Saturday, October 30, 2021

Three screenings, two states, one day: Chaney in afternoon, then Nosferatu at night

Tonight: Cue the theme from 'The Love Boat.' Not.

The spooky steeplechase continues!

Today's scheduled includes live music for three silent features: at 2 p.m., a double bill of Lon Chaney thrillers in Wilton, N.H., and then this evening it's another 'Nosferatu,' this time in Ogunquit, Maine. 

More on tonight's 'Nosferatu' is in the press release below. 

This afternoon's Chaney features, 'Outside the Law' (1920) and 'The Unholy Three' (1925), are a continuation of a mini-marathon at the Town Hall Theatre that began last night with a screening of 'The Blackbird' (1926), a film I'd never accompanied before.

Lon Chaney as 'The Bishop' in 'The Blackbird' (1926).

Like all the Chaney MGM melodramas directed by Tod Browning, the plot and interaction of the characters build to a level of drama that's almost operatic, even though it's a silent film.

Because of that intensity, 'The Blackbird' does well with music that can rise to the moments when needed. 

At last night's screening, I began with a quiet vamp in a minor key, meant to evoke the seedy music halls of old London in which so much of 'The Blackbird' is set.

As the film progressed, I found the vamp, without any accompanying melody, was able to be transformed in a multitude of ways to support the drama: by turns menacing, sinister, joyous, and/or exhilarating when needed.

Ultimately, with some dissonant notes held above it, the vamp was entirely capable of carrying the great "moment of truth" scenes always found in the Chaney/Browning collaborations.

Let's hope the same magic happens with today's two features, and with 'Where East is East' (1929), which I'm scoring tomorrow (Sunday, Oct. 31) at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre to finish out the Chaney series on Halloween.

And then I head down to Boston to create live music for the Browning-directed 'Dracula' (1931) at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday night—something I've never done before and about which I'm very excited.

But first things first! See this afternoon for two Chaneys, and then this evening for 'Nosferatu' at the Leavitt Theater in Ogunquit, Maine. More details in the press release below.

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' to screen at Leavitt Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 30

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare!

OGUNQUIT, Me.— Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $12 per person. Costumes are encouraged!

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by," said Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H. who accompanies silent film screenings at the Leavitt and venues across the nation.

"It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places," Rapsis said.

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' episode.

The historic Leavitt Theatre opened in 1923 as a summer-only silent movie house. Now approaching 100 years of operation, it continues to show movies, but also functions as a restaurant, bar, and lounge.

In reviving 'Nosferatu,' the Leavitt Theatre aims to show silent film as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early cinema such as 'Nosferatu' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

The classic early horror thriller ‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1 in Ogunquit. Admission $12 per person; tickets available at the door.

For more information, call (207) 646-3123 or visit

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