Monday, February 22, 2021

On 'Joan of Arc' and why less is more; plus previewing the Kansas Silent Film Festival in N.H.

A poster for Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc.'

I had forgotten how intense 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928) can be. I was reminded by yesterday's screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's late silent at the Center of the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The Center for the Arts (referred to as "TCAN," with the N standing for Natick) is housed in a converted firehouse, which is a good thing, as 'Joan' generates quite a bit of heat, and I'm not talking about how she's burned at the stake. 

I'm talking emotional heat, and that's important to keep in mind when considering music for the film.

It's an unusual movie for many reasons—Dreyer's reliance on extreme close-ups, the almost-abstract settings, and the one-of-a-kind performance of actress Renée Falconetti in the title role.

(Literally: this was the only motion picture that Falconetti, an acclaimed stage actress, ever appeared in.)

It's unusual, too, in the role that music can play in the overall effect of this film on an audience, I think. More than most, 'Joan' is the kind of film that benefits from an aggressive, assertive score.

By that I don't mean loud, obnoxious music. I mean a score than minutely follows and brings out the many changes of emotional temperature in the narrative, which unfolds largely in the faces of the performers. (Remember all those close-ups!)

Dreyer's film, as I see it, is an attempt to use the then-new motion picture to bring a specific historical event to life visually. We see that intention clearly at the start of the film, which shows the old record books with the ancient line-by-line questioning and testimony covering the pages. 

But Dreyer's trick, borrowed from the stage (just like Falconetti), was to strip things down to emphasize the human element—hence no elaborate 14th century interiors or other sets to gawk at. And that's an extraordinary choice for the time, as movies were still in the "look what we can do" phase of visual design. 

In Europe, consider what Fritz Lang was doing at roughly the same time with 'Metropolis,' with its sprawling visuals of a futuristic city. And Hollywood was cranking out elaborate costume dramas by the yard, from Douglas Fairbanks on down. 

Yes, movies were a visual art, and the prevailing idea was to give people lots to look at: eye-popping sets, incredible locations, even elaborate title cards.

Renée Falconetti as Joan of Arc.

Not Dreyer. His telling of 'Joan' is simplicity itself. As I see it, his film actually borrows one of the best elements of the live theatre—intensity of focus that comes with actually limiting what an audience sees.

Think about it. Compared to movies, the stage has some real built-in limitations in terms of presentation.

With theatre, all the magic has to come within the narrow confines of a single building and whatever can be conjured by cardboard and paint. On stage, reality is not an option, at least in terms of going on location—say, setting a scene in a real city street crowded with real people.

I believe some of the best theatre happens when directors use that limitation to reduce potential distractions and focus on things such as the human drama and emotional line of a story. 

Think of Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town' (written not far from where I live, by the way, and based on the nearby town of Peterborough), which is staged with the simplest props and furniture. 

Yes, everyone loves a great set. In London, the set itself often gets applause when the curtain goes up. But ultimately, very often less can be more, or it can lead to an emphasis that otherwise wouldn't be present.

Because this is about music, how about 'Amadeus,' the stage play about Mozart and Salieri by Peter Shaffer? Right in the script, the stage directions are very explicit: although set in the palaces of 18th century Vienna, it should be given on a mostly blank stage, with minimal settings. 

Costumes, however, should be "sumptuously of the period," and as originally staged, they were. 

All of this serves to bring out the human element of the drama, which is an intense experience as played out in a theater with an audience. Did Salieri assassinate Mozart? How did it happen? It's gripping stuff to see Salieri's concern about his rival slowly bloom into an all-consuming obsession.

Also, leaving out the bric-a-brac of elaborate set design allows our imaginations to create something more elaborate than any set designer could conjure, and more personal, but that's a whole other topic.

Amadeus: conceived as a stage play, not nearly as effective on screen. 

Then consider what happened when 'Amadeus' got made into a movie. Because movies can go anywhere, in went elaborate location shots: castles and palaces and exteriors bringing to life bustling Vienna in the 18th century. (Director Milos Forman actually filmed a lot of it in Prague, which I guess looked more like 18th century Vienna than Vienna did.)

And the resulting film, laden with visual splendor, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1984. But I remember being disappointed with it because it somehow lacked the intensity of the evening in the theater. 

