Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dziga Vertov's 'Man With a Movie Camera' to screen on Wednesday, 9/30 in Plymouth, N.H.

A poster for the Russian film 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), which I'll accompany on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Had a lot of fun today accompanying Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) to an audience of about 40 people at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As a sign of how strange things are right now in the movie exhibition business: this summer, silent films with live music have been the top box office attraction at the Town Hall Theatre.

Today's audience included several families with children. In welcoming everyone, I announced the presence of the youngsters by urging all adults to behave themselves so as to make a good impression on the kids. 

The two Keaton pictures were both about the movies, and so is the next one: 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), Russian avant garde director Dziga Vertov's extraordinary documentary about daily life as captured on film. 

I say "extraordinary" because unlike a narrative film that tells a story, 'Man With a Movie Camera' instead plays like a piece of music: fast, slow, and then fast, and so on. It's like a visual symphony. 

Lots more info in the press release, which I'm pasting in below. Hope to see you next week at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth!

P.S. Want to drive your spellcheck function crazy? Try typing in this film title: Koyaanisqatsi

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The eyes have it: an image from 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Man With A Movie Camera' with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 in Plymouth, N.H.

Feature-length silent documentary about Russian city life regarded as world's first extended music video

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It has no story, but it tells everyone's story. It's a silent film, but it's the world's first music video. It has no actors because the star is you, the audience.

It's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), Russian director Dziga Vertov's celebration of city life via a dizzying collage of images and kinetic cinematography that's left audiences breathless for nearly a century.

'Man With A Movie Camera' will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 30 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.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Vertov's experimental documentary caused a sensation when it was released at the end of the 1920s, when motion pictures were still a new artistic medium.

Even with no story and no actors, 'Man With A Movie Camera' was filled with eye-popping visuals that anticipate later music/image films such as 'Koyaanisqatsi.'

Although no official score was composed for the silent feature, director Vertov specified the type of music that he wanted played wherever the film was screened. Rapsis will create music that follows those guidelines.

"Vertov wanted a kind of kinetic, energetic music to be played with the film, rather than unobtrusive background music," Rapsis said. "The goal is to create music that acts as an equal partner in conveying a kind of exhilaration that I think Vertov was going for."

Filmed mostly in the bustling city of Odessa in the late 1920s, the film features a wide range of slice-of-life scenes showing everything from streetcars to sports contests. Vertov took his camera everywhere, from a birth hospital to a divorce court.

Most spectacularly, Vertov experimented with filming ordinary scenes (such as a crowded public square) at a very slow frame rate. When run at a normal speed, the result was a speeded-up view of reality that few had ever seen or studied before.

Vertov's wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, was an equal partner in creating 'Man With A Movie Camera,' editing the film. She also appears in the film, editing it as we're watching it.

Editor Yelizaveta Svilov, wife of director Dziga Vertov, is seen editing the film in 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929).

"It's a film filled with self-referential puzzles and meta moments," Rapsis said. "It also plays like a piece of visual music, with fast sequences followed by slow ones and moods that often change."

"Although 'Man With A Movie Camera' has some dark scenes, ultimately it's a celebration — of life in what was then the fast-changing Soviet Union, but also in a way that speaks to life regardless of time or place," Rapsis said.

"That's what I'll try to capture in the musical score, which will be performed live and largely improvised," Rapsis said.

At the reopened 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 will be 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.

'Man With A Movie Camera' continues a monthly series of silent film programs at the Flying Monkey that include comedy, plus drama, horror, and an unusual Russian documentary. On the schedule:

• Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.: The original 'Nosferatu' (1922). 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 the best ever done, and has become creepier with the passage of time.

• Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Broken Blossoms' (1919). Can two outcasts in Edwardian London find peace and happiness in a cruel world? Will Lillian Gish overcome her abusive father? Can Richard Barthelmess find love in a forbidden relationship? Great D.W. Griffith drama, with stellar performance from iconic silent actress Gish.

• Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.: Planes, Trains and Monty Banks. Rediscover forgotten silent comedian Monty Banks, born "Mario Bianchi" in Italy. In 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, with hilarious results. Preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train.

