Saturday, February 19, 2022

Tonight: Emil Jannings in 'The Last Command' at Epsilon Spires in Brattleboro, Vt., w/pipe organ

Original promotional art for Josef von Sternberg's 'The Last Command' (1928).

Quick post in advance of heading out to Brattleboro, Vt., where tonight I'll accompany the great Josef Sternberg drama 'The Last Command' (1928).

Come join us! The show starts at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires performance space, with music on the venue's Estey pipe organ augmented by digital synthesizer. 

It's worth attending, as the performance of Emil Jannings is one for the ages. Playing a deposed Czarist general forced to act out his personal drama on a Hollywood set, it's really something to see him go completely berzerk.

See for yourself. More info in the press release below.

For now, let me thank Leland Stein and the staff at the Regent Theater in Arlington, Mass. for their willingness to screen 'The Flying Ace' (1926) in observance of Black History Month.

Last night's show attracted a small audience, which surprised me. 'The Flying Ace' was recently added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. As a rare surviving "race drama" intended for segregated movie theaters, you'd think it would be of more interest. After all these years, I think it has a lot to say to us

Well—I'll accompany it again on Wednesday, Feb. 23 up at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. But right now I have to hit the road to make it through snow squalls over the river (the Connecticut River) and through the woods to Brattleboro and 'The Last Command.' 

See you there tonight!

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Evelyn Brent and Emil Jannings in 'The Last Command' (1928).
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent epic 'The Last Command' with live pipe organ score at Epsilon Spires on Saturday, Feb. 19

Josef von Sternberg's groundbreaking psychological drama won 'Best Actor' for Emil Jannings at first-ever Academy Awards

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—'The Last Command' (1928), a silent film drama that won Emil Jannings 'Best Actor' honors at the first-ever Academy Awards, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.

Admission is $15 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at or at the door.

The screening will feature live accompaniment on the venue's Estey pipe organ by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'The Last Command,' directed by Josef von Sternberg, tells the sweeping story of a powerful general in Czarist Russia (Jannings) forced to flee his homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution. He emigrates to America, where he is reduced to living in poverty.

Finding work as an extra at a Hollywood studio, the former general lands the part of a commanding officer in a movie about the Revolution, causing flashbacks to his traumatic experiences. The conflict leads to a spectacular climax and a towering performance that earned Jannings 'Best Actor' honors.

The film takes audiences on a journey through big emotions as well as issues of history, time, power, and especially a man's duty to his country and to his fellow citizens—and what happens when the two obligations diverge.

'The Last Command' is also one of early Hollywood's most creative and challenging looks at the global conflicts that contributed to World War I.

The film also stars a young William Powell as a Hollywood movie director who crosses paths with the general during the Revolution, and 1920s starlet Evelyn Brent as a seductive Russian revolutionary.

Rapsis, the accompanist, will create the film's score live as the movie is shown by improvising on the venue's historic Estey pipe organ, built in Brattleboro and installed in 1906.

"Making up the music on the spot is kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But there's nothing like the energy and excitement that comes with improvised live performance, especially when accompanying a silent film."

Critic Leonard Maltin hailed 'The Last Command' as "a stunning silent drama...a fascinating story laced with keen observations of life and work in Hollywood." Time Out of London called it "the first Sternberg masterpiece, expertly poised between satire and 'absurd' melodrama. The cast are fully equal to it; Jannings, in particular, turns the characteristic role of the general into an indelible portrait of arrogance, fervor and dementia."

Director Sternberg, a master of lighting and black-and-white photography, created 'The Last Command' as a visual tour de force. The film is often cited as a prime example of the emotional range and visual accomplishment of silent films at their height, just prior to the coming of pictures with recorded soundtracks.

Rapsis said great silent film dramas such as 'The Last Command' told stories that concentrate on the "big" emotions such as Love, Despair, Anger, and Joy. Because of this, audiences continue to respond to them in the 21st century, especially if they're presented as intended—in a theater on the big screen, with a live audience and live music.

"Dramas such as 'The Last Command' were created to be consumed as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they come to life as their creators intended them to. This screening at Epsilon Spires is a great chance to experience films that first caused people to fall in love with the movies."

The non-profit Epsilon Spires, housed in Brattleboro's former Baptist church, builds connections between art and science by offering provocative performances and events, interactive art installations, and opportunities to engage in civil discourse by addressing current topics through the integration of diverse forms of expression. 

'The Last Command' (1928) will be screened with live music on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at Epsilon Spires, 190 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt. Admission is $15 per person. Tickets may be purchased in advance at or at the door.

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