Friday, April 26, 2019

'La Roue' (1923) this weekend in Wilton, N.H.:
A film so big we can't show it all at once

An original poster for 'La Roue' (1923) directed by Abel Gance, showing in two parts this weekend at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre.

Once in awhile, it's good to stretch yourself.

That's what I'll do this weekend in creating music for 'La Roue' (1923), a drama from French director Abel Gance.

It's 4½ hours long, so we'll show it in two parts over two days: Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Showtime for both days is 4:30 p.m. Free admission, with a suggestion donation of $5 per person for each screening to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

Plenty more info is in the press release attached below. But a few last-minute thoughts:

For the music, I've developed some basic material that I'll use in scoring the 'La Roue,' which is French for 'The Wheel,' as in the wheel of life.

But how will it come together? I really don't know until the lights go down and 'La Roue' starts rolling.

However, the span of 4½ hours gives an accompanist an enormous canvas with which to work. And it's not only length, but the pace and style of the film that contributes to this sense of possibility.

As a drama, it's not so dependent on split-second timing as comedy. Instead, the music can grow more naturally out of the emotions as they develop on screen.

In short, you can really get into it. So I'm looking forward to losing myself in the world of this family that Gance brought to the screen nearly a century ago. As I said, stretching myself.

Séverin-Mars as Sisif in 'La Roue,' or what I might look like after accompanying the film.

Speaking of which...I'm also excited just by the idea of this film being shown as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

It's a very rare chance to experience a work of art that otherwise doesn't exist, at least as its creator envisioned.

That's true of all cinema, I suppose. But just as an art museum often can display only a fraction of its collection to the public, this is a rare chance for this ambitious Gance masterwork of early cinema to be taken out of the archive and be experienced again, even if only for a day. (Or, actually, two.)

I encourage you to see it this way, as a rare opportunity to view something, rather like a solar eclipse.

And thus take advantage of what seems to be a rainy weekend in our part of the world to spend a little quality (and quantity) time with Abel Gance at the Town Hall Theatre.

See you there!

* * *

An original poster for Abel Gance's 'La Roue.'

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Abel Gance epic 'La Roue' (1923) to be shown in two parts on 4/27 and 4/28 in Wilton, N.H.

Rarely screened French silent film blockbuster to be run in back-to-back screenings with live music at Town Hall Theatre

WILTON, N.H.—It's a two-day cinematic event!

A critically acclaimed French silent drama that runs nearly 4½ hours long will be shown in two parts at the Town Hall Theatre over the weekend of Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28.

'La Roue' (French for 'The Wheel'), a sprawling family drama about a railroad engineer and his children, will be screened with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The film will be broken into two parts roughly equal in length. The first installment will screen on Saturday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m., while the second will screen on Sunday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person at each screening is suggested to help defray expenses.

"This is a rare chance to see one of the most influential films of early cinema on the big screen, and with live music, as it was intended to be shown," said Rapsis, who provides music for the Town Hall Theatre's monthly silent film series.

'La Roue' was directed by visionary French filmmaker Abel Gance. Released in 1923, it set the stage for Gance's later 'Napoleon' in its use of innovative cinematic devices, particularly rapid cutting.

'La Roue' opens with Sisif, a widowed railway engineer, rescuing an infant girl from a spectacular train crash.

Sisif adopts the girl, knowing only that her name is Norma, and raises her with his son.

This sets in motion a family drama that unfolds over the ensuing decades, leading to tragedy in far-flung locations.

A scene from Abel Gance's drama 'La Roue.'

The current version of 'La Roue' is a partial reconstruction of the original 1923 release, which ran an astonishing nine hours and which Gance intended to be shown over three days.

Gance later cut the film to two hours so it could fit into one evening, with much of the original version lost in the process.

In 2008, restorers gathered material from 'La Roue' from archives worldwide and pieced together the 4½-hour version being shown at the Town Hall Theatre.

"Early filmmakers such as Abel Gance or Germany's Fritz Lang would push the limits of the medium with tremendously ambitious projects," Rapsis said.

