Friday, December 18, 2020

One more screening ('Beggars of Life' on 12/27) after which the year 2020 will be in hindsight

Promotional artwork for 'Beggars of Life' (1928).

One more show to go in 2020: a screening of the highly regarded late silent drama 'Beggars of Life' (1928), which I've never accompanied before. 

Directed by William Wellman (fresh off 'Wings' the year before) and thought of by many as Louise Brooks' best film before she decamped to Germany, it's running on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Lots more info below in the press release. And with the theater's capacity reduced by 50 percent (to 108), there's plenty of room to observe social distancing.

And thus ends a year that began in exciting fashion. Really—I think back, and the first 10 weeks of 2020 now seem like some kind of lost golden age. 

Consider just the sci-fi genre: In January, I zipped out to Cleveland to accompany a memorable screening of 'Aelita, Queen of Mars' (1924) at Case Western University's annual 30-hour sci-fi marathon. Then in February, it was the Barrymore 'Jekyll and Hyde' (1920) at the annual Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, one of my favorite recurring gigs.

And in March, I was all set to go back to Ohio, this time to Columbus for the annual 24-Hour Ohio Sci-Fi Marathon, where I was to accompany 'The Lost World' (1925). This would have made me one of very few people to have attended all "big three" sci-fi marathons in a single year. But by then, Covid-19 had shut everything down.

But before that, at the Kansas Silent Film Festival in February, I got to lead a male chorus while accompanying 'The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg' (1926). A first for me! 

The first weekend in March, I did live music for 'Way Down East' (1920) in Boothbay Harbor, Maine; and the next day accompanied 'Mothers of Men' (1917), a suffragette film at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, N.Y. And then that Monday, I got to accompany a touring program of silents restored by Italy's Cinema Ritrovato that was playing at the University of New Hampshire. Wow!

So it was shaping up to be quite a year. Looking ahead: I had programs scheduled at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass.; my debut at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Md.; a weekend at the Cleveland Cinematheque, and visits in May and November to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum out in Fremont, Calif.

But after a Rin Tin double feature screening at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday, March 15, it all stopped. (The films were 'Clash of the Wolves' (1925) and 'The Night Cry'; the latter is one of the most entertaining silents I've ever scored. And that's when it ended, at least for a few months.

All I can say is: thank heavens for small independent theaters willing to do creative things to make their cinemas safe, and still find programming that some people will come out for.

Yes, audiences are smaller. But since July, I've been able to keep up a regular schedule of silent film screenings at the Town Hall Theatre and the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, which is up in Plymouth, N.H.

Thanks to the management of both venues for finding a way to keep movies on screen. 

In the case of the Town Hall Theatre, we've actually upped our game, doing screenings at least twice a month, and programming some challenging titles such as Fritz Lang's 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' (1922) in November.

For at least the first half of 2021, we're continuing the pace in Wilton, and even doing a whole week's worth of silent films in January. More about that very soon.

But for now, next up is Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, and Wallace Beery in 'Beggars of Life,' coming the Sunday after Christmas. Happy holidays and see you at the theater for the final show of 2020!

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Louise Brooks (disguised as a boy) and Richard Arlen in 'Beggars of Life' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Louise Brooks in 'Beggars of Life' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 27

Iconic 1920s actress plays young woman on the run in silent crime drama with live music

WILTON, N.H.—She had one of the great faces of the movies when cinema was young. And she had a wild streak off screen as well.

She was Louise Brooks, the iconic 1920s actress whose career peaked in the U.S. with 'Beggars of Life,' a silent crime drama released by Paramount in 1928.

Experience Brooks' big screen appeal when the Town Hall Theatre shows a restored version of 'Beggars of Life' on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 2 p.m.

The screening will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

'Beggars of Life' stars Brooks as woman fleeing a murder who dresses like a boy to survive among train-hopping hoboes.

After escaping her violent stepfather, Nancy (Brooks) befriends kindly drifter Jim (Richard Arlen).

They ride the rails until an encounter with a rowdy band of hoboes led by the blustery Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) leads to a daring, desperate conflict on top of a moving train.

Based on the 1924 memoir of real-life hobo Jim Tully, 'Beggars of Life' was helmed by William Wellman, one of Hollywood's hottest directors at the time.

Wellman's epic air drama 'Wings' (1927) won the first-ever Best Picture honors at the inaugural Academy Awards.

For Brooks, 'Beggars of Life' was regarded as her best film to date, but she left Hollywood in 1929, dissatisfied with her career.

She went to Germany, starring in three feature films which launched her to international stardom: 'Pandora's Box' (1929), 'Diary of a Lost Girl' (1929), and 'Miss Europe' (1930).

After retiring from acting, Brooks fell upon financial hardship. For the next two decades, she struggled with alcoholism and suicidal tendencies.

Following the rediscovery of her films by cinephiles in the 1950s, a reclusive Brooks began writing articles about her film career.

She published her memoir, 'Lulu in Hollywood,' in 1982. Three years later, she died of a heart attack at age 78.

'Beggars of Life,' like all films of the silent era, was intended to be screened in a theater with live music, and with an audience.

"This was pop culture of its time, and films like 'Beggars of Life' caused people to first fall in love with the movies," said Rapsis, who creates music for more than 100 silent film programs each year.

"If you can put all these elements back together, the art of visual story-telling falls back into place. The result is a movie experience with its own unique and timeless power," Rapsis said.

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity.

For complete information about safety protocols, visit

The restored 'Beggars of Life' will be screened with live music on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Ranching and boxing and Buster, oh my! Accompanying a Keaton double bill Friday, 12/11

Look out, 2021 is on the horizon! Buster Keaton and Kathleen Myers in 'Go West' (1925), which I'm accompanying on Friday, Dec. 11 in Plymouth, N.H.

Only a handful of shows this month as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

One this weekend has nothing to do with Christmas, but everything to do with our need for a laugh.

It's a double feature of two rarely screened Buster Keaton features: 'Go West' (1925) and 'Battling Butler' (1926).

