Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Up next: the original silent 'Ben Hur' (1925) on Sunday, April 10 at the Showroom in Keene, N.H.

A Spanish language poster for MGM's 'Ben Hur' (1925).

Easter must be on its way, as this month's silent film schedule is thick with Biblical epics.

Coming up next: the original silent version of 'Ben Hur' (1925) on Sunday, April 10 in Keene, N.H. If there's a film you should try to see on the big screen, this is it. More details in the press release below.

For now, let me report that we enjoyed a healthy turnout for last Sunday's unusual double bill: Lon Chaney in 'Flesh and Blood' and Harry Houdini in 'The Man From Beyond,' both films from 1922.

The Chaney film, which I'd never done before, held up pretty well, with an escaped-prisoner-seeking-justice storyline that kept our audience engaged throughout. Large chunks of it are set in Chinatown, but I resisted the temptation to play pentatonic-scale-"Oriental"-sounding music.

Instead, I kept mostly to a piano & strings texture, except for a scene where a harmonium gets played, and then also when Chaney performs a sentimental tune on a solo violin. One wonders how musicians of the 1920s would have matched the on-screen action in this film.

The Houdini picture is a mind-bending affair about reincarnation that left most people scratching their heads. How can a guy become frozen in 1820, then thawed out 100 years later, to the point where he's riding around in automobiles and attending a wedding, and not realize it was a century later?

But the rousing waterfall rescue sequence that concludes the film, which was actually filmed at Niagara Falls, was enough to leave everyone satisfied.

Okay, here's the press release on 'Ben Hur.' Hope to see you this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre's new "Showroom" venue in Keene, N.H.!

*    *    *

An original release poster for MGM's silent epic 'Ben Hur' (1925).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film epic ‘Ben Hur’ (1925) coming to Showroom in Keene on Sunday, April 10

Prelude to Easter: Hollywood's original Biblical-era blockbuster to be screened with live music at Colonial Theatre's new venue

KEENE, N.H.—One of early Hollywood's greatest epics returns to the big screen with a showing of 'Ben Hur, A Tale of The Christ' (1925) on Sunday, April 10 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre's Showroom, 20 Commercial St., Keene.

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

Admission is $15 per person, general admission. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

'Ben Hur,' starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, was among the first Hollywood motion pictures to tell a Biblical-era story on a large scale.

The film, which helped establish MGM as a leading studio, employed a cast of thousands and boasted action sequences including a large-scale sea battle.

The film is highlighted by a spell-binding chariot race that still leaves audiences breathless.

Set in the Holy Land at the time of Christ's birth, 'Ben Hur' tells the story of a Jewish family in Jerusalem whose fortune is confiscated by the Romans and its members jailed.

The enslaved family heir, Judah Ben Hur (played by Novarro, a leading silent-era heartthrob) is inspired by encounters with Christ to pursue justice. This leads him to a series of epic adventures in his quest to find his mother and sister and restore his family fortune.

The film is particularly appropriate for the weeks leading up to Easter, which is celebrated on Sunday, April 17. (Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday, April 24 in 2022.)

'Ben Hur,' directed by Fred Niblo, was among the most expensive films of the silent era, taking two years to make and costing between $4 million and $6 million. When released in 1925, it became a huge hit for the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.

The chariot race scene in 'Ben Hur,' with Novarro and other cast members driving teams of horses at high speed on a mammoth dirt racetrack in a gigantic replica of a Roman stadium, was among the most complicated and dangerous sequences filmed in the silent era. It remains noted for its tight editing, dramatic sweep, and sheer cinematic excitement.

The chariot race was re-created virtually shot for shot in MGM's 1959 remake, and more recently imitated in the pod race scene in 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.'

Besides Novarro in the title role, the film stars Francis X. Bushman as Messala, the Roman soldier who imprisons the Hur family; Betty Bronson as Mary, mother of Jesus; May McAvoy as Ben Hur's sister Esther; and Claire McDowell as Ben Hur's mother.

'Ben Hur' was based on the best-selling 1880 novel by General Lew Wallace, which interwove the story of Christ's life with the Ben Hur clan, a fictional Jewish merchant family.

Celebrity "extras" in the chariot race scene included stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Lionel Barrymore, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and a very young Clark Gable.

The film was remade by MGM in the 1950s in a color and wide-screen version starring Charleton Heston that garnered 11 Academy Awards. Some critics believe the original 1925 version offers superior drama and story-telling.

In creating music for silent films, accompanist Jeff Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

For each film, Rapsis improvises accompaniment using original themes created beforehand. No music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

'Ben Hur, A Tale of The Christ' (1925) will be shown on Sunday, April 10 at 2 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre's Showroom, 20 Commercial St., Keene.

General admission is $15 per person. Tickets are available online at or at the door. For more information, call the Colonial box office at (603) 352-2033.

No comments:

Post a Comment