"So once in awhile, it's worth putting these pictures back on the big screen as they were intended to be shown, just as it's worth going to Paris to see the real Mona Lisa instead of just looking at a picture in an art book."

The Town Hall Theatre's long-running silent film series has proven a worthy forum for the occasional multi-day vintage blockbuster.

"Last year at the Town Hall Theatre, we ran Fritz Lang's massive two-part silent film version of 'The Nibelungen' mythic tales," Rapsis said. "Reaction was strong enough for us to try another two-day event this season."

From Abel Gance's 'La Roue.'

Critics today regard 'La Roue' highly for Gance's visual innovations.

In 2008, David Kehr of the N.Y. Times wrote that 'La Roue' "...still fascinates as a grab bag of experimental techniques...which clearly dazzled audiences of the time with the formal possibilities of this still relatively new medium. Circular forms, drawn from the title image, appear with maddening regularity: in the charging wheels of Sisif’s locomotive, the faces of ominously ticking clocks, the ring dance of a band of happy peasants."

Jason Sandors of described 'La Roue' as an "epic romance of forbidden love and doom, shot with no expense spared amidst the chaotic railways of Nice and the high-elevation peaks of Mont Blanc. One of the most influential films of the silent era, its editing style of rapid, rhythmic cuts had never been seen before. 'La Roue' heralded an entirely new approach to filmmaking that inspired Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Dovzhenko (among many others)."

For the music, Rapsis has created new material that he will use to improvise the score live for both screenings.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound.

'La Roue' (1923), directed by Abel Gance, will be screened in two parts on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28 at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Part I will be screened on Saturday, April 27 at 4:30 p.m.; Part II will run on Sunday, April 28 at 4:30 p.m. Both parts are about 2¼ hours long.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Helping out my friends at Harvard, then 'Metropolis' at Plymouth's Flying Monkey

Coming on Thursday, April 18: László Moholy-Nagy, American, Still from Lightplay: Black-White-Gray, 1930. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

I sometimes joke that I'm the world's most obscure superhero: SILENT FILM ACCOMPANIMENT GUY, ready to respond at a moment's notice to aid any silent film in need of live music.

(Still waiting for the call from Marvel Comics...)

But something like that actually happened last week when I was contacted by the Harvard Museums at Harvard University, where they're in the midst of an ambitious look at the Bauhaus school of design that flourished in Weimar-era Germany.

The program includes a series of film screenings, and turns out a program of short experimental movies scheduled for Thursday, April 18 turned out to be all silent!

Oh no! What to do?

So the call came in to SILENT FILM ACCOMPANIMENT GUY, who immediately agreed to rush to the rescue and create soundtracks for all the various clips.

And as incentive, I was told "...our resident piano is an ebony Bechstein model C, serial number 177972, from 1985 and approximately 7’4” in length."

Wow! A chance to work with an instrument of that caliber is not to be missed. (And it'll be a reminder that I have to get my own piano tuned once again after a long winter of pounding.)

A view of the Harvard Art Museums, which resulted when several adjacent galleries were renovated a few years back and put under one roof. It's next door to the Harvard Film Archive, where I regularly accompany silent films.

If you're interested in attending, the program is free! It's Thursday, April 18 at 6 p.m. at the Harvard Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, Mass. Here's a link to more details.

Just as other superheros must occasionally engage in mind-boggling feats of strength, this particular show prompted SILENT FILM ACCOMPANIMENT GUY to do some heavy lifting, schedule-wise.

To accommodate Harvard, it was necessary to shift a scheduled screening of Metropolis from that night to another date.

And so Metropolis, originally set for Thursday, April 18 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H., is now running one week later, on Thursday, April 25.

(And how appropriate is this "superhero" theme? Superman's city = Metropolis!)

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. for Fritz Lang's epic futuristic quasi-theological cinematic fantasy. I've developed some strong material for this incredible film. It's 2½ hours long and a real workout, but I love scoring it.

Here's the press release with a lot more info. See you there!

