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!

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'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...

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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