Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tonight Last night in Brandon, Vt.: the first of a quartet of 'Woman in the Moon' screenings

The journey to Brandon, Vt. is not quite as long as the lunar voyage in 'Woman in the Moon.' But sometimes...

This is a little late in posting, but it's been that kind of a month.

It was actually last night that I accompanied 'Woman in the Moon' in Brandon, Vt.

It was the first of four screenings of the Fritz Lang epic that I'm doing in honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

And I just realized: each of the screenings is in a different state!

Last night was Vermont; next Wednesday it's the Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine; then on Thursday it's Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., then next week it's the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

Last night, the Brandon screening went really well. It was a milestone of sorts, too, as it marked the first performance of a new keyboard I recently acquired.

I say new, but it's actually another Korg Triton LE 88, the same model I've been using since I started accompanying silent films regularly about 15 years ago.

The Korg Triton LE 88. Random pic from online. Right now mine's at home in the garage.

It's actually now regarded as a vintage synthesizer, having not been sold new since the mid-2000s. I've tried others, but nothing matches the Korg's weighted action keyboard. (Or maybe it's just that I'm used to it.)

And they're very durable, but then I really beat on mine. I play it aggressively, and I also drag it all around creation without a case.

So I'm guilty of Korg abuse. After a while, the screws holding the thing together begin to vibrate loose. I try to keep track of this, and tighten them as I go, but occasionally one falls out and I don't notice it.

Just last night, when setting up for Brandon, I found one of the screws on the floor from an earlier performance!

And also, because I don't put it in a case (as I've never had one), the keyboard gradually accumulates a patina of road dirt and pollen and God-knows-what that doesn't help things. (Unless this accumulated grime acts as a protective coating.)

So under my inept and unforgiving stewardship, a Korg has a lifespan of about five years at most. That's about how long I've had my up-until-now current model, and sure enough, in the last month it's been making signs of giving up the ghost.

For one thing, the main panel LCD display is lighting up only intermittently. Also tones are getting "stuck" with increasing frequency. By "stuck," I mean they keep sounding even when the key isn't pressed. The only way to stop is to switch to another sound patch and then back, hopefully without the audience noticing.

But if the LCD panel isn't lit up, I can't see which setting I'm on, and so during a live performance it's hard to make this switcheroo. During a recent 'Safety Last' screening, I tried the "switch out and back" maneuver, and with the display panel not lit, I came back with some kind of bossa nova setting—not what I usually go for when Harold is climbing a skyscraper.

So time for a new Korg. And amazingly, I found a practically brand new example on Craigslist, and with a hard case as well. It was in the Albany, N.Y. area, so I trekked out there last week and it was the real deal, so I bought it.

Thus do I have a "new" vintage Korg Triton LE 88, and a case, that I took with me to Brandon for the first time last night.

All went well: the instrument plays like a dream, with all buttons and dials working. It even has a full-sized "ON/OFF" button, which has been missing from my now-ex road model since I bought it from a guy in Rhode Island, and so it felt weird not putting my finger into the hole and pressing the model prong in there.

So the old Korg will be set aside and be cannibalized for parts as needed.

With the new one, it's great to have a case, but the whole thing is so enormously big and heavy, I'm not sure I'll be using it very often, except for long road trips. We'll see.

'Woman in the Moon' got a big-time reaction from the crowd last night at Brandon Town Hall, and stayed with it despite the lack of air conditioning. It wasn't quite Bikram Yoga-style silent film, but it was pretty warm in there. Credit Fritz Lang's film for holding an audience in less-than-ideal conditions.

If you'd like to see 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), I'm doing it three more times in the next couple of weeks.

Here's the press release for the screening this Wednesday, July 17 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. Hope to see you there, or at the others in Concord, N.H. and Arlington, Mass.

An original poster for 'Frau im Mond,' or 'Woman in the Moon.

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

Leavitt Theatre to mark Apollo 11 anniversary on 7/17 with vintage lunar voyage masterpiece

'Woman in the Moon,' early sci-fi adventure fantasy about mankind's first space mission, to be screened Wednesday, July 17 with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened at the Leavitt Theatre in honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening is open to the public. Tickets are $10 per person, general admission.

The screening, the latest in the Leavitt's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

"We felt it was worth marking this important milestone by sampling visions of space travel before the Apollo program put mankind on the moon," said Max Clayton of the Leavitt Theatre. "And what better way to do that than go back to the silent era and 'Woman in the Moon,' an epic fantasy about the German space program that never happened."

The rarely seen full-length version of 'Woman in the Moon' follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisers, anticipated many of the techniques used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later. For example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in actual space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.

Who needs mission control? Willy Fritsch gets ready to pull the lever.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi soap opera elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a female scientist and her two male crewmates; a plucky young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfire and treachery on the lunar surface.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

The film's showing at the Leavitt coincides with the 50th anniversary of the voyage that took Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon in advance of the landing, which occurred on July 20, 1969. It's also the 90th anniversary of the original theatrical release of 'Woman in the Moon.'

"This is a great and at-times bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the Leavitt's screening. "It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller. And as a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to be, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

Hey, why didn't NASA include picture windows for the Apollo astronauts?

Rapsis will improvise live musical accompaniment during the screening, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."

Director Fritz Lang, responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Bad timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an adviser on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle starting in the 1930s. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its detailed depiction of state-of-the-art rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find. For many years, the film was available only in cut-down 16mm versions that ran as short as one hour.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

"Although 'Woman in the Moon' is available for home viewing, this is a motion picture that should be experienced as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said. "There's nothing like it."

After 'Woman in the Moon,' other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Thursday, Aug. 15, 7 p.m.: 'Paths to Paradise' (1925). Two competing would-be jewel thieves reluctantly team up to pull off a major heist. Starring Raymond Griffith, a leading comedian for Paramount Pictures whose popularity rivaled Chaplin and Keaton in the 1920s,

• Wednesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m.: 'The Beloved Rogue' (1926) starring John Barrymore. Epic costume adventure based on the life of the 15th century French poet, François Villon. Wrongly banished from the Royal Court and sentenced to death, can the patriotic poet save France from an evil plot?

• Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Just in time for Halloween, our annual "Chiller Theatre" presentation! Lon Chaney stars in the original screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris.

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Fine Arts Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; admission is $10 per person, general seating. For more information, visit

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