Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Announcing the '2022 Mid-Winter Lake Erie Silent Film Tour' in Detroit and Cleveland. Really!

'Spies' (1928), which I'm accompanying at Cinema Detroit on Thursday, Jan. 13.

Yes, really! Order the tour t-shirts before they're all gone.

Seriously: in mid-January, I'll be heading to the other side of the Appalachians to accompany silent film screenings at venues in Detroit and Cleveland. 

Pray for nice weather! Here's the line-up:

On Thursday, Jan. 13, it's Fritz Lang's 'Spies' (1928) at Cinema Detroit, an independent moviehouse in the Motor City.

On Friday, Jan. 14, I'll accompany Raymond Griffith in 'Hands Up!' (1926) and Ernst Lubitsch's 'The Marriage Circle' (1924) at the Cleveland Cinematheque.

And on Saturday, Jan. 15, it's music for 'Der Golem' (1920), the early German thriller that's part of this year's annual 36-hour (yes!) sci-fi marathon at Case Western University, also in Cleveland.

(More details on each screening are in the listings below.)

If you're within canoeing range of Lake Erie, please come join us for what promises to be a feast of worthy cinema. (Yes, I know Detroit isn't technically on Lake Erie, but close enough.)

Raymond Griffith demonstrates some up-to-date dance moves in 'Hands Up!' (1926), which I'm accompanying on Friday, Jan. 14 at the Cleveland Cinematheque.

This excursion represents something of a milestone. It's my first film accompaniment outing beyond New England since the pandemic hit back in March 2020.

And yes, it's all just an excuse for me to dine at L'Albatros in the University Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. Oh my God, the best French restaurant in North America! And probably South America.

Also, while in Cleveland I hope to hear local pianist George Foley and his colleagues play through uptempo 1930s tunes at one of their usual haunts. Nothing makes me happier than this kind of music played live. George, hope to see (and hear!) you.

Back to the movies: it's a great privilege to be hitting the road to do live music for such a strong line-up of titles. 

And in Detroit! And Cleveland! In January! How much glamour is one expected to cope with?

Well—not everyone can make it to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival or to Pordenone. So I'm delighted to help bring the silent film experience to the public in other places.

Many thanks to the venues for inviting me to perform, and for keeping silent film with live music as part of their programming.

A special thank you to the Case Western Reserve University Film Society, which got the ball rolling by agreeing to bring me back two years after I appeared in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. 

That put me in Cleveland, where John Ewing of the Cinematheque was kind enough to program the Griffith and Lubitsch titles, which had been on the venue's schedule for spring 2020 before everything shut down.

And thanks to Paula Guthat of Cinema Detroit for taking a chance with Lang's sweeping espionage epic 'Spies' (1928), which I love accompanying and always plays like a house afire. People of Detroit: make a point of attending this one!

And I've got to hand it to Paula, as they're really promoting the heck out of 'Spies.' Check out their home page.

Okay, here's a detailed round-up of the "2022 Lake Erie Tour." Attend all four and you'll earn...the satisfaction of beating the odds. Plus I'll save you something from my charcuterie board at L'Albatross.

Until then, I'll be checking the long-term forecast. See you in the Midwest!

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, 7:30 p.m.: "Spies" (1928); Cinema Detroit, 4126 3rd Ave., Detroit, Mich.; (313) 482-9028; Tickets $15, $13 for members. Director Fritz Lang's tale of espionage was the forerunner of all movie spy sagas, packed with double agents, hi-tech gadgets, beautiful (and dangerous) women, and an evil genius with a plan to take over the world, mwah-ha-ha-ha! Made immediately after Lang filmed 'Metropolis,' the futuristic classic, with many of the same performers in the cast. Silent film with live music at Detroit's independent movie theater, located downtown in a former furniture store.

Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, 7 p.m.: "Hands Up!" (1926) starring Raymond Griffith; Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio; (216) 421-7450. Uproarious comedy in which a southern spy must work every angle to prevent a shipment of western gold from reaching Union forces. Featuring the sublime pantomime skills of silent comic Raymond Griffith, who really couldn't talk in real life, and so developed a whole repertoire of gestures to communicate—excellent training for silent cinema! Silent film with live music at Cleveland's premier venue for great movies.

Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, 8:45 p.m.: "The Marriage Circle" (1924) directed by Ernst Lubitsch; Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio; (216) 421-7450. It's the World According to Lubitsch: in Vienna, Dr. Franz Braun (Monte Blue) and his wife, Charlotte (Florence Vidor), are exceptionally happy in their marriage until Charlotte's best friend, Mitzi (Marie Prevost), starts flirting with Franz. Mitzi's suspicious husband, Professor Josef Stock (Adolphe Menjou), hires a detective to investigate her infidelities, and the inquiry soon begins to focus on Franz. Silent film with live music at Cleveland's premier venue for great movies.

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, approximately 6:30 p.m.: "Der Golem" (1920) at the 47th Annual Sci-Fi Marathon presented by the Case Western Reserve University Film Society, 10900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio. Live music for 'Der Golem,' a featured attraction in this year's annual 36-hour (!) sci-fi marathon at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In 16th-century Prague, a Rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem. Using sorcery, he brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution, but then complications ensue. Early German fantasy movie based on Central European folklore anticipates Frankenstein story.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

'The Strong Man,' ultimate Christmas film from the silent era, in Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, 12/26

Harry Langdon rises above it all in 'The Strong Man' (1926).

Timing is everything. And I think there's no better time to show Harry Langdon's feature comedy 'The Strong Man' (1926) than around Christmas.

And that's exactly what's happening at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H., where I'll do live music for the film on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m.

I hope you'll attend! More info and details about the screening are in the press release, which I've pasted in below. 

But why Christmas? 'The Strong Man' has no references to Santa Claus or the three wise men or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There's not a Christmas tree in sight!

Oh wait, that's right—Rudolph wasn't invented until the 1930s, as an advertising gimmick for the late retail giant Montgomery Ward. Wow, the culture moves so fast!

In terms of Christmas stories, 'The Strong Man' will never be the silent era's answer to 'It's a Wonderful Life,' despite the fact they were both directed by Frank Capra.

But despite its language of slapstick visual comedy, the story of 'The Strong Man' turns on many of the larger issues of Christianity and the presence of a savior among ordinary people. 

I've felt this for some time. Consider this post from the summer of 2012, after I'd accompanied the film in Brandon, Vt.:

The more I see of 'The Strong Man,' the more I admire it. Yes, it's widely thought of as Langdon's strongest feature, and credit is given to a very young Frank Capra, whose direction helped it immensely, I'm sure. But in addition to the comedy (from Langdon) and the strong story (from Capra), this film stands as a remarkably poetic illustration of some very important and timeless ideas.

What ideas? Well, how about 'The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth?' And poetry? For starters, consider how the movie takes the whole "Strong Man" circus/vaudeville imagery and catapults it into the arena of morality: in this case, the division between the peaceful Cloverdale residents and the newly arrived saloon crowd. In this situation, who is the real "strong man?"

And take the Cloverdale townsfolk, who march through the streets singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' in search of their savior. And then there's Harry, on stage at the saloon before a disbelieving audience, attempting to perform miracles (and succeeding, for a time), and whose antics are climaxed by an ascent to the heavens (just to the rafters, but out of view of the audience), followed by a resurrection that includes doves (of peace?) flying out of his pants.

Harry as Jesus? That's a little much, especially because Jesus never wore a hat. But a lot of 'The Strong Man' resonates in this fashion. And then there's Harry's hopeless search for a girl he's never met, only to discover that she's blind—but then it's her very lack of sight that allows her to see the best in him.

Boy, don't get me going or we'll have a doctoral dissertation on our hands. But really, the film is that rich.

So what better time to put 'The Strong Man' on the big screen, and show it to a theater full of people, than that time of year when the birth of Christianity's savior is traditionally celebrated?

