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.

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