Sunday, October 27, 2019

One more 'Man Who Laughs' followed by two 'Nosferatus,' but please hold the 'Phantom'

An original lobby card for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), which I'm accompanying today at 4:30 p.m. in Wilton, N.H.

Halloween: the busiest time of the year for a silent film accompanist!

It's mostly because people who otherwise aren't into the genre still enjoy seeing 'Nosferatu' and the Lon Chaney 'Phantom' this time of year.

And the inherent other-worldliness of silent cinema lends itself to a kind of out-of-body experience that fits well with the Halloween zeitgeist.

So each year, I do a certain number of 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom' screenings. But I also try to work in some other worthy pictures to give them exposure.

This weekend, I did Murnau's 'Faust' (1926) up in Brandon, Vt.—not strictly a Halloween film, but it has all the needed elements. It was well received.

And this year has been a big one for Paul Leni's 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), mostly because the appearance of the title character inspired the look of 'The Joker' of Batman fame, currently being reinterpreted by Joaquin Phoenix and Co. in the just-released "back story" picture.

I've done it twice already, and will be tackling it again at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H., where I've done a monthly silent film program for more than 10 years now.

Oddly, this year prompted only a single 'Phantom of the Opera' screening: a week ago in Natick, Mass.

Coming up this week: A double dose of Nosferatu. One of these years I'm going to get screenings sponsored by a cosmetic dentist.

And I haven't yet done 'Nosferatu,' although that will change quickly with back-to-back screenings this week: one on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Townsend, Mass. and then on Thursday, Oct. 31 (Halloween itself!) at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

It's appropriate that I'm playing the Colonial on Halloween, as this is the very same theater where I was scared out of my wits in 1971 by the original 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' starring Gene Wilder.

Really! I was seven years old, and when tubby German boy Augustus Gloop gets stuck in a factory pipe, I remember running up the aisle to get out of there.

I was found in the ladies room and brought back into the theater just in time to see the Blueberry Girl rolled off to the juicing room.

Never mind Nosferatu and Phantom. In my book, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka beats them all!

Scarier than any vampire.

Hope to see you at 'Man Who Laughs' this afternoon. And if you need a last final blast of creepiness to get into the Halloween spirit, I'm doing 'Nosferatu' on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Townsend (Mass.) Library, and again on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theater in Keene, N.H.

For more info, the press release for the Keene screening is below. Wishing all boys and ghouls a deadly Halloween!

Just hoping no trick-or-treaters show up at my place as Gene Wilder.

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Definitely not a time to play 'Me and My Shadow.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Classic vampire thriller 'Nosferatu' flies into Colonial Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 31

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare!

KEENE, N.H. — Celebrate Halloween this year with a classic silent horror film that gets scarier as the years go by.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

General admission is $8.50 per person.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as time goes by," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based musician who accompanies silent film screenings at venues across the nation.

"It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places," Rapsis said.

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of the German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' espisode.

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. General admission is $8.50 per person; for more info, call (603) 352-2033 or visit

Friday, October 25, 2019

'Faust' and foremost: spooky F.W. Murnau masterpiece tonight at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall

Emil Jannings as 'Mephisto' in Murnau's 'Faust' (1926), screening tonight (Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.) at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall.

It used to be kinda charming: each year in Brandon Town Hall we'd run a Halloween "Chiller Theater" program, so named because the building had no heating system.

Well, after 10 years of fund-raising and building improvements, the place now has central heat and is usable year-round.

That's progress!

But this Halloween, creature comforts won't stop us from exploring uncomfortable cinema. And so this evening I'll be creating music for F.W. Murnau's spectacular 1926 silent screen adaptation of the Faust legend.

You know the tale: a man consigns his soul to Satan in exchange for earthly delights, youth, or, in the case of the Broadway musical "Damn Yankees," a World Series victory.

Murnau's 'Faust' is highlighted by Emil Jannings as Satan, called "Mephisto" in this version. He kind of reminds me of the character of Frances Buxton in 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure.' What do you think?

If you really want to see the similarity, check out a clip of the dream sequence from 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure' with Francis dressed as the devil.

For a lot more info on the film and our screening, I've pasted in the press release below.

And now I'm thinking...given all the Faustian ties to the underworld, maybe it's fitting that Brandon Town Hall does have heat. And maybe we should turn it up real high. :)

Hope to see you tonight in hell — er, I mean Brandon, Vt.

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A poster promoting Murnau's 'Faust' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rarely shown 'Faust' adaptation on Friday, Oct. 25 at Brandon Town Hall

Silent film thriller starring Emil Jannings to be shown on the big screen with live music for Halloween-themed program

BRANDON, Vt..— It's been a novel, a stage play, and an opera. So when movies first appeared a century ago, it was only a matter of time before they tackled 'Faust,' the tale of a man who consigns his soul to the devil to obtain power in the present.

At the height of the silent era, German director F.W. Murnau created a cinematic version of 'Faust' filled with stunning images that maintain their power to astonish.

See for yourself with 'Faust' (1926), the original silent film adaptation of the classic legend, to be shown on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

A live musical score for the movie will be performed by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

Please note that this screening takes place on a Friday evening, not the traditional Saturday night for most silent film programs at Brandon Town Hall.

The screening, the last in this season's silent film series at Brandon Town Hall, is sponsored by Jan Coolidge and Nancy and Gary Meffe.

'Faust' is a 1926 silent film produced by German studio UFA, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman as Faust, Emil Jannings as Mephisto, and Camilla Horn as Gretchen.

Would you sell your soul to this man?