Although the pandemic continues apace, the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center provides a safe environment: one large enough for audience members to practice social distancing and still enjoy the cinema experience.

For more about the program, check out the press release pasted in below.

After that, it's 'Beggars of Life' (1928) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, Dec. 27, and that's it for 2020.

What will 2021 bring? Darned if I know. But I intend to keep plugging away at silent film accompaniment, learning the craft and developing my own scoring voice and vocabulary.

A lot of screenings are already booked, and I expect more as the next few months unfold, especially if the pandemic starts to subside. 

I would like to put more time and energy into writing things down. I'm carrying around a backlog of ideas and projects, and it's starting to be too much to keep lugging around.

Plus it might be the year I finally write out the answers to the most commonly asked questions about what I do and why I do it. 

But for now, there are films in need of music, including the two Busters this weekend. Hope to see you there!

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Buster Keaton is shown the ropes in 'Battling Butler' (1926), part of a double feature on Friday, Dec. 11.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton silent comedy double feature at Flying Monkey Moviehouse on Friday, Dec. 11

Cowboy comedy 'Go West' and boxing tale 'Battling Butler' to be screened with live musical accompaniment in Covid-safe theater

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

See for yourself with a screening of two of Keaton's classic features, 'Go West' and 'Battling Butler,' on Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth.

Admission is $10 per person, general seating.

The family-friendly films 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.

At the Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

"Films from the silent era were designed to be seen with an audience, and it's totally safe to do so," Rapsis said.

In 'Go West' (1925), Buster heads out to ranch country, where the stone-faced comedian encounters romance with—a cow! Can he save his love from a trip to the livestock yards? Rustle up some belly laughs as Buster must once again prove himself worthy to all those who doubt him.

'Go West' was an unusual film for Keaton. With its portrayal of a down-and-out wanderer who becomes a reluctant hero, 'Go West' could have been a vehicle for Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.

The film was praised by critics and did well at the box office.

Co-starring in 'Go West' is a sad-faced cow named Brown Eyes, with whom Keaton worked extensively prior to the filming. Brown Eyes received a credit in the movie, and even got a salary for her acting — $13 a week.

Keaton's female co-star is actress Kathleen Myers. Joe Keaton, the comedian's father and a popular vaudeville performer, appears briefly in a barbershop scene.

Much of 'Go West' was shot on location in Kingman, Ariz., during the summer of 1925, in temperatures approaching 120 degrees.

'Battling Butler' (1926) tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O'Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation's most popular sport. Neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters, and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey ranked as an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were popular with early movie audiences as well.

"These films are audience favorites, and people continue to be surprised at how engrossing and exhilarating they can be when shown as they were intended: in a theater, and with live music," said Rapsis, who accompanies more than 100 screenings each year at venues around the nation.

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."

Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

Keaton shows off his physique as a gloved warrior in the boxing ring.

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.

Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era's leading talents.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era with no special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.

Buster Keaton's 'Go West' and ‘Battling Butler’ will be shown on Friday, Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more information, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

One movie, two very different plots: showing both versions of 'Varieté' on Sunday, Nov. 29

An original poster for 'Varieté,' renamed 'Variety' for its American release.

Talk about your multi-course meal!

On Sunday, Nov. 29, I'm accompanying 'Varieté' (1925), the silent German drama about love and fidelity among trapeze artists. 

An interesting thing about this one is that for years, the film circulated in a cut-down "American" edition, so named because distributor Paramount heavily edited the movie for U.S. release.

But archivists in Germany have since restored the original version, and what a difference! 

There's an art to trimming a movie: done right, it can improve a picture's overall effect, such as what happened the silent version of Harold Lloyd's 1929 comedy 'Welcome Danger.'

In the case of 'Varieté,' however, Paramount excised so much content that it fundamentally altered the plot, and the artistic point, of the picture.

So to finish off Thanksgiving weekend, on Sunday afternoon we'll explore what happened by seeing parts of the U.S. release of 'Varieté,' followed by the completely restored version.

For more details, check out the press release. Hope to see you this weekend, and happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

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An original poster for the German drama 'Varieté.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

At Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 29: two versions of the same film

German silent drama 'Varieté' (1925), considered risqué, was heavily censored for its American release

WILTON, N.H.—What if censors cut so much from a movie that it completely changed the basic plot?

That's what happened with 'Varieté' (1925), a silent drama from Germany with a risqué story that ran counter to American standards of what was acceptable on movie screens.

So for U.S. distribution, Paramount Pictures heavily edited the film, removing major plot elements and entire characters.

In addition, censors in local communities often trimmed out additional footage, causing surviving prints of 'Varieté' to become further mutilated.

See the difference between the original and censored versions of 'Varieté' when the Town Hall Theatre screens the film with live music on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 2 p.m.

Admission is free and open to all; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

Original music for 'Varieté' will be performed live by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis of Bedford, N.H.

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit

'Varieté,' a drama about love and infidelity among trapeze artists in the European carnival scene, was long recognized for its innovative camera work and intense performances.

The film stars Emil Jannings, a celebrated Swiss/German actor who would soon migrate to Hollywood, winning the very first Best Actor Academy Award in 1929.

For decades, the film circulated in the mutilated American version, which is notably shorter than the original German release prepared by director Ewald André Dupont. Among other changes, Paramount cut the entire first 10 minutes of  'Varieté.'

But in recent years, the original cut of 'Variety' has been reconstituted by scouring archives worldwide in search of the highest quality surviving materials.

Researchers succeeded in putting together a restored version of the film that reflects Dupont's vision.

At the Town Hall Theater, audiences will first see about 15 minutes of the heavily edited U.S. version of 'Varieté.'

Following that, the restored full-length version of 'Varieté' will be shown.

"This will vividly show how censors could completely change important aspects of a film," said Rapsis, the accompanist.

Rapsis said 'Variety' is a good example of the challenge of seeing early cinema in its original state.

"Film is not a permanent medium, and we've lost about three-quarters of all movies produced during the silent era.

"In some cases, often only heavily edited versions of films are available. So we're really fortunate that archivists were able to restore 'Varieté' to its original length."

