Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." Her performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, the highest of any silent performance on the list. Falconetti, a legendary French stage actress, made only two films during her career.

The film has a history of controversy. The premiere of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' in Paris on Oct. 25, 1928 was delayed because of the longtime efforts of many French nationalists, who objected to the fact that Dreyer was not Catholic and not French and to the then-rumored casting of Lillian Gish as Joan.

Before the premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed.

Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version of the film.

It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror Biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was released near the end of the silent film era. About 70 percent of all movies made during that time are now lost due to decomposition, carelessness, fire, or neglect. But copies of "missing" films still occasionally turn up in archives and collections around the world, so researchers and archivists continue to make discoveries.

In the case of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' the original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. In 1981, an employee of the Kikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo, Norway found several film cans in a janitor's closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The cans were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that the prints were of Dreyer's original cut of the film before government or church censorship had taken place. No records exist of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then-director of the institution may have requested a special copy.

For 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he creates beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Rogers. 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.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will be shown on Wednesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. as part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public. For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355 or visit

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend update: Buster Keaton in a church,
then Lon Chaney's 'Phantom' in a Grange Hall

Tonight: Come see 'The Cameraman' in Concord Center, Mass.

After a month that took me to such far-flung venues as the Kennington Bioscope in London, the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, it's back to silent film accompaniment reality.

Consider: the locations for this weekend's screenings are a church in suburban Boston, and then a Grange Hall in rural New Hampshire.

But that's where most of my screenings happen—at places no more than a few hours from home base.

And that pattern resumes this weekend with a Buster Keaton program tonight (Friday, March 17) at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, Mass., and then Lon Chaney in 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) on Saturday night at the Blazing Star Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H.

Complete info on each show is on the Upcoming Screenings page (link at right), or in the summaries below:

• Friday, March 17, 2017, 7 p.m.: "Sherlock Jr." (1924) and "The Cameraman" (1928) starring Buster Keaton; Trinitarian Congregational Church, 54 Walden St., Concord Center, Mass.
978-369-4837. Tonight's program features Buster Keaton in a pair of his great starring films, both centering on the subject of movies themselves. In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster breeches the fourth wall big-time as a movie projectionist who dreams himself into a crime thriller In 'The Cameraman,' to impress the girl of his dreams, mild-mannered portrait photographer Buster takes up the glamorous profession of newsreel cameraman. One of the best comedies of the silent era. The film program is open to the public; $5 per person admission.

Halloween in March: 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) screens on Saturday night in Danbury, N.H.

• Saturday, March 18, 2017, 7 p.m.: Silent Film Program: Halloween in March! at the Blazing Star Grange Hall, North Road in Danbury, N.H. You've heard of "Christmas in July?" Well, welcome to "Halloween in March," a program of spooky silent film with live music presented by the local Grange chapter. Rumor has it the main attraction will be Lon Chaney in 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925), but check back for details. Free and open to the public; suggested donation of $5 at the door.

I've been doing local programs such as these for almost 10 years now. Why?

For one thing, I've found the only way I could really learn how to do silent film accompaniment was to really do it.

And that means for real, in real time, and in front of an audience.

No bathroom breaks, no trips to the fridge, no letting dogs in or out, no breaking concentration, all of which seem to happen when you're doing it on your own at home.

Also, I've found that challenging myself to create so much music under these conditions has enabled me, bit by bit, to work out a kind of musical language that I can call my own.

That's huge, because it's given me a vocabulary to begin putting music together that I feel reflects my—well, whatever it is I have to offer.

The results of this process are beginning to show up in written-out pieces such as the 'Kilimanjaro Suite' that the New Hampshire Philharmonic recently played.

More projects are in the works. So it's a very exciting time for me—as long as I can find time to get done all I hope to do.

But none of it would be happening, I'm sure, if I hadn't sat down and accompanied literally hundreds of silent films in the past 10 years or so.

And the process, such as it is, continues this weekend. Hope to see you, either at the church or at the Grange Hall. Or both!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This Thursday: Gloria Swanson in a silent film
that accidentally created a new art form

Gloria and Lionel warming up for their big battle in 'Sadie Thompson.'

Up next: Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore in 'Sadie Thompson' (1928), an intense drama made in Hollywood's final burst of silent film production.

It's screening on Thursday, March 16 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.

There's a lot to like about this movie, which many feel contains Swanson's best performance. It may be.

But structurally, there's something very special about 'Sadie Thompson,' the story of which was adapted from Somerset Maughan's story 'Rain.'

What's special? Nothing that the people who made it intended to happen, but it's this: we're missing the last reel!

Yes—the last 10 minutes, which contain the climax, just don't exist.

And so, by accident, we have a situation that leads to an experience very different from what the filmmakers had in mind.

It would be great to have the footage, of course, and see what really happens when the battle between Gloria's fallen woman and Barrymore's tempted preacher reaches a boiling point.

But we don't. And unless the last reel is ever found, we can't.

Instead, we have what often happens when a vintage film exists with missing sequences. Stills and other materials are substituted, and the story is told through narrative titles and other techniques such as pan-and-scan of stills.

With about 70 percent of silent film missing, this happens more often than you might think. Among big films that I've accompanied that are missing entire reels are Raymond Griffith's 'Paths to Paradise' (1925); King Vidor's 'Bardelys the Magnificent' (1926), and Clara Bow's 'Get Your Man' (1927).

And you know what? In each case, I've found that such efforts to fill in missing film with other materials creates a kind of hybrid art form that can actually be quite effective in its own way.

Mainly, I think, because it leaves scenes to the imagination, which engages an audience in a completely different way that if everything's right there on the screen.

In pondering this, I've come to think this is not unlike what happens with other art from the past when things go missing.

Take the Venus de Milo, which lacks arms. Or Schubert's unfinished symphony, short by two movements.

And much of my public school education took place under the watchful eye of George Washington as depicted in Gilbert Stuart's famous unfinished painting.

Some critics feel such losses can actually enhance the stature of the work of art in question.

How? Because we don't know what the arms on the Venus de Milo look like, we're free to idealize them to a state of perfection—one that goes way beyond what any artist could actually achieve.

And that's because the absence allows us each to fill in our own personal visions of perfection. Such notions that are unique to us, and are thus uniquely gratifying or satisfying.

Gloria with director Raoul Walsh, who appears in 'Sadie Thompson' as "Handsome" Tim O'Hara.

Which brings us to 'Sadie Thompson.' Just as the battle between Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore is about to reach its climax, the film stops!

And what starts up is a recreation of the final reel through stills, titles, and footage from a later remake.

To me, every time I've seen 'Sadie Thompson,' this feels exactly right. The animosity of the two characters grows so intense, the movie just can't contain it. It's like things are so hot, the film melts, or the story triggers infinity, or something.

And so we're left to visualize the climax on own, and because we all do that in our own individual ways, it has the potential to more terrifying and awesome than anything director Raoul Walsh could have put on celluloid.

So it's a motion picture, yes. But it's also something different. By virtue of its missing final reel, it's a hybrid—a new way of telling stories, really. Or at least a different way of rendering a film's climax.

I like it, and I think it's a technique that today's filmmakers might consider employing.

Well—until that happens, you can catch Gloria Swanson in 'Sadie Thompson' (1928) on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Tickets are $10; for more info, call the box office at (603) 536-2551.