It felt flabby. And I realize now that one reason is that the human story was buried by all the rich visuals: the horse-drawn coaches coming and going, the immense interiors, and so on.

It lacked the focus of the stage play. And although it was the same story, it was a completely different experience.

So back to Dreyer's film. By emphasizing extreme close-ups, but by keeping everything else fairly abstract, he greatly enhanced the intensity of the human drama of what on the page was a dry, historical record. 

And so I think he cleared the way for music to make a major contribution to the film's overall impact, then and now. His film, I think, is almost like music already—it's an abstraction (like music) intended to affect us on an emotional level.

As such, 'Joan' has attracted composers from outside the silent film accompaniment world. Richard Einhorn's 'Voices of Light' (1994) is often performed to screenings of the film, with great effect. A glance at Wikipedia bring to mind the old Jimmy Durante line, "Everyone's trying' to get into the act." Scores have been done by everyone from British early music group the Orlando Consort to the Australian rock band 'hazards of swimming naked.'

My own approach, as taken on Sunday in Natick, was to first follow the film's lead and strip the music down to bare essentials. So for the first two-thirds of the movie, I used strings only. No brass. No percussion. Just strings, and heavy on the sustained notes. (Which sound pretty good on the Korg synthesizer that I use.)

This is a bad comparison, but it's similar to what composer Bernard Herrmann (at left) was going for when he used strings only to score Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' (1960). I recall him observing that he wanted "a black and white score for a black and white film." Hey, I steal from the best.

However! Within that limited palette, I felt free to bring out the emotional ups and downs of Joan's interaction with her inquisitors, which varies widely from sympathetic to antagonistic. So it was a score of constantly shifting ground: melodic or harmonic fragments tossed about as the emotional waves rose and fell. 

There really wasn't much action. But still, the visuals inspired at-times rapid shifts in tempo, mood, and character. At times, I felt like I was scoring people's faces rather than a traditional silent film.

But then, when Joan is sent to be executed, things change. Maybe it's because we're now outside, and now Dreyer begins to include hints of Joan's world and all the people in it. It's still very abstract, though. We rarely see anyone in full figure.

So for the final third of the film, I switched to an orchestral setting, knowing that the big "burning at the stake and rampaging mobs" scenes that conclude the film would really benefit from it. 

In switching, though, I kept the texture quite spartan at first, hoping that if I did it effectively, it wouldn't be noticed. And then I gradually amped things up to the point where Joan really does get burned at the stake (still all in close-ups), when it's justified to pull out all the stops, which I did. 

Drums, trumpets, the works!

And that takes us to the next adventure: a three-day tribute to the Kansas Silent Film Festival, which (alas) has gone all-virtual this year due to Covid-19. 

Here in New Hampshire, we're recreating the Kansas festival this weekend with three programs of films featuring performers from the Sunflower State.

Info is in the press release below. But let me note here that I'm especially excited to do music for three films that I've never accompanied before: Fatty Arbuckle's 'The Round-Up' (1920); Louise Brooks in 'The Show-Off' (1926); and Vera Reynolds in 'Risky Business' (1925), which turns out to be a surprisingly effective film. (Even without Tom Cruise.)

We'll even have delicacies imported from Kansas: specifically, legendary hot pickles from Porubsky's Deli in Topeka. In a world: Wow!

The only thing missing is you as part of the audience. So, essential collaborator that you are, get thee to the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. this weekend, and let's make some silent film magic together!

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Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Upcoming Kansas-themed film festival includes silent-era 'Risky Business' and 'Wizard of Oz'

Relocated due to Covid-19: New Hampshire version of Kansas festival offers three days of silent film with live music, Feb. 26-28

WILTON, N.H.—It's not the 1980s version with Tom Cruise, but a 1926 comedy/drama about a rich socialite in love with a poor country doctor.

It's 'Risky Business,' co-starring Kansas native Zasu Pitts, and it's on the program of the Covid-19-inspired "Kansas Silent Film Festival in New Hampshire" later this month.

With the annual Kansas festival suspended due to coronavirus, the pop-up New Hampshire version is being staged as a tribute 1,500 miles away.