In addition to its emotional intensity, 'Varieté' continues to receive positive reviews for its technical innovations.

"Impressionistic lighting, lingering expressionist imagery, and giddily mobile camerawork are all pushed to unprecedented extremes," noted Website DVD Beaver in 2017.

The complete restored 'Varieté' plus an excerpt of the U.S. version will be screened with live music on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit

Monday, November 16, 2020

True confessions: notes on a weekend of making music with Dr. Mabuse at the Town Hall Theatre

Before the show: outside the Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 15.

Well, it didn't seem like 4½ hours.

And that's entirely to the credit of Fritz Lang, director of 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler' (1922), a sprawling two-part tale of treachery among the decadent Berlin upper class.

Lang thought big, and the Mabuse saga was among his biggest: a whopping 270-minute deep dive into a now-lost world of casinos, crime, and corruption.

And once again, it happened: a century-old movie that seemed tough going when viewed at home snapped to life when shown as intended: in a theater on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience present. (Albeit a small socially-distancing one.)

Lang, somewhat like his counterpart D.W. Griffith in the U.S., had a knack for assembling films that keep viewers watching. Like the title character Dr. Mabuse, Lang was among those directors who knew how to keep an audience spellbound.

That's what happened on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14 & 15, at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., when we screened (and I accompanied) both parts of Dr. Mabuse. On either day, once the film started, it was hard to stop watching. 

And so I felt privileged to enter into another wing in the great cinematic mansion Fritz Lang built in Germany during the silent era. I've accompanied Lang's 'Metropolis' (1927), 'Spies' (1928), and 'Woman in the Moon' (1929) many times. I've even tackled his two-part adaptation of 'Die Niebelungen' (1925), which I accompanied last spring.

But Dr. Mabuse remained unexplored territory. I'd read about it, but actually never seen it or had a chance to do music for it until the pandemic cleared the Town Hall Theatre's schedule of first-run attractions. So why not uncork Dr. Mabuse and give him a chance? 

By the way: to understand the position of show biz where I live, consider the sign at left, just down the street from the sign promoting our screening. They don't call it the Town Hall Theater for nothing.

Back to Dr. Mabuse. To my delight, I found this was another link in the cinematic chain that Lang was forging all through the 1920s. 

'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler' is full of the director's familiar hallmarks: a fixation with numerals, lots of guys wearing monocles (well, of course, but still distinctive), strange not-quite-Art Deco set design, a penchant for repeated words, henchmen wearing leather jackets and goggles, alarming facial hair, and more.

It took me awhile to get to the point where I felt I could musically do justice to Dr. Mabuse (by the way, pronounced "mah-BOO-zuh). This makes sense, after all, considering how tough it was for the prosecutor to bring Mabuse to justice. Har!

But I deliberately set about creating brand-new musical material specifically for Lang's world of Dr. Mabuse. 

For the not-so-good Dr. himself, I came up a motif of eight notes that traced interlocking augmented fourths over a drone bass. Intended as a leitmotif, or theme for the character, it proved versatile enough to be shaped in various ways to work whenever something nefarious was going on. 

What were the notes? C, then upwards F sharp, G, A flat, then down to D, then up to A flat, A, and B flat. If you wanted, you could keep the pattern going: down to E, then up to B flat, B, C, then down to F sharp, then up to C, C sharp, D.

Dr. Mabuse (a heavily made-up Rudolf Klein-Rogge) casts a spell on Prosecutor Norbert Von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke). 

With each four notes, you're outlining most of a dominant seventh chord, but which isn't going to properly resolve, as the next four notes subvert traditional harmony and simply don't allow it. Rather, the next four form another dominant seventh chord, a whole step up, which is also not going to resolve, and so on. 

So the notes just on their own create a great deal of anticipation or tension. If you hold some of the notes through, or harmonize each note with a minor or major triad, or even other chords, all kinds of moods and textures are possible. 

As along as you keep the eight notes in there, it all seemed to hold together. And with 4½ hours, there's plenty of room to try out things and really work with the material. Losing myself in the task of creating live music for an unfolding narrative is my own personal version of nirvana.

For the many casino scenes, I came up with what I think of as "Kurt Weill jazz": a jaunty melody with lots of dotted eighth notes that cavort up and down the minor scale, but with little syncopation. Very German, to my ears. Call it "square" jazz—similar to what Weill came up with for 'The Threepenny Opera.'

But when that music had served its purpose, there was plenty of room (meaning lots of casino scenes) for general Offenbach-like melodies: upbeat diatonic ditties with chromatic runs made up on the spot over a boom-chick bass accompaniment. 

These tunes come from God-knows-where. Think of 'Be Our Guest' from Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast,' or the overture to 'Die Fleidermaus,' which I heard on the radio this morning and brought me right back to Saturday and Sunday in Lang's casinos.

For Prosecutor Von Wenk, it was a descending scale, usually in a minor mode, with a triplet turn in the other direction every fourth beat, and occasionally elsewhere, as warranted. With its steady beat and staccato feel, it made a nice contrast with the Mabuse music.

There was also a "love" theme that was basically held notes over a steady minor-key accompaniment, either big arpeggios or a steady beat of quarter notes as tension either rose or fell. The key here was that the love theme contained within it three rising chromatic notes, same as the Mabuse theme. So this created a lot of possibility for theme transformation on the fly.

Dr. Mabuse, a master of disguise, sorts through his many identities. Gosh, which to use for the high school reunion? 

In terms of special musical effects, 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler' has two moments. Near the beginning of Part 1, a scene on the stock exchange features multiple glimpses of staffers ringing bells to signal to traders that the market was about to close. So my grandmother's brass school bell came in handy, although overuse at close range kind of killed my hearing for much of the film. (The bell is LOUD.)

And near the end of Part 2, during the climactic gun battle, Prosecutor Von Wenk repeatedly blows a police whistle. So naturally I would use my own whistle—but wait, where is it? About halfway through the film, I realized my referee's whistle wasn't hanging around my neck. Instead, it was still in my carrying crate.

