Thursday, September 6, 2018

Back to the beginning: the original 'Sherlock Holmes' on Friday, 9/7 in Brandon, Vt.

Nothing like the original: William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes.

Next up: creating live music for the original 'Sherlock Holmes' movie, made in 1916 with legendary stage actor William Gillette in the title role.

The first-ever 'Sherlock' will run on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free, with any donations used to aid ongoing restoration work.

(Please note that the Friday night screening is different from our usual Saturday night date for silent film programs in Brandon.)

Since its rediscovery a few years ago (after being missing for nearly a century), the original 'Sherlock' has enjoyed many screenings across the country and around the globe.

Not only is it the first time Holmes was depicted on the big screen, but it's the only film appearance by Gillette, who created the role of Sherlock on stage for more than 30 years.

The performance of Gillette, who worked directly with creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to bring Holmes to life, is about as close to the original source that Holmes buffs can ever hope to get.

I've had the good fortune of accompanying 'Sherlock' several times, and I'm of two minds. I'm thrilled that the film was discovered in the Cinematheque Francais after all these years, and the restoration was done with taste and sensitivity. Nice!

I just wish it was a better film.

And by that, I wish it was better in terms of what a contemporary audience expects when it goes into a movie theater.

Some silents do indeed rise to that challenge. Later this month, I'm accompanying Josef von Sternberg's 'The Last Command' (1928) at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., and I'm sure most people who attend will be bowled over by it. It's that good.

But 'Sherlock' came too early—an Essanay drama from the mid-teens, I think parts of it are rough enough to reinforce certain stereotypes about silent cinema: that it's technically primitive, that it can be hard to follow, that it suffers from static camera placement, and so on.

Whether or not that's the case, I try to create music that helps convey the narrative line, shows the changing emotional temperature of each scene, and generally helps an audience stay with the picture.

Although the musical score on Friday night will be improvised, I do have a theme I developed for Holmes that I'll probably employ throughout, transforming it as the story unfolds and things happen to the Holmes and other characters.

Despite my misgivings about the film itself, every 'Sherlock' screening I've been involved with is carried by the sheer energy of audience interest and excitement, both from silent film fans, Holmes aficionados, and the general public. If it's enough to generate interest in later screenings, then what more could you wish for!

So if you're within driving distance of Brandon, Vt., please join us on Friday night and see something no one was able to watch for nearly a whole century.

Below is a press release with more info. See you at the movies!

* * *

The lighting of the pipe. Gillette began using a calabash pipe for Holmes on stage so that audiences could see his face.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

It's elementary! Rediscovered 'Sherlock Holmes' movie at Brandon Town Hall on Friday, Sept. 7

Original film adaptation, missing for nearly a century, on the big screen with live musical accompaniment

BRANDON, Vt.—The first-ever movie adaptation of 'Sherlock Holmes,' a silent film released in 1916 and recently rediscovered, will screen next month at Brandon Town Hall

The original 'Sherlock Holmes' will be shown with live music on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

The program is free and open to the public. Free will donations are encouraged, with all proceeds to aid ongoing Town Hall restoration efforts.

Please note that the screening of 'Sherlock Holmes' will take place on a Friday night instead of the usual Saturday night date for silent film programs at Brandon Town Hall.

Like many films from the silent era, the 'Sherlock Holmes' movie was long considered lost until a nearly complete copy was discovered in 2014 at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.

The film has since been restored, allowing movie-goers to again see the only screen appearance of stage actor William Gillette.

Gillette originated the role of Sherlock Holmes in a popular stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of the legendary British detective.

Gillette performed as the brilliant Holmes more than 1,300 times over three decades, touring the nation and popularizing Conan Doyle's sleuth.

A popular stage actor, Gillette made no other known movie appearances. But his interpretation of the Holmes character laid the groundwork for all actors who would later play the role, including Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Set in Victorian-era London, the original 'Sherlock Holmes' is an episodic crime drama that incorporates the plots of several Conan Doyle tales.

Running about 90 minutes, it features all major characters of the Holmes stories, including companion Dr. Watson and nemesis/rival Prof. Moriarty.

It was filmed in 1915 in the Chicago studios of the Essanay Film Co., with exterior shots of the Windy City doubling for Victorian London.

The restoration was premiered at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The screening at Brandon Town Hall will be the first time the restoration has been shown in Vermont.

The film will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer regarded as one of the nation's leading silent film musicians.

Rapsis improvises live scores for silent films using a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra.

"It's kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But for me, the energy of live performance is an essential part of the silent film experience."

The program is sponsored by Sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis, in memory of Maxine Thurston; also an anonymous donor.

Upcoming titles in Brandon Town Hall's summer silent film series include:

• Saturday, Oct. 20: Chiller Theatre, 'Der Golem' (1920). In 16th-century Prague, a rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution, but then complications ensue. Early German fantasy movie anticipates Frankenstein story. Sponsored by Jan Coolidge, Lucy and Dick Rouse, Marc & Arlyn Briere, Dorothy Leyseth and Edward Loedding.

The original ‘Sherlock Holmes' (1916), starring William Gillette in the title role, will be shown with live music on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

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