Monday, May 7, 2018

A memorable introduction, plus 'Barbara Worth' on 5/10 at Red River Theatres, Concord, N.H.

An original poster for 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926).

Just back from a quick trip to San Francisco, where I accompanied Hoot Gibson in 'The Phantom Bullet' (1926) on Saturday night at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Niles is the only venue I know of that runs silent film programs every week all year round. It's a treat to go out and pitch in with music.

My visits seem to coincide with the start of a new two-month show schedule, and Niles always leads off with a Western—often something really obscure.

This time was no exception: I'd never heard of 'The Phantom Bullet,' a Universal Western of no particular distinction. And there was no way to preview it, so I played it sight unseen.

But I wasn't the only one in this predicament. With the volume of film they show—and with a collection that includes hundreds of titles rarely shown anywhere—the Niles staffers can't possibly keep up with studying every single movie in advance.

And so in introducing 'The Phantom Bullet,' staffer Rena Azevedo-Kiehn said up front she'd never seen the film. Instead, she told a few Hoot Gibson stories, but about 'The Phantom Bullet,' she stated cheerfully: "I got nothing!"

This was such a refreshing intro that I wanted to capture it here. It made it seem like we were all on this great journey of discovery together!

There's something to be learned from that, including something I already know but keep forgetting: Less is more.

It also reminded me of when I was a student at Fordham and the New York Times carried local TV listings, but due to space limitations the movie descriptions were often one single word.

I remember this listing, which I cut out and have saved somewhere:
Channel 11, 2 a.m. "Genius at Work" (1946), Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwell. Where?
* * *
Coming up is another Western, but one that's vastly different from the Hoot Gibson "oater" we enjoyed at Niles.

It's 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a terrific film burdened with what I consider one of the worst titles of all cinema.

Showtime is Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., in Concord, N.H. More info is in the press release pasted below.

And don't let the clunky title stop you from discovering this great movie, which stars Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky, and a very young pre-'Wings' Gary Cooper.

Among the movie's many virtues is that directory Henry King went to the trouble of shooting on location in Nevada's forbidding Black Rock Desert.

A day-by-day chronicle of the movie's production was kept by a local paper, giving us a wealth of "you were there" info about the making of the film.

So we have a ton of behind-the-scenes material about 'Barbara,' including many great stories about the hardships and sacrifices endured by all.

But in introducing the film—well, I'll take my lead from Rena Azevedo-Kiehn and mostly let audience members discover it on their own terms.

Hope to see you there!

* * *

Vilma Banky and Gary Cooper in 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rip-roaring epic silent Western at Red River Theatres on Thursday, May 10

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), ground-breaking drama starring Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman, to be screened with live music

CONCORD, N.H.—A film that helped create Hollywood's love affair with the American West will continue this season's silent film series at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a silent drama starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, and Vilma Banky, will be shown on Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. in Red River's Stonyfield Farm Theater.

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

Admission to this special program is $12 per person.

Directed by Henry King, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' chronicles the epic story of pioneer settlers who dreamed of irrigating California's parched Imperial Valley in the early 20th century. Filmed on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert, the movie is noted for its extensive use of vast open spaces and wild scenery.

The story centers on a rivalry for the affections of Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), adopted daughter of a powerful rancher. A local cowboy (Gary Cooper) finds himself competing with a newly arrived engineer (Ronald Colman), who has come to the rural valley to work on plans to harness the Colorado River for irrigation.

Will the local ranchhand prevail over the city slicker engineer? Can citizens of the parched region conquer nature and transform their lands into an agricultural paradise? Will rumors of shortcuts taken in constructing a massive dam lead to disaster?

All these questions combine to create a film that showed Hollywood and movie-goers the power of a drama set in the rural American west.

The film is also noted for its camerawork by Greg Toland, who would later go on to do principal photography for 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.

For 'Barbara Worth,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he composes 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 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' continues a series of silent films presented with live music at Red River. 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,” Rapsis said.

“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.”

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

Upcoming shows in Red River's 2018 silent film series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 23, 7 p.m.: "The General" (1926) starring Buster Keaton. Civil War saga about a Confederate railroad engineer whose locomotive is stolen by Northern spies. Ranked among the great films of any era.

• Thursday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.: "Wings" (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers. Winner of first-ever Best Picture Academy Award, epic tale of U.S. biplane pilots in Europe during World War II.

Gary Cooper, Vilma Banky, and Ronald Colman star in 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' to be shown on Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $12 per person.

For more info, visit or call (603) 224-4600. For more about the music, visit

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