Luckily, the crate was on the floor to one side of the keyboard, just within reach if I leaned over quite far. Alas, it was completely in the dark. And so, while continuing the accompaniment with my right hand, I began playing an elaborate game of "touchy-feely" with my left in an attempt to find the whistle.

This went on for several minutes until I found the lanyard that the whistle hangs from, only to discover it was tangled in several spare extension cords and was not coming loose. I finally pulled it hard enough to snap the lanyard, only to discover it was the wrong whistle.

So back I went, fishing around in the darkness with one hand while the other created music for whatever was happening on screen. (I honestly can't remember.) Eventually found the whistle before audience members concluded I might be having a stroke.

Well, between the music, the bell, and the whistle, it was enough to accompany both parts of Dr. Mabuse, cinema's first true evil genius and criminal mastermind. And a good time was had by all!

Things will quiet down now—just a few screenings left this year, and a pretty blank calendar for 2021 so far due to the ongoing pandemic. 

If this keeps up, I'll have to make a sign: WILL ACCOMPANY SILENT CINEMA FOR FOOD.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Taking a chance on 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler' at Town Hall Theatre on weekend of Nov. 14-15

Pick a card—or in this case, a headshot, each showing lead actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge in one of the title character's many disguises.

This month I'm taking a gamble by doing music for 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,' the sprawling 1922 crime thriller in which German director Fritz Lang really hit his stride.

Why a gamble? Not because of the film, which is tremendous—some call it a masterpiece.

It's a gamble because I'm asking audiences to take a chance on a rarely screened foreign film from nearly a century ago which almost nobody today has heard of, and which runs 4½ hours. 

It's also a gamble because due to its length, we're running it in two installments: Part 1 on Saturday, Nov. 14 and Part 2 on Sunday, Nov. 15. Both screenings start at 2 p.m.

So I'm asking would-be attendees to basically give up a weekend to immerse themselves in the twisted world of 'Dr. Mabuse.' 

(Which, by the way, I'm told is pronounced "mah-BOO-zeh," which I didn't realize until now. I lead a sheltered life.)

 And all this in the middle of a pandemic that's keeping people away from theaters in droves.

Talk about rolling the dice! 

Rudolf Klein-Rogge, left, as criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse.

But in the spirit of Dr. Mabuse, whose LinkedIn page (if he had one) would include "hypnotism and mind control" among his skills, I am attempting to will audience members to attend.

Look into my eyes. You're feeling sleepy. Verrrrrry sleepy. 

You will attend. You must attend. And you will bring many friends.

Did it work? We'll find out on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., when I accompany Part 1 of 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' to a packed house at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

And it's also a gamble because I'm in the process of developing completely new and original musical material for 'Dr. Mabuse,' which I will use to create an improvised score in real time.

Better hypnotize myself while I'm at it!

For more about the film and our two-part screening, here's the press release. Hope to see you there for this rare chance to see an early cinematic masterpiece in two back-to-back screenings.

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Dr. Mabuse preparing for his next adventure.

Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler: 2 Parts Over 2 Days Nov. 14/15

Epic two-part thriller 'Dr. Mabuse' to screen at Town Hall Theatre Nov. 14-15

Pioneering silent drama about criminal mastermind presented over two days with live music

WILTON, N.H.—It's a film so big, it takes two days to show it all.

It's 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler,' a landmark crime thriller that pushed the boundaries of cinema and story-telling when it hit theaters in 1922.

The rarely screened early masterpiece from German director Fritz Lang will be presented in two parts over two days at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre: Part 1 on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., and Part 2 on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m.

Admission for both screenings is free and open to all; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

An original score for both parts will be performed live by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis of Bedford, N.H.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about safety protocols, visit

'Dr. Mabuse' was a daring project by director Fritz Lang, who would later helm 'Metropolis' (1927) and a host of early screen classics, including two sequels to the Mabuse story.

Based on a contemporary novel by Norbert Jacques, 'Dr. Mabuse' tells the story of a criminal mastermind who uses disguises and hypnosis to defraud and control his wealthy victims.

Oh, the places you'll go! An evening out with Dr. Mabuse.

Set in Germany after World War I, the movie aimed to capture the chaotic and unreal nature of life in Berlin at the time.

It also became the template for the criminal espionage film genre, with its atmosphere of intrigue, treachery and deceit among sophisticated high society.

'Dr. Mabuse' was created at a time when European cinema was not subject to now-accepted constraints of length or scope.

Lang's completed film, designed to be shown in two parts, runs an extraordinary 4½ hours.

The first part, 'The Great Gambler: A Picture of the Time,' introduces Dr. Mabuse and his criminal enterprises, which include extortion, stock market manipulation, and swindling the wealthy elite.

The second part, 'Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age,' continues the story, which includes assassination, a scene of mass hypnosis in a theater, a daring escape through sewers, and a melodramatic climax.

"This is filmmaking on a grand scale," said Rapsis, who has created new musical material to help bring Lang's sprawling story to life. "For movie fans, the rare chance to see Lang's ground-breaking film on the big screen with live music over two days, as he intended, is not to be missed."

'Dr. Mabuse' stars actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge in the title role. Klein-Rogge frequently collaborated with Lang, playing the iconic role of scientist Rotwang in 'Metropolis' and criminal mastermind Haghi in Lang's 'Spies' (1928).

During production, 'Dr. Mabuse' had its share of behind-the-scenes drama. Lang began an affair with screenwriter Thea von Harbou, who at the time was married to Klein-Rogge. Her separation from Klein-Rogge was amicable, however, and did not interfere with the film. Ultimately, Lang married von Harbou; the three then worked on several subsequent films.

Upon its release, critics hailed 'Dr. Mabuse' as an example of cinema's story-telling and artistic potential.

The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung called the first part "the attempt to create an image of our chaotic times" and went on to state that it "will give people fifty or one hundred years from now an idea of an age that they could hardly comprehend without such a document."

Film-Kurier praised Klein-Rogge's "brilliant performance" and Lang's "sensitive yet experienced" direction.

