Friday, October 1, 2021

Benefit screening of 'Wings' (1927) to land at Manchester's Rex Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 5

Arriving on Tuesday, Oct. 5: the epic Academy Award-winning  drama 'Wings' (1927).

Creating music for silent films is separate from my "day job," which is managing a local non-profit organization.

In that light, I'm a big admirer of the composer Charles Ives (pictured below, at left). A century ago, he worked full-time as partner in a very successful insurance business, while continuing his musical activities on the side.

It was a choice he made early in life, recognizing that his at-times bizarre avant garde compositions were never going to provide an income. And he didn't want his family to "starve on his dissonances," as he said.

However, Ives saw advantages in this double life. He claimed his work in business helped his art, and his work in art helped his business. I subscribe to that outlook, which I've found to be true for me as well.

And the two lives aren't always separate. Occasionally, they overlap. In the case of Ives, he would sometimes try to supply music for insurance industry events, often with mixed results. After all, he wasn't about to write music like the State Farm Insurance "Like a Good Neighbor" jingle, which was actually composed by...Barry Manilow! 

(Manilow, by the way, also composed the "Stuck on Band-Aid" jingle, and, most famously, "You Deserve a Break Today" for McDonalds, but that's is a whole other topic.)

And every now and then, my own two lives collide—such as on Tuesday, Oct. 5, when I'll provide live music for a screening of 'Wings' (1927) to benefit the Aviation Museum of N.H., where I'm executive director. (That's the non-profit I manage.)

For me, it's a nice coincidence that aviation and the movies grew up at roughly the same time, during the first decades of the 20th century. Early cinema is filled with flying stories, especially following Lindbergh's 1927 solo journey across the Atlantic.

So there's a lot of synergy. Over the years, I've done several aviation-themed silent film programs in support of the museum or other organizations. As the first 'Best Picture' in Academy Award history, 'Wings' is far and away the favorite title. 

But other titles include the Al Wilson stunt picture 'The Phantom Flyer' (1928), an airborne melodrama titled 'The Sky Rider' (1928) starring Champion the Dog, and the goofy Monty Banks feature-length comedy 'Flying Luck' (1927). 

Ironically, Ives himself was no fan of either airplanes or the movies. He would famously shake his fist at airplanes that flew overhead, intruding on the rural quiet of his native Connecticut. And he felt movies were a form of dissipation that weakened the collective American spirit.

Well, even if Ives might not approve, 'Wings' is on the bill next Tuesday. If you're in the Manchester area, I invite you to join us. If you've never had a chance to see this picture on the big screen, and with live music, and with an audience—well, it's a flight you don't want to miss.

More details in the press release below. Hope to see you for an on-time departure on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at  p.m.

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Another colorful poster for 'Wings' (1927), to be shown with live music on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre in Manchester, N.H.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Epic silent film 'Wings' (1927) on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at Manchester's Rex Theatre

Story of U.S. aviators in World War I won first-ever 'Best Picture'; Aviation Museum benefit screening to feature live musical accompaniment

MANCHESTER, N.H.—It won 'Best Picture' at the very first Academy Awards, with spectacular midair flying sequences and a dramatic story that still mesmerizes audiences today.

'Wings' (1927), a drama about U.S. pilots in the skies over Europe during World War I, will be shown on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The screening, part of the Rex Theatre's "Movies for a Cause" program, will benefit the non-profit Aviation Museum of N.H. and the Rex Theatre.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person, general admission.

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

The show will allow audiences to experience 'Wings' the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'Wings,' a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. 'Wings' stunned audiences with aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.

Looking glum: a downcast still from 'Wings' with stars Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow, and Richard Arlen.

'Wings' stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, 'Wings' was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

'Wings' is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy 'Wings' as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was underway in Europe a century ago.

" 'Wings' is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured," accompanist Jeff Rapsis said.

"It's a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one's country a century ago."

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for 'Wings' on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "At the time, most films weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

Rapsis is executive director of the Aviation Museum of N.H., which is co-sponsoring the screening.

'Wings' will be followed on Wednesday, Oct. 6 with "The McConnell Story" (1955), a Warner Bros. dramatization of the life and career of N.H. native Joseph C. McConnell, a U.S. Air Force pilot who became the top American ace during the Korean War.

'Wings' runs about 2½ hours. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

‘Wings’ (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen will be shown with live music on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

Tickets $12 adults, general admission. For more information and to buy tickets, visit or call (603) 668-5588.

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