And that's where you come in—literally, in terms of the Town Hall Theatre, where doors will open at 1:30 p.m. on the day after Christmas. 

Please join us for a movie that's full of great comedy, but also infused with the spirit of the season—that same spirit that would blossom so brilliantly two decades later in Capra's 'Its a Wonderful Life.' 

Press release with more info is below. Merry Christmas to all—and to all a good time at the movies!

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A visually busy trade publication ad promoting 'The Strong Man.'


Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Frank Capra's very first movie highlights Town Hall Theatre silent film program on Sunday, Dec. 26

Holiday weekend screening features Harry Langdon's classic comedy 'The Strong Man' with live music

WILTON, N.H. — Silent film with live music returns for the holiday weekend at the Town Hall Theatre with a showing of an uproarious comedy starring Harry Langdon.

The screening of 'The Strong Man' on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m., gives families a chance to round out the holiday weekend with a fun activity suitable for all ages.

Directing 'The Strong Man' was young first-timer Frank Capra, who would later go on to create such Hollywood classics as 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946).

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help cover expenses.

"For the Christmas weekend, we thought it would be fun to revive the first film made by the man responsible for 'It's A Wonderful Life,' one of the all-time holiday classics," Rapsis said.

'The Strong Man' tells the story of a World War I soldier (Langdon) who, following his discharge, finds work as assistant to a circus strong man. As the act travels the country, Langdon continually searches for a girl he corresponded with while stationed overseas in the military.

The search leads to a town controlled by Prohibition-era gangsters, which forces Harry to test the limits of his own inner strength even as he looks for his dream girl. Can Harry triumph over the bad guys? And is love more powerful than brute strength?

The feature-length film showcases the unique child-like personality of Langdon, who is largely forgotten today. For a brief time in the 1920s, however, he rivaled Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's top movie clown.

Langdon's popularity, which grew quickly in the last years of the silent era, fizzled as the movie business abruptly switched to talkies starting in 1929.

'The Strong Man' was selected in 2007 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In recent years, 'The Strong Man' has been recognized as a major achievement of the silent film era—a satisfying and timeless balance of emotion and comedy.

"A little tragedy and a lot of laughs can be seen in 1926's The Strong Man," wrote critic Richard von Busack in 2007. "Director Frank Capra's energy and sturdy plot sense counterpoint Langdon's wonderful strangeness."

'The Strong Man' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"These films were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

"So the Town Hall Theatre's silent film screenings are a great chance for people to experience films that first caused people to first fall in love with the movies," he said.

Frank Capra's 'The Strong Man' will be screened with live music on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10 per person to help defray expenses. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Unseen for a century: 'Straight is the Way' with live music on Thursday, 12/9 in Concord, N.H.

A vintage print ad promoting 'Straight is the Way' for its 1921 release.

I'm thrilled to be doing live music for upcoming screenings of 'Straight is the Way,' a comedy/drama released in 1921 and not seen in theaters for a full century.

The film's "World Re-Premiere" will take place on Thursday, Dec. 9 at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. Showings are scheduled at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

For details about the screenings, check out the full press release pasted in below.

Why stage the premiere in New Hampshire? Because 'Straight is the Way' is set in fictional 'Hampton Center, N.H.' (It was apparently shot, however, just outside New York City.)

And why now? Because after languishing in obscurity for 100 years, the sole surviving print of 'Straight is the Way' was recently transferred to digital media and is now available. 

The transfer was accomplished thanks to a successful crowd-funding effort (which I donated to) this summer led by Ed Lorusso, a Maine-based film buff. Ed has organized many such transfers of vintage films that survive in fragile one-of-a-kind film prints that otherwise wouldn't get shown.

Dig that vintage N.H. license plate!

So now 'Straight is the Way' is back among us. And although the transfer was done primarily to provide DVD copies to vintage film nerds, the movie's Granite State setting (as well as its 100th birthday) seemed to call for a theatrical run—to give this picture a chance to be seen once again on the big screen, and in a theater, with an audience and live music, as its makers envisioned it.