'Dr. Mabuse' wasn't released in the United States until 1927, and then only in an edited-down two-hour version that proved unsuccessful.

Today, contemporary critics recognize the original 'Dr. Mabuse' as Lang's earliest masterpiece and a lasting achievement.

"Mabuse remains memorable for the darkly brooding atmosphere that Lang creates, a disturbing compound of hysteria and fatalistic passivity.”
– John Wakeman, World Film Directors Volume 1

Both parts of 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' (1922) will be shown in separate screenings over two days at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Part 1 will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., while Part 2 will run on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Both screenings will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Admission is free for both screenings. A donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series.

For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit   

Sunday, October 25, 2020

To laugh or not laugh at 'Nosferatu,' plus a full line-up of Halloween screenings this week

Max Shreck as Count Orlok emerges from the hold.

This afternoon's screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Town Hall Theatre went frighteningly well!

About 60 people turned up. That's a good-sized crowd for a pandemic, but still well within the Wilton, N.H. theater's reduced capacity of 108.

The film seemed to connect—no surprise there as one of its central themes is the timely topic of plague.

Afterwards, theater owner/operator told me one woman left early, upset at two things:

1. A guy kept checking his phone during the film. Need to remind people not to do that.

2. People were laughing at some parts of the movie. This offended her because it's supposed to be a horror movie. How dare people chuckle!

So that's also something I have to say: not all laughter is equal. And director F.W. Murnau was, I think, in some cases trying for laughs, although of the nervous kind.

I believe in presenting century-old cinema to today's audiences, there is right and wrong laughter.

Tittering at Mary Philbin's over-the-top "acting" in 'Phantom of the Opera' is the wrong kind of laughter: the kind directed at the film and the people involved in it. Ho ho, how silly this all is!

But about 'Nosferatu': when Count Orlok observes that Hutter's wife "has a nice neck," of course an audience may laugh, knowing what is to come. I think Murnau knew that even then.

So I'll have to mention these things at other upcoming screenings of 'Nosferatu.'

Speaking of which: it's now the week before Halloween, normally the busiest of the year for this silent film accompanist. 

Although Covid-19 has kept some theaters closed this year, causing some gigs to vanish, I've managed to put together a respectable line-up of shows.

One highlight: two programs on Thursday, Oct. 29 at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass., a new venue for me. Thanks again to the Mass family, stewards of this classic downtown cinema, for giving silent film a place on the bill!

Here's a summary of upcoming Halloween shows:

• Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, 6:30 p.m.: "Nosferatu" (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is not only the best ever done, but has actually become creepier with the passage of time. See for yourself...if you dare. Monthly silent film series at a restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

An original poster for 'The Phantom of the Opera.'

• Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, 2:30 p.m.: "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney; Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.;  call (413) 773-9260 or visit Celebrate Halloween with one of the all-time classics. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. And remember: in silent film, no one can hear you SCREAM! Admission, $6.50 per person.

• Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, 9 p.m.: "Nosferatu" (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau; Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.;  call (413) 773-9260 or visit Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is not only the best ever done, but has actually become creepier with the passage of time. See for yourself...if you dare. Admission, $9.50 per person; $8.50 students/seniors.

Lon Chaney as "Phroso the Magician" in 'West of Zanzibar' (1928).

• Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, 7:30 p.m: Special Halloween Lon Chaney "Creepfest" Double Feature;  Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; Two strange and disturbing silent thrillers, both starring Chaney at the peak of his career and directed by Todd Browning, who would later helm the cult film 'Freaks' (1932). Live music by accompanist Jeff Rapsis. 

In 'The Unknown' (1927), Chaney plays 'Alonzo the Armless,' a circus knife-thrower (he uses his feet!) with a dark past who lusts after bareback rider Joan Crawford, who is also pursued by the circus strong man, but she has a phobia about being touched by men. See where this is going? 

In 'West of Zanzibar' (1928), Chaney plays a vaudeville magician who loses use of his legs in an accident but journeys to Africa to seek revenge on the wealthy businessman (Lionel Barrymore) who stole his beloved, with shocking results. A double dose of Lon Chaney will make it a Halloween you'll never forget! Admission free, donations of $10 per person encouraged. 

I'm especially excited by the Chaney double bill on Halloween night in Wilton. In one film, he's without arms; in the other, he can't use his legs. If anyone can suggest a tagline that won't get us in trouble, I'm all ears!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yesterday, the Moon and UFO Festival; today, 'Caligari' in Natick, Mass., then 'Wings' in Wilton, N.H. later this week

It's not easy being green. For some reason, you just don't fit in.

It's a beautiful Columbus Day weekend here in northern New England. The foliage is at its peak, but there's also spectacular color inside, such as this alien glimpsed as part of the Greater New England UFO Conference in Wilton, N.H. (More on that below.)

First up: this afternoon (Sunday, Oct. 11) it's 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920) at the Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St. in Natick, Mass. Screening time is 6 p.m., so guess it's technically this evening. 

I haven't promoted this one heavily because the Center, like all venues in Massachusetts, is limited to just 25 people due to Covid-19 restrictions. But if you'd like to go, check, as tickets are available only online and in advance.

But then we swing back to New Hampshire later this week with a screening of the epic World War I picture 'Wings' (1927) on Thursday, Oct. 15. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., and it's the opening title in a three-day festival of classics brought to you by the Aviation Museum of N.H.

More on 'Wings' and the festival below. Before that, let's tackle the alien. (Not literally, as he may have a raygun, or be sticky.) He/she/it was spotted in the Town Hall Theatre lobby as part of, yes, the Greater New England UFO Conference, which is taking place this weekend.

In fact, it's still going on today: Sunday, Oct. 11. So there's still time to check it out if you're within driving or bicycling distance to Wilton, N.H. Among other attractions, the theater is enforcing social distancing by placing blow-up aliens (similar to the one above) in selected seats.

As an incentive, it's also a confab of "Big Foot" fans, one of whom can make plaster casts for you to take home:

Casting call: Take home your very own big feet!