‘Man With A Movie Camera’ will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 30 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 info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Next: Two silent film programs that look at movies themselves. First up: Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'Cameraman' on Sat., 9/20 in Wilton, N.H.

Original promotional art for Buster Keaton's 'The Cameraman' (1928).

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel 'Slaughterhouse Five,' there's a British officer who's been in a German prison camp since the very start of World War II. His survival routine included looking in a mirror each morning to frankly evaluate his appearance, posture, and bearing.

Wow! If I had a survival routine, it wouldn't involve looking in a mirror, as that would almost certainly rob me of my will to live. 

But holding up a mirror can be a good thing, despite unexpected results — especially when it's someone like Buster Keaton holding up a mirror to the then-new medium of motion pictures. 

And it's also a good thing when an artist such as Dziga Vertov holds up mirror to life in the then-new Soviet Union, using the art of cinema to create a reflection of life itself.

Movies from both filmmakers are on the silent film calendar in the next couple of weeks. On Sunday, Sept. 20, I'll accompany a double-feature of Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), a pair of films with stories rooted in the movie business.

The screening is at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

And on Wednesday, Sept. 30, I'll do music for a screening of Vertov's 'Man With A Movie Camera' (1929), a head-spinning slice-of-life documentary with no traditional narrative or story itself, unless you count the story of life itself, which I believe was Vertov's subject. 

The screening is at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. More details are on the "Upcoming Screenings" page, and I'll get the press release into a later post. 

For now, the focus (another movie term!) is on Buster, who plays with motion picture reality in both films we're running on Sunday, Sept. 20. 

As with all of Buster's films, the main goal was laughter. Keaton's style of comedy, however, led him to naturally to explore the strange new world of the motion picture, which he does in both 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928).

While many people marvel at the technical wizardry that enabled Keaton to put some eye-popping special effects into 'Sherlock Jr.,' I think 'The Cameraman' shows equal ingenuity in another way: in its story construction.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton creates a simple tale of a would-be newsreel cameraman that allows all manner of commentary (and laughter) about the business he's in. 

Example: a producer watches exciting newsreel footage of a dramatic event (not knowing that it was captured by an organ grinder's monkey), and shouts "That's the best camera work I've seen in years!" 

Knowing the truth of the matter, we laugh at the producer's assessment. But by holding up a mirror to the motion picture business, in 'The Cameraman' Keaton creates an insider's fun-house that transcends laughter and triggers infinity again and again. 

Hope you'll join us! Here's the press release with more info and all the details.

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Buster Keaton in 'The Cameraman' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Buster Keaton double feature at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 20

Silent film comedy classics return to the big screen with live musical accompaniment; venue following procedures to be Covid-19 compliant

WILTON, 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 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928), two of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

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.

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

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

In 'Sherlock Jr.,' Buster plays a small-town movie projectionist who dreams of working as a detective. But then Buster's romantic rival frames him for stealing a watch from his girlfriend's father.

Fortunately, the situation mirrors the plot of the movie currently playing at Buster's theater. Inspired by the movie, can Buster find the real thief and win back his girl?

'The Cameraman' tells the story of a young man (Keaton) who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Marceline Day) by working as a freelance newsreel cameraman.

His efforts fail spectacularly, but then a lucky break gives him an unexpected chance to make his mark. Can Buster parlay the scoop of the year into a secure job and successful romance?

Both films focus on exploring the potentials of the motion picture, then a brand-new medium.

In 'The Cameraman,' Keaton uses the movie business itself to create comedy that plays with the nature of film and reality.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the three great clowns of the silent screen. Many critics regard Keaton as the most timeless; 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."

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.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions ranging from sadness to surprise. In an era when movies had few special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts.

All those talents are on display in 'Sherlock Jr.' and 'The Cameraman,' which was selected in 2005 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

"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 and abroad.

Rapsis, who lives in Bedford, N.H., 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."

'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The Cameraman' (1928) will be shown with live music on Sunday, Sept. 20 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. For more information, call (603) 654-3456 of visit