Thursday, October 14, 2021

On your marks: My annual Halloween marathon of spooky silent film screenings starts this Sunday

John Barrymore stars in 'Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' (1920) on Sunday, Oct. 17 at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

This weekend marks start of the annual "Silent Film Halloween Marathon"—a spooky steeplechase of screenings that will take us through the end of the month and beyond.

On Sunday, Oct. 17, I'll be in Natick, Mass. to do music for the 1920 version of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' at the Center for the Arts. Showtime is 4 p.m. and lots more info in the press release below.

After that, it's a dozen screenings of classic silents with live music, most intended to scare up some fun in advance of Halloween. (There's a railroad program in there as well!)

It all culminates in two "big time" gigs in the Boston area: live music for 'Dracula' (1931) at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 31, and then 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

I'll report on the marathon as it progresses. For now, hope to see you at 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' in Natick this Sunday...

*  *  *

Original artwork promoting the 1920 version of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.'

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

Natick Center for the Arts to screen 1920 silent film version of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde'

Early adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson classic features John Barrymore in title role; shown with live music on Sunday, Oct. 17

NATICK, Mass.— It was first a best-selling novel, then an immensely popular stage play. So it was just a matter of time before the movies tackled 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a man tortured by two personalities—one thoroughly good and the other completely evil.

Just in time for Halloween, an early (and eerie) silent film version of the 'Dr. Jeykll & Mr. Hyde' released in 1920 will be shown with live music on Sunday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

Tickets are $12; Center for the Arts members $10.

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

Starring iconic actor John Barrymore, the film was a huge early hit for Paramount Pictures. It helped establish the "thriller" genre and showed the potential of the movies to vividly tell disturbing and creepy stories.

Dr. Jekyll, a London physician and philanthropist, becomes fascinated with the dual nature of man after the profligate Sir George Carew exposes him to temptation. When Jekyll invents a potion that separates the good from the evil in a person, he decides to live both roles and names the evil persona Mr. Hyde.

Jekyll is in love with Millicent, the daughter of Sir George; meanwhile, Hyde prowls the poorer districts of London, debases and discards Theresa, a dance hall performer. Jekyll's control over Hyde weakens gradually to the point where his alter ego resorts to murder, forcing Hyde into a showdown to save his loved ones and reign in the evil he himself has spawned.

The film put Barrymore, a noted stage actor, on the cinematic map. Following 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' Barrymore would go on to be one of the biggest stars of early cinema. His handsome visage, dubbed "the great profile," was instantly recognizable to movie-goers of the time, who flocked to see Barrymore in later films such as 'Sherlock Holmes' (1922), 'Don Juan' (1926), and 'The Beloved Rogue' (1927).

Barrymore's performance in 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' is noteworthy in part because, in an era of limited special effects, his portrayal of the early stages of Jekyll's transformation was done using only facial expressions and gestures. Make-up was only used later in the film following the full transformation of the Hyde character.

Stevenson's story has been refilmed many times, including versions in 1931 and 1941, and was most recently remade in 2008 as a TV movie starring Dougray Scott.

In screening the original 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' the Natick Center for the Arts aims to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.

"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.

"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

The silent film version of 'Dr. Jeykll & Mr. Hyde' (1920) will be screened with live music on Sunday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. at the Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

Tickets are $12; Center for the Arts members $10. Tickets must be purchased in advance online at For more information, call the Center box office at (508) 647-0097 or visit

No comments:

Post a Comment