The three-day festival will also feature the rarely screened silent film version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925), a slapstick comedy that includes Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man.

The Granite State version of the Kansas Silent Film Festival will run from Friday, Feb. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 28 at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St. Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with no reservations required. To support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film programming and the Kansas Silent Film Festival, a donation of $10 per person is suggested.

The Town Hall Theatre has been operating safely since last July by following all state and CDC public health guidelines.

All films will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, who usually travels to the Kansas festival each year to practice his craft.

"With no in-person event in Kansas this year, I felt we had an opportunity to recreate the festival's special magic here in New Hampshire," Rapsis said.

Video introductions to each feature will be provided by Denise Morrison, a Missouri-based film historian who serves as emcee at the Kansas Silent Film Festival.

During intermissions, movie-goers will be invited to sample imported delicacies such as hot pickles from Porubski's Polish Deli in Topeka, Kansas.

The three days of programming spotlight films with connections to the Sunflower State, which produced a bumper crop of early Hollywood stars.

Kansas-born screen icon Louise Brooks stars in 'The Show Off' (1926); and Buster Keaton (born in Kansas when his parents were in a traveling medicine show) in the classic silent comedy 'The Navigator' (1924.)

The festival also includes a rare screening of 'The Little Church Around the Corner,' a 1923 melodrama featuring Kansas-raised Claire Windsor paired with actor Walter Long, a native of Milford, N.H.

Also on the festival's program: the original silent film version of 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925), with comic actor Oliver Hardy playing the Tin Man. Hardy would later be paired with Stan Laurel to form the immortal comic duo Laurel and Hardy.

"People are surprised to learn that there's a silent 'Wizard of Oz,' " Rapsis said. "But it's completely different from the MGM musical from 1939—it's a slapstick comedy that was created as a vehicle for roughhouse comedian Larry Semon, who plays the scarecrow."

In Kansas, in lieu of live performances this year, the Kansas Silent Film Festival will host a program of virtual screenings for online viewing. For more info, visit

In New Hampshire, each day of the relocated tribute festival includes two feature films separated by an intermission:

Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, 7:30 p.m.: Claire Windsor in 'The Little Church Around the Corner' (1923) and Fatty Arbuckle in 'The Round-Up' (1920). Kansas-born star Claire Windsor stars in 'The Little Church Around the Corner' (1923), a labor relations melodrama with a role for Milford, N.H. native Walter Long; followed by 'The Roundup' (1920), a rarely screened feature film starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (also from Kansas) that wasn't released in the U.S. following accusations of murder against the comedian, leading to a notorious series of court trials that exonerated Arbuckle, but left his career in ruins.

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, 7:30 p.m.: Kansas-born silent screen icon Louise Brooks stars in 'The Show-Off' (1926) and Zasu Pitts (also from Kansas) appears in 'Risky Business' (1926). In 'The Show Off,' Brooks (from Cherryvale, Kansas) stars in the story of a working-class family's reluctance to accept their daughter's suitor. In 'Risky Business,' Zasu Pitts (from Olathe, Kansas) co-stars with Vera Reynolds in a comedy/drama about a rich socialite who falls in love with a poor country doctor—a relationship the girl's family is determined to break up, with unforeseen consquences.

Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, 2 p.m.: The original silent 'Wizard of Oz' (1925) plus Buster Keaton in 'The Navigator' (1924). In the final program, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore with the original silent version of 'The Wizard of Oz,' starring comedian Larry Semon as the scarecrow and featuring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man! Then it's the timeless visual comedy of Kansas-born Buster Keaton, often called the most silent of the silent comedians. In 'The Navigator' (1924), Buster sets sail on a deserted ocean liner, riding a high tide of hilarity. Classic silent film comedy!

"Thanks to everyone at the Kansas festival for giving us permission to stage this socially distanced tribute," said Rapsis, who has attended every Kansas Silent Film Festival since 2000. "We may be 1,500 miles away, but our hearts are in the same place."

For more about the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., please visit or call (603) 654-3456. For more about the Kansas Silent Film Festival, visit

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Valentine's Day reactions to '7th Heaven' (1927); next up, music for 'Joan of Arc' (1928) on 2/21

The scene in '7th Heaven' that prompted shrieks from our audience.