Thus, with Ed's blessing and the enthusiastic participation of Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., we're giving the film its first known theatrical screenings in 100 years.

The return of 'Straight is the Way' to the big screen has captured some attention. Already we've received a big write-up in the Concord Monitor, the region's daily paper. Check it out here.

To me, the most interesting aspect of  'Straight is the Way' was its setting. When I learned the story took place in my home state of New Hampshire, I simply had to back the Kickstarter campaign, and couldn't wait to see the movie.

Very few movies, and almost NO silent films, are set specifically in New Hampshire. In terms of movie locales, the Granite State is pretty much off the map. 

Maybe it's because we're so far away from Hollywood. And of the few movies that are set in New Hampshire, most get made somewhere else.

One big exception is 'On Golden Pond' (1981), starring Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, which was filmed in the Squam Lake area. Also, scenes for the 1995 movie 'Jumanji' were shot in Keene, N.H.

From 'Jumanji': "looters" race through "Brantford, N.H.," a.k.a. Central Square in Keene, in a photo taken by my former colleague Michael Moore at the Keene Sentinel.

But more commonly, Granite State settings are subbed out to more other "stand-in" locations. 

Take the 1991 comedy 'What About Bob?' with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. Set on New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee, it was actually filmed at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

How about 'To Die For' (1995), an adaptation of the Pam Smart murder-for-hire scandal? It was also set in New Hampshire, but filmed in Toronto, Canada.

It's not like we're without celebrity connections. (Name dropping alert!) Comedian Sarah Silverman grew up in Bedford, N.H. in a house on the same road as mine. Talk show host Seth Myers grew up in Bedford, too—for decades, his mother taught French in a middle school two houses from mine. 

And from an earlier era...legendary actor Claude Rains is buried in Moultonborough, N.H. And back in Bedford, my own community was once home to a spa called "Belle Reve," a 1940s getaway that attracted the likes of Peter Lorre. 

In the case of 'Straight is the Way,' the New York City scenes are clearly filmed on location in the Big Apple, where the studio was based. 

For the "Hampton Center" scenes, Lorusso can find no evidence that any shooting took place in New Hampshire. It's most likely the scenes were shot outside New York, in either rural Long Island or New Jersey, a common practice at the time. 

The one clue about the location is that the mansion in the film appears to be the Long Island summer home of Ethel Watts Mumford, who wrote 'The Manifestations of Henry Ort,' a story on which "Straight is the Way" is based.

But as they might say in Hampton Center, N.H., that don't make no never mind. It's a fun film that I think audiences will find enjoyable, especially if seen on the big screen with live music and an audience, as intended.

So thanks to Ed Lorusso for resurrecting this film, and for Red River Theatres for giving it a chance once again on the big screen a full century after its original release. 

See you there! More information in the press release below.

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A vintage 'Coming Attractions' slide promoting 'Straight is the Way' (1921).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Vintage feature film with story set in N.H. to get first screening in 100 years

Rare surviving comedy/drama 'Straight is the Way' (1921) to be shown with live music at Concord's Red River Theatres

CONCORD, N.H. — It's a film that hasn't played in theaters since its original release exactly one century ago. And it's set in fictional 'Hampton Center, N.H.,' a small town where a pair of big-city crooks hide out from the law.

It's 'Straight is the Way,' a Paramount release that proved a modest box office success in the spring of 1921.

The film then completely disappeared—until now.

Next month, Red River Theaters of Concord will host the world re-premiere of 'Straight is the Way,' which boasts a screenplay by two-time Academy Award-winning writer Frances Marion.

The film will run twice on Thursday, Dec. 9: once at 5:30 p.m., and again at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $12 per person, $10 for Red River members.

Both screenings will feature live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who arranged for permission to screen the movie, which was transferred to digital media earlier this year.

The story follows two burglars who flee to rural "Hampton Center, N.H." to hide out in the unused wing of a mansion, where an impoverished family faces eviction.

Exposed to small town values, the pair resolve to change their ways.


