Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Less Wagner, more Carl Stalling: creating music for Lang's two 'Nibelungen' films 4/28 & 4/29

Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny in 'What's Opera, Doc?'

This past weekend, I attended a local fund-raiser that was surprisingly successful.

To aid its building restoration fund, the Antrim (N.H.) Grange staged a silent movie program on Saturday night, with me doing live music for a pair of Buster Keaton films.

Admission was free, with donations collected to support ongoing work on the Grange's 200-plus-year-old meeting hall.

There was a glass bowl for contributions, and when I looked at it prior to the show, it already contained a nice accumulation of $1 and $5 bills.

One generous soul had put in a twenty. Nice!

So after the show, it was a surprise when the remaining trustees of a now-closed local church came up front to make a presentation.

They're distributing remaining funds to worthy community groups, and so they wanted to present a check to help the Grange restore its hall.

And so they did, complete with cheesy fanfare from me. Why not?

And the woman from the Grange looked at the check, and for a moment she couldn't seem to find anything to say.

Finally, she said this:

"This is a check for $25,000."

A collective gasp went up from all assembled in Antrim Town Hall. Wow!

It's not every day you get to witness a surprise gift of that amount, especially in a small town. Again, wow!

Who needs reality television? Plain old reality is often entertaining enough.

Okay, what could possibly top that? Well, how about dragons and dwarves and magic swords?

After this weekend's screenings (which also included a very successful 'Peter Pan' (1924) in Natick, Mass.), I'm clearing the decks for an ambitious two-day event at month's end.

An original poster for Lang's 'Nibelungen' films.

On Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29, I'll be doing live music for Fritz Lang's epic two-part 'Nibelungen' films.

Both screenings are at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre, where I've accompanied a monthly silent film series for more than 10 years.

First up is 'Siegfried' (1924) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 28.

Then, the next day, it's 'Kriemhild's Revenge' (1925) at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 29.

Precursors to Lang's 'Metropolis,' both 'Nibelungen' films were produced on a grand scale and filled with fantastic imagery and action.

The upcoming screenings are a rare chance to see both of Lang's films on the big screen, and back-to-back, and with live music.

Speaking of which: the 'Nibelungen' films are based on the same Teutonic legends used in Wagner's epic "Ring" cycle of four operas.

And yes, the Wagnerian approach and sound world seems to go hand-in-hand with this material. It casts a long shadow over any version of it.

Consider: music such as 'The Ride of the Valkyries' is so ubiquitous that it was even parodied in a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon, 'What's Opera, Doc?' (1957).

But for the Lang films, I'm crazy enough to embark on working up my own original music.

Why do this? Well, why compose anything new? That's a big question, and I don't quite know how to answer it.

The best quick response is that I respond strongly to a lot of music, current and past. But I sometimes get a sense that there's something missing, or there's more to be said. Or that things can be said in a different way.

I know, kind of simple. But I think it's at the heart of why anyone presumes to do something new—something in their own voice, with their own vision. "Mapping out the sky," as Sondheim put it in 'Sunday in the Park with George.'

Thus less Wagner, and more whatever I come up with. If anything, it might be more Carl Stalling, the musical genius behind the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. Being a complete Philistine, 'What's Opera Doc?' had more influence on me than any of the Ring operas.

(Actually, I just checked, and music on 'What's Opera, Doc?' was handled by Milt Franklyn, a Warner Bros. colleague of Stalling. But Stalling was the pioneer who set the standard for cartoon scoring.)

So nearly six hours of music, all hitched to cinematic fantasy on an immense scale.

It's a lot, but I think I've reached a point where I can pull together material that's versatile enough to support a story over such a long time span.

To that end, for the 'Nibelungen' films I've developed a larger-than-usual number of ideas: themes, chord sequences, and other building blocks to be used to underscore both movies live, in real time.

Will it all come together? Who knows? But my aim is the same as always: to create music to help the story and action connect with a motion picture audience.

That's where you come in. Consider attending one or both parts of this two-day event.