I wish to apologize to all Bigfoot fans, plus the Native American community in general, for mistakenly referring to Big Foot in my opening remarks as "Sacajawea" instead of "Sasquatch." Wow, I'm turning into my malaprop-prone mother. God rest her soul. (Apologies to her, too, by the way. Just because.)

Anyway: I love doing music for Lang's 'Frau im Mond' (the original German title) because it's such a surprise for audiences, and also because the whole story and treatment are a good fit for the kind of music I make: that of the big gesture. 

Things always start off with a bang due to a flashback near the beginning: Prof. Manfeldt is seen more than three decades earlier, lecturing on his "gold on the moon" theory to fellow academics, who promptly riot. Lang then shows close-ups of a bell being rung and a whistle being blown to quell the fracas: literally, bells and whistles!

And that's what I use: my grandmother's old brass school bell, and a referee's whistle, to kick up a nice sonic riot to go with Lang's visuals. And it's really effective, I think, especially when the flashback ends and Lang dissolves back to Prof. Manfeldt, now impoverished and living in a garret: all the noise dies down and I just leave soft high note sustained, hanging there.

When I accompany 'Woman in the Moon,' the entire score is built out of original motifs for characters and situations. You need material to hold together a nearly three-hour film. But also, in just one instance, I use an identifiable tune that I think helps the film's emotional line.

The tune: 'Gaudeamus igitur,' the classic student anthem. I work it in during Manfeldt's flashback lecture to establish atmosphere, and then we don't hear it again until much later, when he reaches the moon and actually finds, yes, GOLD! 

Lang illustrates the moment visually by showing the Professor's shouts echoing among the lunar caverns, and I add a note of musical triumph by folding in the chords to 'Gaudeamus' on top of the by-then-rhythmic accompaniment in the bass. 

Lot of interesting comments from the 30 or so people who attended the screening. One I'd never heard before: "NASA could use you to add drama to their launches."

By the way, I mentioned bicycling because after yesterday's trip to the moon, I got on my trusty road bike and pedaled a late afternoon loop from the theater into the hills of bucolic Lyndeborough, N.H. (Pronounced "line-boro" for all you flatlanders.) 

And I mean hills. It was all up, up, up to what's called "Lyndeborough Center," with its meetinghouse and parsonage and open fields and views for miles. And then, as dusk gathered, I enjoyed my own rocket ship ride down the road to a place called "Fitch's Corner" in Milford, then back to the theater.

Distance was only about 15 miles, but the uphills made for slow going, while the downhills couldn't be taken advantage of entirely because it was getting dark and you have to be careful on these back roads.

But the air was still warm, even in the growing twilight, so it made for a spectacular communion with this year's foliage, which will be gone soon enough. 

Okay, here's more info about 'Wings' on Thursday and the other classic aviation films we're showing later this week. See you at the theater!

*   *   *

'Wings' to be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Town Hall Theatre.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Three-day festival of classic aviation adventure films coming to Wilton, N.H.

John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart among stars featured in Academy Award-winning pictures presented by Aviation Museum of N.H.

WILTON, N.H.—Fly off to high-altitude adventure with a festival of classic aviation films at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The three-day event, which runs from Thursday, Oct. 15 through Saturday, Oct. 17, gives local audiences a chance to see timeless aviation movies as they were intended—on the big screen and in a theater.

The festival will include four large-scale features from Hollywood's Golden Age, ranging from the classic World War I aviation drama 'Wings' (1927) to the all-star wide-screen desert survival blockbuster 'The Flight of the Phoenix' (1965).

Other titles include '12 O'Clock High' (1949), an intense thriller about U.S. pilots in World War II, and 'The High and the Mighty' (1954), a ground-breaking airborne drama about a stricken commercial airliner starring John Wayne.

All films in the festival were nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Each captures the public's fascination with flight in a different setting, as pilots and passengers alike face danger in the sky and also on the ground. Aviation buffs will enjoy the vintage aircraft featured in each production.

All screenings are free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted, with all proceeds used to support the education outreach program of the Aviation Museum of N.H.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about the venue's safety protocols, visit

• On Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m., the festival opens with the silent classic 'Wings' (1927), a drama about World War I aviation that won 'Best Picture' at the very first Academy Awards ceremony. The film stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. Live music for 'Wings' will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a silent film accompanist and also executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.

• On Friday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. brings '12 O'Clock High' (1949), a classic bout aircrews in the United States Army's Eighth Air Force, who flew daylight bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during the early days of American involvement in World War II. Starring Gregory Peck, '12 O'Clock High' received four Academy Award nominations, winning Best Supporting Actor for co-star Dean Jagger and Best Sound Recording.

• Saturday, Oct. 17 at 2 p.m., it's 'The High and the Mighty' (1954), a drama about a troubled commercial flight starring John Wayne and Robert Stack. With its intertwined stories of passengers on a doomed commercial flight, 'The High and the Mighty' served as a template for the Hollywood 'disaster' genre. The film earned six Academy Award nominations, winning for composer Dmitri Tiomkin's dramatic musical score.

• Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m., the festival concludes with 'The Flight of the Phoenix' (1965), a drama about survivors of a plane crash in the Sahara Desert. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Peter Finch, and Ernest Borgnine, 'The Flight of the Phoenix' was nominated for two Academy Awards: Ian Bannen for Supporting Actor and Michael Luciano for Film Editing.

"These are all terrific pictures with great stories set in the earlier days of aviation, before air travel became commonplace for so many people," said Jeff Rapsis, the Aviation Museum's executive director.

"They're a great way to recapture the romance and excitement of flight, and the Aviation Museum's festival is a rare chance to see them as intended: on a big screen and in a movie theater," Rapsis said.

The Aviation Museum of N.H., located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H., is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Housed in the vintage 1937 passenger terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving the Granite State's rich aviation past, and also inspiring today's students to become the aviation pioneers of tomorrow.