Pleased to report a terrific Valentine's Day screening of '7th Heaven' (1927), the romantic drama starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. About 40 people turned out last Sunday for our show at the Town Hall Theatre, and you could tell the audience was buying it throughout. 

Near the beginning, people actually shrieked when Farrell held a troublesome character over an open manhole. And reactions continued all during the showing. It was a lively, engaged audience—an essential part of the silent film experience. So good job, everyone!

Just as the tagline for Farrell's character is "I'm a remarkable fellow," '7th Heaven' is a remarkable movie. Though nominally set in Paris on the eve of World War I, the idealized set design and the emphasis on big human emotions make it essentially timeless—a story that works today without any footnotes or explanations.

The only aspect that might seem a little incredible to a viewer today is Chico's spacious rooftop Paris flat, which doesn't have running water but which does have a generous floor plan and amazing views. How could a sewer worker afford such digs? But then again, it's a romantic fantasy. 

(Clarification: anyone working in the sewer business in a professional capacity cannot be paid enough for what they do.)

Chico's apartment: perhaps the positive side of all those French union strikes.

The thing about '7th Heaven' is that although it's a serious drama, it's also filled with comedy. This is important, not just because it's fun to laugh (and the comedy does still work), but somehow the mix humanizes everything, and I think is a key to getting an audience to truly care about the characters in under two hours—quite an amazing trick when you think about it.

In the music, I aimed to walk this tightrope, keeping things rooted in a sober frame but letting an audience know it's okay to chuckle at antics such as Chico's street-cleaning efforts or the dilapidated state of Eloise the Taxicab.

Although the film is set in Paris, I avoided trying to make the music sound stereotypically "French" in any way—no accordion licks, for instance. The film is visually French enough, and doesn't need any help from the soundtrack for atmosphere.

Rather, as a kind of sonic signature for Chico, I used a lilting 6/8 melody (to capture his optimism) that sounded more like a Scottish bag pipe tune. And for Diane, the weight was carried by a staccato four-note figure introduced when we see her being whipped by her sister.

Both of these figures, and some other tunes and chords I folded in to have material to work with, were able to be developed and transformed as the movie progressed. And after awhile, it became rather like an evolving Strauss tone poem, with scraps of tunes colliding into each other, all floating on a kind of surging harmonic sea, and all in service (I hope) to the movie's emotional line. 

When scoring a picture live, this state of mind doesn't always coalesce. But when it does, it takes on the feeling of a great shared adventure: one that encompasses those who made the film so long ago and also the audience sitting right behind me, with the music somehow creating the matrix that helps yesterday's stories reach out and touch today's hearts.

And when that happens, there's nothing like it. Creating the score in real time, with the movie playing overhead on the big screen, I get so absorbed, I don't know where the music comes from. At the same time, I'm absolutely present and engaged in the process of getting just the right music as a scene unfolds, keeping in mind what we've just done and what's coming next, and where we are in the overall story arc. Heaven, indeed!

In terms of screenings, what's next? The performance schedule continues to fill in, even during the ongoing pandemic.

This weekend, it's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928) down in Natick, Mass. on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. Another serious film, and this time without comedy. But something about the Natick Center for the Arts brings out the dramatist in me—a year ago, we did 'Pandora's Box' (1929) there, and I felt I hit it out of the park. So I'm looking forward to it.

Please join us! Housed in a converted firehouse, the Natick venue is a great place to take in movies. And not far away is Zaftig's Deli, where I can get my reuben knish fix. (There's nothing better on a cold day! Or any day, really.)

See you there, although with one caveat for all Catholics: I've been informed by the Archdiocese of Boston that the screening does not count as going to Mass. In my book, however, a visit to Zaftig's Deli counts as a religious experience.

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Acclaimed stage actress Maria Falconetti in her only film performance, in 'Joan of Arc' (1928).


Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rediscovered silent religious drama to be shown at Natick Center for the Arts on Sunday, Feb. 21

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), long thought lost until a copy was found in Norway, to be screened with live music

NATICK, Mass.—A ground-breaking European feature film—considered lost for decades until a copy surfaced in Oslo, Norway—will return to the big screen in February at the Center for the Arts in Natick.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928), a film noted for its innovative camera work and an acclaimed performance by actress Maria Falconetti, will be screened on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. as part of the Center for the Arts Silent Film Series.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Tickets are $18; Center for the Arts members $15, with limited seating due to Covid-19 capacity restrictions.