An original poster for 'Metropolis,' screening on Thursday, April 25 at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H.

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

Restored classic film 'Metropolis' to screen at Flying Monkey on Thursday, April 25

Landmark early sci-fi fantasy epic, with half-hour of rediscovered footage, to be shown with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A silent film hailed as the grandfather of all science fiction fantasy movies will be screened with live music this month at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center.

'Metropolis' (1927), an epic adventure set in a futuristic world, will be shown on Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission is $10.

Original music for 'Metropolis' will be performed live by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer and silent film accompanist who performs at venues around the nation.

(The screening was originally scheduled for Thursday, April 18, but has been moved to Thursday, April 25 due to a scheduling conflict.)

'Metropolis' (1927), regarded as German director Fritz Lang's masterpiece, is set in a society where a privileged elite pursue lives of leisure while the masses toil on vast machines and live in poverty.

From 'Metropolis': Man meets Machine.

The film, with its visions of futuristic factories and underground cities, set new standards for visual design and inspired generations of dystopian fantasies from Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' to Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil.'

In reviving 'Metropolis' and other great films of cinema's early years, the Flying Monkey aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will improvise an original live score for 'Metropolis' on the spot. "Recreate those conditions, and the classics of early cinema leap back to life."

In 'Metropolis,' the story centers on an upper class young man who falls in love with a woman who works with the poor. The tale encompasses mad scientists, human-like robots, underground spiritual movements, and industrial espionage, all set in a society divided between haves and have-nots.

The version of 'Metropolis' to be screened at the Flying Monkey is a newly restored edition that includes nearly a half-hour of missing footage cut following the film's premiere in 1927. The lost footage, discovered in 2008 in an archive in Argentina, has since been added to the existing 'Metropolis,' allowing plot threads and characters to be developed more fully.

When first screened in Berlin, Germany on Jan. 10, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes. After its premiere, the film's distributors (including Paramount in the U.S.) drastically shortened 'Metropolis' to maximize the film's commercial potential. By the time it debuted in the U.S. later that year, the film was only about 90 minutes long.

A scene from 'Metropolis.

Even in its shortened form, 'Metropolis' became a cornerstone of science fiction cinema. Due to its enduring popularity, the film has undergone numerous restorations in the intervening decades in attempts to recover Lang's original vision.

It was widely believed that this would be the most complete version of Lang's film that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see. But, in the summer of 2008, the curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of 'Metropolis' that was considerably longer than any existing print.

It included not merely a few additional snippets, but 25 minutes of "lost" footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut.

The discovery of such a significant amount of material called for yet another restoration, a 2½-hour version that debuted in 2010 to widespread acclaim. It's this fully restored edition that will be screened at the Flying Monkey.

" 'Metropolis' stands as an stunning example of the power of silent film to tell a compelling story without words, and reach across the generations to touch movie-goers from the real future, which means us," said accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who provides live music for silent film screenings throughout New England.

To accompany a silent film, Rapsis uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of the full orchestra. The score is created live in real time as the movie is screened. Rather than focus exclusively on authentic music of the period, Rapsis creates new music for silent films that draws from movie scoring techniques that today's audiences expect from the cinema.

Other upcoming silent film/live music presentations at the Flying Monkey include:

• Thursday, May 9, 6:30 p.m.: 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916) starring William Gillette. Recently discovered in France after being lost for nearly a century, see this original 1916 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes stories as performed by William Gillette, the actor who created the role on stage and performed it more than 1,000 times. With the blessing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gillette's play combines elements of four classic short stories into a memorable battle with arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty.

• Thursday, June 20, 6:30 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923) starring Harold Lloyd. The iconic image of comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is only one small piece of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences. See it for yourself on the big screen and with an audience.

The restored 'Metropolis' will be shown on Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth. General admission is $10. For more info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

For more information on the music, visit


“'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world.”
—Roger Ebert, 2010, The Chicago Sun-Times

“If it comes anywhere near your town, go see it and thank the movie Gods that it even exists. There’s no star rating high enough.”
—Brian Tallerico,