For more information about the Aviation Museum, visit or call (603) 669-4820. Follow the Aviation Museum on social media at

For more about the Town Hall Theatre, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

Monday, October 5, 2020

This weekend: from 'A Woman in Grey' to 'Woman in the Moon' at New England UFO Conference

Exploring the lunar surface in 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Coming this weekend: we blast off as part of the "Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival," with a screening of Fritz Lang's lunar epic 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Screening is on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.  Admission to the screening is free, with donations accepted to help defray expenses. (The rest of the UFO festival requires purchase of a ticket.) 

More on all that below. For now, here's a report on an experiment we tried this past weekend at the same venue: over two days, we ran all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920), a rare example of a silent-era serial that survives complete. 

Arline Pretty gives a restrained performance in 'A Woman in Grey.' 

At about 15 minutes per chapter, that's nearly four hours of film! So we broke it into two parts: the first eight chapters ran on Saturday, with the final seven (including the thrilling climax!) on Sunday.

These were never intended to be shown back-to-back, of course. But by doing so, I think we created a new form of cinematic story-telling: every 15 minutes or so, leading lady Arline Pretty would get into some kind of life-threatening peril, at which the whole thing would stop.

And we'd see the same "see the next episode" title, and then a momentary black screen, and then the opening titles for the next chapter. And then we'd get a synopsis of the action so far, and then a few scenes from "last week" to bring us up to speed. 

It was a weird kind of ritualistic experience, in that the rhythms of the story were chained to this climax-every-15-minutes rhythm in a way you don't usually see. 

I wanted to do this partly just to try it, and also because I didn't think running the 15-part story one chapter at a time would work very well in any venue where I regularly perform, where the pace is generally once a month at best. 

I also wanted to do it because 'A Woman in Grey' was filmed in the area of Wilkes-Barre, Penn. by the Serico Producing Co., which promptly went bankrupt after completing this, its one big production. A hundred years later, I thought that's an achievement worth celebrating by running it on the big screen.

For the music, I created a mysterious-sounding main theme that would serve to underscore the opening titles of every episode, and which could be adapted to the action and character interplay as needed. 

So at the end of each episode, just when leading lady Arline Pretty was about to fall to her death or be run over by a train, I'd stop the big dramatic agitato underscoring. Beneath the "don't miss next week's episode" title, I'd finish out the cadence quietly and bring things to a halt.

And then, whatever key I ended up in, when the opening titles for the next chapter appeared, I'd go up a half-step and start the main theme, which otherwise would be played exactly the same way each time, chapter after chapter after chapter.

I have to say, the cumulative effect of this was really quite special. Every chapter, here we go again! It almost seemed to say, without words, to the audience: "You are watching something that is designed solely to manipulate you," which of course was self-evident in any case. 

But the repetitive title music seemed to celebrate that somehow: to make it worth reveling in, submitting to, just letting it happen. It almost became ritualistic, if really anything can be ritualistic within the span of a few hours. 

How did the audience react? We had about 25 brave souls who turned out for both days. (A few only saw Day 1, and two people came only for Day 2.) Reaction was quite strong: lots of laughter at some of the more improbable goings-on, but I sensed genuine engagement throughout as the somewhat tangled plot unfurled.

I think seeing a repeated synopsis of what happened so far was really helpful in keeping track of who was doing what to whom. In today's age of short attention spans, maybe it's something that contemporary films could try doing. Every 15 minutes, remind everyone what's happened so we're better able to follow the story. 

The most interesting thing, to me: each day, after the first chapter ended, the audience burst out laughing at the notion that we'd have to wait until "next week" to see what happens. After that, the convention was just accepted for the rest of the afternoon. That told me that people were engaged in the film to the point where the "wait until next week" break did actually come as something of a surprise, at least at first. 

The sense I felt with the laughter was "okay, now I see what they're doing."

One thing about our screening was disc problems caused some tense moments as we tried to smooth out some rough spots where the image kept freezing. So it was even more of a cliffhanger than we anticipated!

But overall, it was a worthwhile experiment, and everyone who attended said they'd be interested in seeing another one in that format. So if you'd like to experience this, I'll probably do another one sometime later next year. As they say in another medium, stay tuned!

Okay, looking ahead: screenings this weekend of 'Woman in the Moon' (1929) on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., and then 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919) on Sunday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The Natick screening of 'Caligari' is limited to 25 people per Massachusetts Covid-19 pre-cautions, and tickets are available only online and in advance at their Web site.

For 'Woman in the Moon' on Saturday, Oct. 10: yes, it's part of the "Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival," an event I've only just heard about. As an extra bonus, it also celebrates the legendary "Big Foot" creature. 

For details on the whole three-day gathering, check out 

As for 'Woman in the Moon,' it's one of my favorite silents, and also one of my favorites to accompany, as the story, tone, and action all seem to fit the kind of music I do. 

If you'd like to attend, below is the press release with way more information. Hope t osee you there, unless you get abducted by a UFO or Big Foot...

*     *     *

Original German poster for 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). 

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • 

Silent sci-fi adventure thriller on Saturday, Oct. 10 at Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon,' Fritz Lang's pioneer space drama about mankind's first lunar voyage, to be screened with live musical accompaniment during three-day UFO festival

WILTON, N.H.—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened as part of a three-day UFO/Big Foot Film Festival this weekend at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free and the screening is open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The screening is part of the Greater New England UFO Conference and Film Festival, which runs from Friday, Oct. 9 through Sunday, Oct. 11 at the Town Hall Theatre. For more information on the three-day festival, which also focuses on the legendary 'Big Foot' creature, visit

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 large 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.

The cast of 'Woman in the Moon' awaits lunar touchdown.

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.

"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 screening.

"It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller," Rapsis said. "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."

Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H., 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."

Exploring the lunar surface, as created on a huge indoor stage in Berlin, Germany.

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."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free and the screening is open to the public; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

This weekend in Wilton, N.H.: double header of all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920)

Arline Pretty is in a pretty pickle in 'A Woman in Grey' (1920). But at least she's following guidance on face masks.

This weekend I'm doing music for a special cinematic event at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H.: a screening of all 15 chapters of 'A Woman in Grey' (1920). It's a century-old dramatic serial adventure of which all episodes survive complete.