Directed by Denmark's Carl Theodor Dreyer, 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' chronicles the trial of Jeanne d'Arc on charges of heresy, and the efforts of her ecclesiastical jurists to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

The film’s courtroom scenes are shot almost exclusively in close-up, situating all the film’s meaning and drama in the slightest movements of its protagonist’s face.

Of Falconetti's performance in the title role, critic Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." Her performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time, the highest of any silent performance on the list. Falconetti, a legendary French stage actress, made only two films during her career.

The film has a history of controversy. The premiere of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' in Paris on Oct. 25, 1928 was delayed because of the longtime efforts of many French nationalists, who objected to the fact that Dreyer was not Catholic and not French and to the then-rumored casting of Lillian Gish as Joan.

Before the premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed. 

Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version of the film.

It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was released near the end of the silent film era. About 80 percent of all movies made during that time are now lost due to decomposition, carelessness, fire, or neglect. But copies of "missing" films still occasionally turn up in archives and collections around the world, so researchers and archivists continue to make discoveries.

In the case of 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' the original version of the film was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative. In 1981, an employee of the Kikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo, Norway found several film cans in a janitor's closet that were labeled 'The Passion of Joan of Arc.'

The cans were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that the prints were of Dreyer's original cut of the film before government or church censorship had taken place. No records exist of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then-director of the institution may have requested a special copy.

For 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he creates beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 90 or 100 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Passion of Joan of Arc'  continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Center for the Arts. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will be shown on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. at the Natick Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

Admission is $18, Center for the Arts members $15. Tickets must be purchased in advance online at  For more information, call the Center box office at (508) 647-0097 or visit


Monday, February 8, 2021

Valentine's Day: '7th Heaven' with live music on Sunday, 2/14 at Town Hall Theatre, Wilton NH

A lobby card promoting '7th Heaven' (1927).

Coming up next: a Valentine's Day screening of '7th Heaven' (1927), the romantic drama that helped Janet Gaynor win 'Best Actress' at the very first Academy Awards.

I've been talking it up by advising audiences to bring an ample supply of tissues. Maybe we can get Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex) to sponsor the event.

But first, a few comments about the 'Kansas Silent Film Festival in New Hampshire' that we're organizing for later this month.

Our pop-up version of this popular festival, to be held 1,500 miles away from its usual location, is mostly my way of coping with the fact that it's not happening this year, at least in its usual format, due to the ongoing pandemic.

Yes, the Kansas Silent Film Festival will take place virtually. And you'll find more details on that when they're posted on their Web site, which is

But not being able to go out there, as I have every year for the past 20 years (really!), is something I just couldn't just accept. In February, some people go to Aruba and bask in the sunshine. Me, I go to Kansas, and bask in the friendliness.

But with no Kansas, there was a big hole in my calendar. So if I'm not going out to Kansas, why not bring Kansas here?

And that's what we're doing, with a three-day tribute to this terrific festival running from Friday, Feb. 26 through Sunday, Feb. 28 at the Town Hall Theater in Wilton, N.H.

On the program: six silent feature films (plus some surprises), all with ties to the Sunflower State, which produced a bumper crop of silent era greats: Buster Keaton, Louise Brooks, Fatty Arbuckle, Zasu Pitts, and more!

We're even importing some Kansas delicacies to bring some local flavor to our audiences: specifically, hot pickles from Porubsky's Deli in Topeka. Many thanks to all our friends at the Kansas festival for letting us do this and for helping us out so much! (And for sending the pickles!)

Get all the details by downloading the flier

Alas, so far most of the response to this has been negative. It's mostly from people who seem to think I'm being irresponsible by holding such an event during a pandemic. 

People are entitled to their opinion. But they should understand that in New Hampshire, state health guidelines have allowed theaters to operate (under strict safety protocols) since last July. 

At the Town Hall Theatre and a few other venues, we've been running film (with live music) all during this time, with no problem. The theater is limited to 50 percent capacity, and there's plenty of room for social distancing. 