As the film opens, the demon Mephisto has a bet with an Archangel that he can corrupt a righteous man's soul and destroy in him what is divine. If he succeeds, the Devil will win dominion over earth.

The Devil delivers a plague to the village where Faust, an elderly alchemist, lives. Though he prays to stop the death and starvation, nothing happens. Disheartened, Faust throws his alchemy books in the fire, and then the Bible too. One book opens, showing how to have power and glory by making a pact with the Devil.

Faust goes to a crossroads as described in the book and conjures up the forces of evil. When Mephisto appears, he induces Faust to make a trial, 24-hour bargain. Faust will have Mephisto's service till the sand runs out in an hourglass, at which time the Devil will rescind the pact.

At first, Faust uses his new power to help the people of the village, but they shun him when they find out that he cannot face a cross. They stone him and he takes shelter in his home. Mephisto then uses the lure of restored youth and love to convince Faust to sign over his soul once and for all.

The remainder of the film follows the grim consequences for everyone, all depicted with vivid visual imagination in the last film Murnau made in Germany before making the move to Hollywood.

'Faust' continues to impress modern critics, including Roger Ebert.

"Murnau had a bold visual imagination, distinctive even during the era of German Expressionism with its skewed perspectives and twisted rooms and stairs," Ebert wrote in 2005. " 'Faust,' with its supernatural vistas of heaven and hell, is particularly distinctive in the way it uses the whole canvas."

In screening F.W. Murnau's version of 'Faust,' Brandon Town Hall aims to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.

"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.

"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.

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

F.W. Murnau's ‘Faust' will be shown on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

'Man Who Laughs' tonight in Concord, N.H. starts run of four spooky shows in three states

As the lyric goes: you're never fully dressed without a smile.

This year, Halloween has come upon us frighteningly fast.

One reason is that as we age, we perceive time as passing more rapidly. (That's scary just by itself.)

But this year, my obligations as director of a non-profit museum have served to put time into a trash compactor: weeks race by like days, months gallop by like weeks, and entire chunks of the calendar disappear every time my alarm goes off.

I do keep up with a pretty ambitious schedule of silent film screenings. I just don't have time to write about it.

But tonight starts a four-day stretch of spooky Halloween screenings that will take me all over the three states of northern New England: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

So in attempt to stir the bubbling cauldron of audience interest, here's a preview of my spooky road trip, which starts tonight in Concord, N.H. with live accompaniment for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) at Red River Theatres.

A press release with complete info is tacked on below. But I have to say right up front: how amazing that Victor Hugo could come up with these sprawling tales that turn on human disfiguration, and often find love amidst unbelieveably human cruelty!

Thursday's 'Man Who Laughs' will be followed by Murnau's 'Faust' (1926) on Friday, Oct. 25 in Brandon, Vt.; then it's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine on Saturday, Oct. 26, followed by 'Man Who Laughs' again on Sunday, Oct. 27 in Wilton, N.H.

And then Halloween will race by, and the next thing you know I'll be in San Francisco for a William S. Hart film at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. And then Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and Black History Month, and, and, and...

For complete details, check the "Upcoming Silent Films" link on the upper RH corner of this page.

And if you're up for 'The Man Who Laughs' tonight at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., here's all you need to know:

Original poster art for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), which I'm accompanying tonight at Red River Theatres in Concord.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) to screen with live music on Thursday, Oct. 24 at Red River

Just in time for Halloween: Creepy silent film melodrama inspired the look of Batman's nemesis 'The Joker'

CONCORD, N.H. —'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), a silent film thriller, will be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St. in Concord.

A live score will be created by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer who specializes in music for silent film presentations. Tickets are general admission $12; Red River Theatres members $10.

Red River's silent film/live music series is sponsored by Alliance Audiology of Concord.

'The Man Who Laughs,' directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, is a silent drama about a disfigured man forced to wear an insane grin all his life.

The movie was a popular and ground-breaking silent film adaptation of a sprawling Victor Hugo novel set in 17th century England.

Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a child born of English nobility. After his father is executed, a cruel King James II orders a royal surgeon to hideously disfigure young Gwynplaine's face into a permanent smile, so that he may always laugh at his father's foolishness.

Abandoned and shunned, young Gwynplaine is left to make his way on his own. He learns to conceal his face from strangers, befriending Dea, a blind girl who is not aware of his disfigurement.

The pair are then adopted and put to work by a traveling impresario, who makes use of Gwynplaine's startling face in his theatrical productions.

Gwynplaine and Dea grow to adulthood and eventually fall in love, but complications arise when Gwynplaine's noble lineage is revealed, entitling him to his father's estate—provided he marry another woman of noble birth.

An original lobby card for 'The Man Who Laughs.'

Veidt, who starred earlier in the German expressionist horror classic 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919), played the role of Gwynplaine by using a prosthetic device inside his mouth to force his face into a hideous grin and display outsized teeth.

This striking look was later adapted by Batman creator Bob Kane as a model for the physical appearance of iconic villain 'The Joker.'

Critics have praised 'The Man Who Laughs' for its dark visual style and daring story content.

"'The Man Who Laughs' is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film," wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. "The film is more disturbing than it might have been because of Leni's mastery of visual style."

Director Leni, originally trained as an artist, made ample use of shadows and darkness in 'The Man Who Laughs,' which set the stage for many legendary Universal horror classics soon to follow, including 'Dracula' (1931) and 'Frankenstein' (1931).

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St. in Concord. General admission $12, Red River Theatres members $10; for more info and to purchase advance tickets, visit or call (603) 224-4600.