A Ouija board scene in 'Straight is the Way' (1921).

'Straight is the Way' was promoted with the tagline: "They came to lift the silver, but they stayed to lift the mortgage."

The film, a comedy/drama, features scenes in which a Ouija board is used to contact the spirits of long-dead relatives.

Ouija boards had become popular in the years following World War I, when 'Straight is the Way' was released.

How does a film disappear for 100 years, and then resurface?

Produced by Cosmopolitan Pictures, 'Straight is the Way' was one of dozens of titles on Paramount's 1921 release schedule. After its initial run, the film was never reissued.

This was the fate of nearly all motion pictures of the era, most of which were lost to neglect, decay, or accident. Today, about 75 percent of all silent films no longer exist in any form.

But 'Straight is the Way' is among the survivors. A single 35mm print of the film is in the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. The print was part of a hoard of film material donated long ago by 1920s star Marion Davies, whose pictures were produced by Cosmopolitan.

However, the print is on fragile and flammable nitrate cellulose film stock, meaning it can't be safely projected or loaned out. To keep the film from deteriorating, the print is kept in long-term storage at the Library of Congress media center in Culpeper, Va.

In 2021, Maine-based film archivist Ed Lorusso organized an online Kickstarter program to raise funds to transfer the surviving print of 'Straight is the Way' to digital media. The fundraiser was successful, and the transfer was completed earlier this year.

Lorusso made the film available on DVD to fellow vintage film enthusiasts, including accompanist Rapsis, who felt the film's Granite State setting merited a theatrical revival, complete with live music.

"Very few films are set in New Hampshire, then or now," Rapsis said. "What's interesting about 'Straight is the Way' is that it shows how the state was viewed at the time—a place of small towns and old-fashioned ways, including a constable patrolling the town in a horse and buggy."

Although 'Straight is the Way' contains authentic details such as New Hampshire license plates on the few autos that appear, Lorusso has found no evidence that any part of the film was shot in the state.

Instead, 'Straight is the Way' was produced in New York City, where Cosmopolitan Pictures was based, and which continued to host film production even after most movie-making moved to California in the 1910s.

'Straight is the Way' features several location shots of Manhattan scenes such as Washington Square in Greenwich Village as it appeared in 1921.

Lorusso believes the New Hampshire scenes were most likely filmed in the rural countryside of Long Island or New Jersey, just outside the city, as was common practice at the time.

Lorusso has identified one location: the mansion shown in the film is the summer home of author Ethel Watts Mumford in Sands Point, Long Island. Mumford wrote 'The Manifestations of Henry Ort,' on which 'Straight is the Way' was based.

The screenplay was by Frances Marion, the one recognizable name associated with the production.

Marion, a prolific writer, authored more than 300 screenplays in a career that spanned three decades. Her credits include silent classics such as 'The Wind' (1928); she would later win Academy Awards for writing the prison drama 'The Big House' (1930) and the iconic boxing story 'The Champ' (1931).

George Parsons as burglar "Loot" Follett in 'Straight is the Way' (1921).

'Straight is the Way' features a cast of solid performers, all unknown today: Matt Moore, Mabel Bert, Gladys Leslie, George Parsons, Henry Sedley, Van Dyke Brooke, and Emily Fitzroy.

The film was directed by Robert Vignola; the following year, he would direct Marion Davies in 'When Knighthood Was in Flower' (1922) a big budget costume drama.

Rapsis said the Red River screening of 'Straight is the Way' is a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be experienced—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"On the 100th anniversary of the film's release, I'm delighted Red River will give New Hampshire audiences a chance to see the film as it was intended to be shown, and also see how our state was depicted in the early years of cinema." Rapsis said.

'Straight is the Way' (1921), a silent comedy/drama set in New Hampshire, will be screened with live music on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St. in Concord.

A live score will be created by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer who specializes in music for silent film presentations.

Tickets are general admission $12; Red River Theatres members $10. For more info and to purchase advance tickets, visit or call (603) 224-4600.