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 

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