It's not something you get to see every day, or every two days. Also, it sure would be great to have some company on this long journey!

For more details, check out the press release below.

* * *

The title character of 'Siegfried' (1924) bathes in the blood of slain dragon, rendering him invincible.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Tales of dragons, dwarves, and magic swords!

Two-part 'Nibelungen' epic movie fantasy
April 28 & 29 at Town Hall Theatre

One weekend, two films, two screenings: Director Fritz Lang's rarely screened 'Nibelungen' fantasy to be shown on big screen with live music

WILTON, N.H.—Magic swords, enchanted snoods, and powerful amulets abound at a time when the world is populated by dragons, dwarves, and Teutonic heroes.

Before he made the pioneering sci-fi film 'Metropolis' (1927), director Fritz Lang completed a two-part adventure fantasy based on the Germanic 'Nibelungen' legends.

Lang's two films, each an epic in its own right, were released one year apart: 'Siegfried' in 1924, and 'Kriemhild's Revenge' in 1925.

Filled with eye-popping scenic design and special effects, both movies stretched the limits of what cinema could do. They also established Lang as one of the pre-eminent filmmakers of his time, enabling him to make 'Metropolis.'

Lang's pair of rarely screened 'Nibelungen' epics will be shown back-to-back over two days later this month at the Town Hall Theater, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

'Siegfried' will be shown on Saturday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m.; 'Kriemhild's Revenge' will be screened the next day, on Sunday, April 29 at 4:30 p.m.

From 'Siegfried' (1924).

Admission is free and both screenings are open to the public. A donation of $5 per person is requested to help defray expenses.

Both films will feature live musical scores by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who has created original musical material to help bring to life the nearly six hours of the two films.

"This is a rare opportunity to experience these seldom-screened masterpieces as they were meant to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said.

Rapsis will improvise the live scoring for both films—about six hours of music altogether—on a digital synthesizer that recreates the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's also an opportunity to see these films together, or at least over two days, to get a full sense of the vision of Lang and his collaborators," Rapsis said.

At a time when the Lord of the Rings didn't exist as a film or a book trilogy, Fritz Lang created Die Nibelungen based on the 13th-century poem Die Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs).

The same Germanic tales form the basis of Wagner's four-opera 'Ring' cycle.

'Siegfried' (1924) tells the story of the title character (Paul Richter), a nearly invulnerable warrior prince, who learns of the beauty of Princess Kriemhild (Margarethe Schon) of Burgundy.

Siegfried travels to Burgundy to meet Princess Kriemhild. To impress her brother, King Gunther (Hanna Ralph), Siegfried ventures to Iceland with him, where he helps Gunther win over Brunhild (Theodor Loos).

The appreciative Gunther approves of Siegfried's marriage to Kriemhild. However, hungry for more power, Brunhild spreads lies about Siegfried, leading to a fateful clash.

Margarete Schön as the title character in 'Kriemhild's Revenge' (1925).

'Kriemhild's Revenge' (1925) continues the story, which climaxes with a wedding festival that turns into a massive battle. During the fighting, Kriemhild metes out justice with Siegfried's magic sword.

Although rarely screened, the two Nibelungen films have been hailed by critics as worthy forerunners to 'Metropolis,' Lang's well-known masterpiece.

Critic comments:
"An epic masterpiece...a rich treasure trove of folklore and magic, in which Lang creates a mystical geometric universe where the characters play against vast architectural landscapes."
—Leonard Maltin

"The all-encompassing grandeur and sweep of the story towers over any modern day fantasy. If anything, this remastered edition most closely resembles Star Wars, as pre-imagined by Tolkien."
—Colm McAuliffe
‘Siegfried’ (1924) will be shown on Saturday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre. The follow-up film, 'Kriemhild's Revenge' (1925), will be screened on Sunday, April 29 at 4:30 p.m.

Admission to both screenings is free, with a suggested donation of $5 person to defray expenses.

The Town Hall Theatre is located at 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. For more information, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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