New Hampshire does have a 10-day quarantine requirement for visitors from outside the New England region. So I don't expect many out-of-state people to trek to the Granite State for our homegrown tribute. 

But people who enjoy vintage film ought to realize that the few theaters willing to run it are in a fight for survival, and that's largely what this is about.

Currently, first-run films are a non-starter for a venue such as the Town Hall Theatre: studios aren't releasing their best stuff, the audiences aren't attending, and the terms for the pictures that are in release don't make economic sense for small theaters.

As Dennis Markaverich, owner/operator of the two-screen Town Hall Theatre for the past 47 years, put it: "It's like shoveling money into the boilers of the Titanic."

So I'm thankful Dennis is open to creative and unusual programming during these dark times (who else would let me run Fritz Lang's five-hour 'Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler'?), and I'm glad to help him keep the theater open and the concession stand humming until better times return. 

So if you're concerned about the pandemic, I understand. Please stay home. But stop dumping on those of us making efforts to keep local theaters from tanking. 

Tank you—er, thank you. Okay, end of rant.

Now, about '7th Heaven': it's one of the biggies. You can tell because over the years the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (also one of the biggies) has run it not once but twice. Amazingly, as a young woman Janet Gaynor once worked at the Castro Theater, the festival's long-time home.

To read the thoughtful essays posted by the San Francisco folks, check out their Web site.

And to read the press release I cranked out last week in an attempt to pitch our screening as a great way to celebrate Cupid's big day, look out below!

Hope to see all you romantics at the Town Hall Theatre next Sunday. And don't forget your Kleenex® facial tissues, a Kimberly-Clark brand.

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Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor in their rooftop love nest in '7th Heaven' (1927).

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'7th Heaven' (1927) gets Valentine's Day screening on Sunday, Feb. 14 in Wilton, N.H.

Classic silent film love story won Janet Gaynor first-ever 'Best Actress' Academy Award

WILTON, N.H.—It's a one-of-a-kind film about a timeless topic: true love.

'7th Heaven' (1927), a romantic drama that won actress Janet Gaynor the first-ever 'Best Actress' Academy Award, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

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

The Town Hall Theatre continues to observe procedures to comply with all state and CDC public health guidelines. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; patrons are required to maintain social distance and wear masks until seated.

'7th Heaven,' which also netted Frank Borzage the first 'Best Director' Oscar, is a fable set in Paris just before World War I. It's the story of an abused and abandoned young woman (Gaynor) who is cast aside by her family, only to be adopted by an ebullient sewer worker (Charles Farrell) with his sights set on higher things.

In her new home, the girl learns a fresh way of looking at life. Eventually love blossoms—but will it survive the onset of war? Director Borzage used all the techniques of silent film at its height to craft a universal and timeless story that audiences have found moving since the picture's first release in 1927, one year before the talkie revolution.

'7th Heaven' received the most nominations of any film—a total of five—at the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, held on May 16, 1929 in the waning days of the silent era.

Besides winning 'Best Actress' for Gaynor and 'Best Director' for Borzage, it also won an Oscar for Benjamin Glazer in the 'Best Writing, Adapted Story' category. '7th Heaven' was also nominated for 'Outstanding Picture, Production' (the forerunner of today's 'Best Picture' category) and 'Best Art Direction.'

Gaynor's first-ever 'Best Actress' award was also given in honor of her performances in 'Street Angel' and 'Sunrise' in the same year. She won over competing actresses Gloria Swanson and Louise Dresser.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, who improvises 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."

'7th Heaven' was remade in 1937 as a talking picture starring Simone Simon and Jimmy Stewart in the lead roles.

Critics and film buffs regard the original silent version of '7th Heaven' as a high-water mark of silent cinema. "The original '7th Heaven' is still the yardstick for all movie love stories," wrote Joe Franklin in 'Classics of the Silent Screen.'

Reviewer Tim Brayton wrote that '7th Heaven' is "the kind of movie that births a lifelong love affair with silent cinema. ... I'd be extraordinarily hard-pressed to come up with any way in which it's not flawless."

'7th Heaven' will be screened on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Free admission; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to support the Town Hall Theatre's silent film series. For more information, visit or call (603) 654-3456.