That means more than four hours of film! So we'll run the first eight chapters on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m., and then the remaining episodes (including the thrilling conclusion!) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

I'm looking forward to the chance to immerse myself in this extended story as it plays out over such a long span of time. I have some main themes in mind, but other than that, the music will grow naturally from the story as it unfolds. 

Also, I can't wait to try out this joke: "It's called 'The Woman in Grey,' but it's black-and-white film, so what choice did they have?"

Lots more detail in the press release below. Hope you can join us for some (or preferably ALL) of 'A Woman in Grey' on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.


Me outside the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. prior to the show.

For now, let me report on last night's screening of 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929) up at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

Before the show, I recounted to the audience my first experience of accompanying this film about 10 years ago. It was part of a monthly series in Manchester, N.H. that was heavy on traditional Hollywood dramas starring the likes of John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, and so on.

So we ran 'Man With A Movie Camera' without explanation. Afterwards, I asked for opinions.

"That was a terrible movie," said one woman, a regular attendee. 

Wow! Turns out she was expecting, yes, a good story—exactly what filmmaker Dziga Vertov was aiming to avoid. He hoped to use film to show life as it really happens, rather than through some made-up narrative.

So I learned that for 'Man With A Movie Camera' to be understood, at least a brief explanation was in order. Silent film is unusual enough; for 'Man' to work, you need to prepare people for what Vertov was aiming for, at least as I understand it.

So I tell people: in essence, it's a celebration—of life in general, and of the potential of the motion picture camera to capture it.

I also think it helps to look at the film as a large-scale piece of music. Like a symphony, it contains movements of varying tempi, all grouped and structured in a way to create an overall effect.

One thing I've recently noticed is that often when the visual rhythm of the film is about to shift, Vertov inserts an image of a hand-operated traffic signal being changed. 

For the music, I was thinking of Franz Schubert's 'Great' C Major Symphony, with its broad melodies filled with repeated notes, and also more recent minimalist music with a harmonic structure that unfolds slowly over a long time.

Yelizaveta Svilova edits 'Man With A Movie Camera' within the movie. 

Overall, it worked. I caught all the big shifts, and kept things pretty bottled up until the final five minutes, in which a riot of fast-changing images explode on the screen.

What held it together was a steady pattern of three notes before the beat, and three notes after. (So with the accent on the fourth note.) Also, a simple line of four descending notes (down a half-step, and then a whole step and another whole step) was another key building block. 

 Those four notes could be harmonized in all manner of ways, but I found that reverting often to a simple triadic texture created a powerful "coming home" kind of feeling no matter how busy the texture.

I also kept using a non-traditional chord change that you hear a lot in contemporary tonal music such as in some scores of John Adams: going from a major chord (say Eb Major) to a minor chord up a half-step (E minor), in which all tones shift up except the third of the chord, which stays on the same note but which goes from major to minor because of context.

It's a very atmospheric move, I find, and has become part of my own toolkit and basic musical vocabulary. And it came in very useful with 'Man With A Movie Camera' because of how it creates a sense of very slight change while still moving forward. Sometimes I added other notes: the flatted 7th of the major chord becomes the leading tone of the minor, which adds richness. 

Once all this was established, there were many places where the music seemed to fall into place with ease and really helped the visuals, I felt. I was especially pleased with music I came up with for scenes of women in a gymnasium using odd exercise machines from the period, including a mechanical horse. 

It all really held together, and 'The End' brought cheers. (And for all the right reasons, I think.) For me, it was quite a workout, just like the ladies in the gym. Best of all, no one seemed to concur with the assessment 10 years ago.

Here's more info on 'A Woman in Grey.' See you this weekend for what promises to be yet another unusual cinematic experience!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rare showing of all 15 chapters of 100-year-old vintage serial coming to Town Hall Theatre

'A Woman in Grey' (1920), multi-part adventure thriller, to screen with live music over Saturday & Sunday Oct. 3-4

WILTON, N.H.—It's a cliff-hanger, but each time you won't have to wait long to find out what happens next.

It's 'A Woman in Grey,' a 15-episode adventure serial produced 100 years ago, when movies were a brand new form of entertainment.

The entire run of all 15 chapters will be screened over two days at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Chapters 1 through 8 of the multi-part tale will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 3 starting at 2 p.m. Remaining episodes 9 through 15, including the serial's thrilling conclusion, will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

Admission is free to each screening; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

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

"Seeing all episodes of this marvelous multi-part adventure over two days is a century-old form of binge-watching," Rapsis said.

"But it's also a great chance to experience early cinema the way it was intended to be shown: on a big screen, in a theater, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said.

The Town Hall Theatre is observing procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines, including reduced seating capacity. For complete information about the venue's safety protocols, visit

Similar to the more famous 'Perils of Pauline' serial, 'A Woman in Grey' follows the story of a mysterious woman (Arline Pretty) who may hold the secret to finding a long-lost fortune in an abandoned mansion.

Like most multi-part serials, each chapter of 'A Woman in Grey' runs about 12 minutes, and was designed to be shown one episode each week at local theaters.

Most episodes ended with a "cliffhanger" predicament designed to keep audiences coming back to find out what happens next.

Most multi-part serials from the early days of film are completely lost, or exist only partially. 'A Woman in Grey' is unusual because it survives completely intact. The total length of all 15 episodes is nearly four hours.

'A Woman in Grey' is also unusual because it was produced not in Hollywood, but in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. by Serico Motion Pictures, Inc., a short-lived independent production firm.

The company recruited local stage performers, including leading actress Arline Pretty, to fill out the large cast of 'A Woman in Grey.'

All 15 chapters were shot on location in northeastern Pennsylvania, providing a rare glimpse of the region as it looked a century ago.

Serials continued through the 1920s and into the era of sound films, but over time came to be regarded as programming for children's matinees rather than a format for serious drama. The practice faded out after World War II and the development of television.

The complete 15-chapter serial 'A Woman in Grey' (1920) will be presented over two days at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Episodes 1 through 8 will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m., followed by episodes 9 through 15 the next day, on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit