Friday, September 23, 2022

New on the schedule: 'Dr. Mabuse' epic on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at the Brattle Cinema

Rudolf Klein-Rogge stars as the title character in Frtiz Lang's 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' (1922).

Greetings from Iola, Kansas, where I'm looking forward to this weekend's 'Buster Keaton Celebration.' More about that in just a bit.

Right now, I'm super-excited to announce that a last-minute addition turned this year's 'Silent Film Day' (coming up on Thursday, Sept. 29) into something of an event for this accompanist. 

Just yesterday, the venerable Brattle Cinema in Cambridge gave the go-ahead to add live music (by me) to their planned screening of 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler' (1922) on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Yes! I was hoping they would, as Fritz Lang's first 'Mabuse' is rarely programmed (one reason: it's 4½ hours long!) and the chance to do live music for it is a rare opportunity for an accompanist.

But the call has come, and thus I'm spreading the word to one and all: join us on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. (note the early start time) for a cinematic experience you will not forget. 

The full press release for the 'Dr. Mabuse' screening is pasted in below. There's a lot about this film that I find fascinating, and I hope you'll be on hand at the Brattle to experience it as intended: in a theater, on the big screen, with live music, and (most importantly!) an audience. 

 And 'Dr. Mabuse' is added to a 'Silent Movie Day' performance schedule that finds me at Cinema Detroit the very next day to do live music for another great Lang epic: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). It's known as 'Frau im Mond' in German, as in the poster at right.

And at just 2¾ hours, it's a relative trifle compared to 'Mabuse.' 

Actually, it's another terrifically ambitious movie that will blow the minds of people who have not yet seen it. And it's full of wonderful opportunities for music to augment the story and add to the experience. The screening starts at 7 p.m.

And after that, on Friday, Sept. 30, I'm at the Cleveland Cinematheque to do music for Erich von Stroheim's legendary epic 'Greed' (1924), which the director planned to run 8 hours before the studio took control and cut it down to a more manageable 2½ hours. 

(Various edits and reconstructions of 'Greed' have been produced over the years. The version being shown in Cleveland runs a tight 109 minutes.)

Gilbert Gowland (center) stars in 'Greed' (1924).

The Cinematheque screening also includes a local curiosity: 'The Heart of Cleveland, a recently rediscovered silent promotional film in which some 1920s farm children living without modern conveniences outside of Cleveland travel to the big city to learn what electricity can do.

The Cleveland "re-premiere" of 'The Heart of Cleveland' starts at 6:30 p.m., with 'Greed' to follow at 7 p.m. 

You know your doing your part to honor Silent Film Day when, over three days, the shortest film you're accompanying is von Stroheim's 'Greed.'

So that's the news from Iola, where tomorrow I'll accompany two Keaton features: 'The Cameraman' (1928) and 'Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). If you're in the southeastern Kansas area, stop by! If you're anywhere else, you have a whole day to get here!

Here's the press release for the screening of 'Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler' (1922) on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m. at the Brattle:

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Pick a disguise: the many faces of Dr. Mabuse.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Live music added to Brattle Cinema's 9/28 screening of early epic thriller 'Dr. Mabuse'

Pioneering four-hour silent drama about criminal mastermind to run on Wednesday, Sept. 28 in honor of 'Silent Film Day'

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—It's a story so big, it takes more than four hours to tell.

It's 'Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler,' a landmark crime thriller that pushed the boundaries of cinema and story-telling when it hit theaters in 1922.

The rarely screened early masterpiece from German director Fritz Lang will be presented at the Brattle Cinema on Wednesday, Sept. 28 starting at 6 p.m.

Admission is $14 per person; $12 for members, seniors, children, and students.

An original improvised musical score for 'Dr. Mabuse' will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis of Bedford, N.H.

"Live music makes any screening of a silent film a one-of-a-kind event," said Rapsis, who will play continuously during the four-hour-plus epic.

Rapsis aims to use music to bring out the story's many shifts and turns, and also enhance the dark atmosphere that permeates Lang's sprawling film.

The Brattle has scheduled 'Dr. Mabuse' as part of a three-day observance of this year's Silent Film Day, which falls on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Other screenings include a program of short comedies starring Buster Keaton on Thursday, Sept. 29 and the early horror classic 'Nosferatu' (1922) on Friday, Sept. 30.

'Dr. Mabuse' was a daring project by director Fritz Lang, who would later helm 'Metropolis' (1927) and a host of early screen classics, including two sequels to the Mabuse story.

Based on a contemporary novel by Norbert Jacques, 'Dr. Mabuse' (pronounced "ma-BOO-seh") tells the story of a criminal mastermind who uses disguises and hypnosis to defraud and control his wealthy victims.

Set in Germany after World War I, the movie aimed to capture the chaotic and unreal nature of life in Berlin at the time.

It also became the template for the criminal espionage film genre, with its atmosphere of intrigue, treachery and deceit among sophisticated high society.

'Dr. Mabuse' was created at a time when European cinema was not subject to now-accepted constraints of length or scope.

Lang's completed film runs an extraordinary 4½ hours and is divided into two parts.

The first part, 'The Great Gambler: A Picture of the Time,' introduces Dr. Mabuse and his criminal enterprises, which include extortion, stock market manipulation, and swindling the wealthy elite.

The second part, 'Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age,' continues the story, which includes assassination, a scene of mass hypnosis in a theater, a daring escape through sewers, and a melodramatic climax.

"This is filmmaking on a grand scale," said Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score using new material he's composed for the Brattle screening. .

"For movie fans, the rare chance to see Lang's ground-breaking film on the big screen with live music is not to be missed."

'Dr. Mabuse' stars actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge in the title role. Klein-Rogge frequently collaborated with Lang, playing the iconic role of scientist Rotwang in 'Metropolis' and criminal mastermind Haghi in Lang's 'Spies' (1928).

During production, 'Dr. Mabuse' had its share of behind-the-scenes drama. Lang began an affair with screenwriter Thea von Harbou, who at the time was married to Klein-Rogge. Her separation from Klein-Rogge was amicable, however, and did not interfere with the film. Ultimately, Lang married von Harbou; the three then worked on several subsequent films.

Upon its release, critics hailed 'Dr. Mabuse' as an example of cinema's story-telling and artistic potential.

The Berliner Zeitung called the first part "the attempt to create an image of our chaotic times" and went on to state that it "will give people fifty or one hundred years from now an idea of an age that they could hardly comprehend without such a document."

Film-Kurier praised Klein-Rogge's "brilliant performance" and Lang's "sensitive yet experienced" direction.

'Dr. Mabuse' wasn't released in the United States until 1927, and then only in an edited-down two-hour version that proved unsuccessful.

Today, contemporary critics recognize the original 'Dr. Mabuse' as Lang's earliest masterpiece and a lasting achievement.

"Mabuse remains memorable for the darkly brooding atmosphere that Lang creates, a disturbing compound of hysteria and fatalistic passivity.”
– John Wakeman, World Film Directors Volume 1.

Both parts of 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' (1922) will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Cinema, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge, Mass. (Please note the early start time.)

Admission is $14 per person; $12 for members, seniors, children, and students. To buy tickets online, visit or contact the box office at (617) 876-6837.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Up next: Mary Pickford's 'Sparrows' on 9/21; also, thoughts on doing live music for a 7½-hour film

Mary Pickford stars in 'Sparrows' (1926).

This week it's Mary Pickford's great drama 'Sparrows' (1926), which I'll accompany as part of a series of films that recently entered the public domain.

'Sparrows' will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

A lot more details in the press release pasted in below. 

But now, a few thoughts on what I did this weekend, which was play live music for a movie 7½ hours long.

It's Louis Feuillade's sprawling crime thriller 'Les Vampires' (1915), which we showed this past Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

First, let's get the name spelled correctly. When I arrived Saturday, I found the theater marquee looked like this:

I thought the French spelling (which we were using because of 'LES') was 'VampYres' with a Y. 

So I asked Dennis Markevarich, long-time owner/operator of the Town Hall Theatre, to adjust it, which he obediently did:

But then further input (including the on-screen title of the film itself) by the end of Saturday afternoon confirmed that the correct spelling is with an I, not a Y. So Dennis changed it back. 

At least it was correct on the sandwich boards outside the theater:

So much for my liguistic "savoir faire."

I've read reviews warning that 'Les Vampires,' which is divided into 10 chapters of varying length, should not be seen all in one big gulp. Each chapter was released about a month apart, which is how people experienced it in its original release.

But knowing what it was, I felt this was the only way to do it—to immerse one's self into Feuillade's world of criminals and police in early 20th century Paris. 

My argument: rather than a Hollywood-style serial with short chapters and cliff-hanger "find out next week" endings, 'Les Vampires' is more like a Dickens novel. 

Most of the larger works of Dickens were also created, written, and released in parts: serialized for periodicals of the day. 

It was only after all the parts were written and published separately that the whole of, say, 'Our Mutual Friend' would be brought out as a single novel.

For better or worse, that's the model Feuillade was following, I think. So by showing 'Les Vampires' all at once (over two days), we were doing the equivalent of tackling a big novel on that beach vacation I've never actually taken but hear so much about. 

And so off we went! Back-to-back afternoons, each filled with nearly four hours of cinema.

I'm sorry, but not surprised, to report that the screenings attracted only a handful of diehard film buffs. 

Maybe it was the temporary marquee misspelling. For shame!

One real reason was the weather. This past weekend, the last of summer, was blessed with sunny skies and pleasantly low humidity. So we lacked the dreary or oppressive conditions that make people say, "Gee, I'd like to spend a good part of the day immersed in the world of French criminal syndicates of 1915."

But then again, I chose to tackle 'Les Vampires' mostly for myself. 

For one thing, it was kind of a test, or a way of stretching myself. Was I up to it? I've been doing improvised live scores for silent films for 15 years now, and feel ready to handle pretty much anything. 

I guess I'm trying to become the Marc-André Hamelin of silent film accompaniment, in terms of a willingness to tackle the big rarely played works in the repertoire.

Or, to use another analogy, I told attendees on Saturday afternoon that the music they were about to hear may not be brilliant, but it would keep on coming. 

So in that respect, I'm more of the Jake LaMotta (left) of silent film accompaniment, which actually feels about right to me.

Also, I wanted to see what would happen to the music as the hours went by and the story tumbled on and on. 

The good news is that it seemed to flow pretty naturally for the entire length of 'Les Vampires.' I started with just three or four themes to work with, but that turned out to be enough to cover any situation on screen. 

Also, I did not get tired, either physically or mentally. A couple of times I felt I was "going dry," as accompanists say, which is when you're sitting at the keyboard (usually after a lot of playing) and simply nothing is coming to you, even as a film plays on screen.

But each time I was able to kick on the after-burners and power through. Both days, I made it to the finish line pretty much okay, although after each session I stood up and simply said, "Thank you very much for watching 'Les Vampires.' Now I'm going to go lie down."

Alas, I didn't get into such a trance that any surprising new melodies burbled up from my subconscious, which I hoped would be the case. 

I guess the style of 'Les Vampires' lent itself to those moments—few extended scenes flow very smoothly, and there's always the chance of a gun being pulled at any moment, so you just don't get into that state. 

And perhaps the sheer quantity of material has a way of intimidating the place where new music comes from, at least with me. 

Surprises? Well, besides a large quantity of hard-to-anticipate fast gunshots, I wasn't prepared for the many scenes of music and dance that occur throughout 'Les Vampires.' Pretty much every chapter has a scene in a nightclub or dance hall.

I did okay for the most part, even when the criminals' nightclub hangout featured a pair of what seemed to be Celtic dancers on screen for an extended time. (How do you make that menacing?)

And I really just couldn't figure out the scenes near the end that show the Vampires gang celebrating with a party highlighted by some pretty wild dancing. Maybe after seven hours of playing, I was just played out. 

But I did it. And for every scene that took an unexpected turn, there were many sequences that held together nicely, and in which I felt the music helped bring Feuillade's at-times bizarre creation to life all these years later. 

Merci, M. Feuillade, from the 21st century!

Okay, details on 'Sparrows' below. Hope to see you at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth this Wednesday night!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Flying Monkey to screen 'Sparrows,' Mary Pickford's masterpiece, on Wednesday, Sept. 21

Classic silent thriller about orphans who flee evil caretaker in swamp to be shown with live musical accompaniment

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — A landmark thriller starring the most popular actress of the silent era will return to the big screen this month.

'Sparrows' (1926) starring Mary Pickford will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Tickets are $10 in advance at or at the door.

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

In 'Sparrows,' Pickford plays Molly, the eldest resident of a prison-like orphanage run by the abusive Mr. Grimes (Gustave von Seyffertitz), his neglectful wife (Charlotte Mineau) and their diabolical son, Ambrose ("Spec" O'Donnell).

When Mr. Grimes becomes involved in a kidnapping plot, Molly realizes she must somehow escape, and struggles to lead the younger children to freedom through the treacherous swamps that surround the orphanage where they have all been enslaved.

The film is highlighted by dramatic scenes of Pickford and the orphans edging their way across tree branches while alligators snap at them in waters below.

During the silent film era, Mary Pickford reigned as the most famous and powerful woman in the film business.

An industry pioneer who became Hollywood’s first movie star, Pickford enjoyed a cult-like popularity that made her a national icon and an international celebrity.

Pickford also possessed a business savvy that gave her nearly total control of her creative output, with her own production company and a partnership in a major film distribution company, all before she was 30 years old.

Dubbed "America's Sweetheart" early in her screen career, the nickname was misleading, as Pickford's popularity was rooted in her portrayal of assertive women often forced to battle for justice in a male-dominated world.

After starring in hundreds of short dramas from 1910 to 1915, Pickford's popularity led to starring roles in feature films starting in the mid-1910s.

In 1919, she joined industry icons D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in creating the United Artists studio. In 1920, she married Fairbanks, with the pair reigning as Hollywood's royal couple for the remainder of the silent era.

In the 1920s, Pickford reduced her output to one picture per year. Following 'Sparrows,' she made only one more silent, 'My Best Girl' before the industry switched to talking pictures.

Pickford made several successful talking pictures, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film 'Coquette' in 1929.

Pickford, however, chose to retire in 1933. She lived in semi-seclusion until her death in 1979.

Author Jeffrey Vance, writing about 'Sparrows' in 2008, called the film Pickford's "masterpiece."

“Sparrows is her most fully realized and timeless work of art," Vance wrote. "The film’s superb performances, gothic production design, and cinematography all serve a suspenseful, emotionally compelling story anchored by a central performance by Pickford herself imbued with pathos, humor, and charm.”

'Sparrows' starring Mary Pickford will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit

Friday, September 16, 2022

Binge viewing, silent film style: accompanying 'Les Vampyres' (1915) over two days this weekend

Alternate tagline: "You'll go just BATTY for 'Les Vampyres'!

It's a bit of a stunt.

Tomorrow, I'll sit down and do music for the single longest silent movie I've ever accompanied.

It's 'Les Vampyres' (1915), a French crime thriller that clocks in at more than seven hours in total. 

Divided into 10 chapters, we'll screen the first six parts on Saturday, Sept. 17 starting at 2 p.m.

We'll then finish the job by running the final four parts on Sunday, Sept. 18, again starting at 2 p.m.

Screenings are at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Admission is free, but a donation of $10 per person is suggested to defray expenses. 

No! Not seven hours of silent film! I'll never talk!

It's a chance to see this rarely screened classic as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with a live audience. That's where you come in. (Actually, you come in through a door. Sorry, but I couldn't resist.) 

More info in the press release below about 'Les Vampyres,' which was made in Paris during World War I and influenced future generations of filmmakers.

Many thanks to Dennis Markevarich, the Town Hall Theatre's long-time owner/operator, for green-lighting what amounts to a two-day marathon of obscure-but-important French cinema. 

How will it go? I'll report back here after it's done. 

Either that, or you'll need to check your local obituaries.

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French actress Musidora plays 'Irma Vep' in 'Les Vampyres' (1915).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Epic early French crime thriller to be screened over two days at Town Hall Theatre

Complete 'Les Vampyres,' featuring French actress/acrobat Musidora as 'Irma Vep,' to run with live music on Saturday, Sept. 17 and Sunday, Sept. 18

WILTON, N.H.—It's a cinematic achievement so big, it takes two days to show.

It's 'Les Vampyres,' an early French crime thriller produced in 1915. Running more than seven hours, it's considered one of the longest films ever made.

The complete epic, consisting of 10 chapters ranging from 15 minutes to an hour in length, will be shown with live music over two days at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Chapters 1 through 6, beginning with "Episode 1: The Severed Head," will be shown on Saturday, Sept. 17 starting at 2 p.m.

Chapters 7 through 10, finishing with "Episode 10: The Terrible Wedding," will be shown on Sunday, Sept. 18 starting at 2 p.m.

Each day will feature about 3½ hours of 'Les Vampyres,' a drama about a bizarre underground crime syndicate in Paris.

The marathon screenings will be accompanied by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a live score for the entire seven-hour epic.

"If you're looking to immerse yourself in a forgotten world, there's no better way than to give yourself up to 'Les Vampyres,' " Rapsis said. "It's a movie-going experience you'll never forget."

'Les Vampyres' was directed by Louis Feuillade, a popular French crime novelist in the pre-World War I era who began making films in 1906.

The film features French actress/acrobat Musidora in a black body stocking as "Irma Vep," the syndicate's anagramized criminal mastermind.

Set in Paris, the main characters of 'The Vampyres' are a journalist and his friend who investigate a bizarre underground crime gang known as The Vampires.

Feuillade made the film quickly and inexpensively with very little written script, usually writing the premise and relying on the actors to fill in the details.

Upon its initial release, "Les Vampyres" was a massive success, making Musidora a star of French cinema.

Much of the film's success was due to Musidora's performance as the antagonist Irma Vep, who fit well with the archetypes of "vamp" and "femme fatale," often being compared to Theda Bara.

The film is considered by many to be Feuillade's magnum opus and a cinematic masterpiece. It's recognised for developing thriller techniques adopted by Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, and for its influence on the avant-garde cinema directors such as Luis Buñuel and Henri Langlois.

'Les Vampyres' is included in the book '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.'

The idea of the criminal gang was possibly inspired by the Bonnot Gang, a highly advanced anarchist group who went on a high-profile crime spree in Paris during 1911–1912.

The style of 'Les Vampyres' has been compared to that of a pulp magazine. None of the episodes employ the "cliffhanger" mechanic as popularised by such multi-chapter serials as 'The Perils of Pauline.'

Despite World War I limiting the audience for the film, it was a huge success in France.

French police, however, condemned the series for its glorification of crime and dubious morality. Some of the episodes were temporarily banned, but these bans were retracted after a personal appeal from Musidora.

Overlooked for a half-century, 'Les Vampyres' was rediscovered by modern audiences at a 1965 New York Film Festival screening.

In recent years, critics have praised 'Les Vampyres' for the sheer strangeness of writer/director Feuillade's vision.

"Like the pulp novels and magazine serializations it grew out of, 'Les Vampyres' has some of the logic of a fever dream." wrote a critic for the Austin (Texas) Chronicle in a 2014 reappraisal.

"It seems to come from the same steadily-encroaching dementia that intrudes upon a penny-a-word pulp author as he falls under the rhythmic spell of his own typewriter keys at 4 in the morning and lets his dreams take over for a page or two."

Sean Axmaker, writing for Turner Classic Movies called it "a strange and wonderful masterpiece of elegant beauty and cinematic surprises."

Rianne Hill Soriano of Yahoo! Movies said that "for its historical and cinematic contexts as one of the most instrumental works in the evolution of filmmaking both as an art form and an industry, 'Les Vampyres' is a valuable addition to a cinephile's movie collection."

All 10 parts of ‘Les Vampyres’ (1915) will be shown with live music over two days, on Saturday, Sept. 17 and Sunday, Sept. 18 at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Screenings on both days will start at 2 p.m.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person at each screening is suggested to help defray expenses.

For more info, visit or call (603) 654-3456.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Coming up: 'The Flying Ace,' then 'Les Vampyres' complete, then off to Kansas, Detroit, Cleveland

Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt., where I accompanied 'The Flying Ace' yesterday. The film will also be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 14 in Ogunquit, Maine.

A bit of a lull in screenings around Labor Day weekend. But things pick up in a big way with screenings hither and thither, near and far, as we approach Silent Movie Day (Thursday, Sept. 29) and then the mad steeplechase of Halloween.

Coming up next is 'The Flying Ace' (1926), a crime thriller that was named last year to the National Film Registry. It's a rare surviving all-Black "race" film produced for segregated theaters. 

It's Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. More details in the press release below. 

This coming weekend, I tackle something fairly ambitious: the entire series of films known as 'Les Vampyres,' which run over 7 hours and which were produced in France in 1915 by Louis Feuillade. 

They'll be shown at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. in two gulps: the first six films on Saturday, Sept. 17, and then the final four on Sunday, Sept. 18. Both programs start at 2 p.m.

This is a rare chance to see the series in its entirety on the big screen and with live music. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of audience we get, and also what the cumulative effect of the films will be.

Later this month, I head out to Iola, Kansas from Sept. 22 to Sept. 25 for the latest iteration of the long-running Keaton Celebration, held annually in honor of Buster's nearby birthplace of Piqua, Kansas.

The original Keaton Celebration, which had an academic focus, faded out in recent years, but the folks at the Bowlus Center for the Arts (the Celebration's longtime venue) have decided to reinvent it as a more community-minded event.

So this year's event will be highlighted by a local filmmaker competition, a window display content among local businesses, and more. 

One carryover from the original Keaton Celebration is a theme linking Keaton with other entertainment luminaries. This year's theme is one that's been discussed before and is now finally happening: Keaton and Hollywood dance icon Gene Kelley.

Subtitled "Gotta Dance," the program will bring Kelly's widow, Patricia Kelly, to town for a talk about her late husband, plus an exploration of the Keaton/Kelly connection, which is more substantial than you might think.

A highlight for me will be on Saturday, Sept. 24, when fellow silent film accompanist Ben Model will explore (via video link) similarities between Keaton's wistful walk in the rain in 'The Cameraman' (1928) and Kelly's famous scene in 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952). 

I'll get to accompany 'The Cameraman' as well as 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) live, plus a few shorts. Also on the bill is author Dana Stevens, who's coming to Iola to discuss her book "Camera Man," published earlier this year. 

The week after that, I head out to Cinema Detroit, where they're celebrating Silent Film Day (and also the Artemis project) with Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi epic 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). The next day, it's 'Greed' (1924) at the Cleveland Cinematheque.

So lots to look forward to. But first, it's 'The Flying Ace' (1926) this Wednesday, Sept. 14 at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine. For more details, check out the press release below. 

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An original release poster promoting 'The Flying Ace' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Leavitt Theatre to screen rare vintage crime melodrama with all-Black cast

'The Flying Ace' (1926), recently added to U.S. National Film Registry, to be shown with live music on Wednesday, Sept. 14

OGUNQUIT, Maine — Can discrimination exist in an America where everyone is Black?

That's among the questions posted by 'The Flying Ace' (1926), a rare surviving example of movies produced early in the 20th century for Black audiences in segregated cinemas.

'The Flying Ace,' recently named to the U.S. National Film Registry, will be screened on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, in Ogunquit, Maine.

General admission is $12 per person.

The rarely screened movie will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.

'The Flying Ace' was produced by Norman Studios in Jacksonville, Fla., using professionals such as Laurence Criner, a veteran of Harlem’s prestigious all-Black theater troupe the Lafayette Players, but also many non-professionals for minor roles.

Laurence Criner and Kathryn Boyd star in 'The Flying Ace' (1926).

In 'The Flying Ace,' Criner plays Capt. Billy Stokes, a World War I fighter pilot known as "The Flying Ace" because of his downing of seven enemy aircraft in France.

Returning home to resume his former job as a railroad detective, he's assigned to locate a stationmaster who's gone missing along with the $25,000 company payroll.

While investigating, Stokes begins romancing the stationmaster's daughter Ruth (Kathryn Boyd), causing a rivalry with another suitor which leads to a break in the case.

With Ruth's safety now at risk, Stokes' dogged pursuit of the suspects leads to climax highlighted by a dramatic airborne chase which calls upon his piloting prowess.

Films such as 'The Flying Ace' were shown specifically to African-American audiences in areas of the U.S. where theaters were segregated.

Norman Studios was among the nation's top film production companies making feature length and short films for this market from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Featuring all-Black casts in stories meant to inspire and uplift, such films were popular with African-American audiences at the time. In Norman Studios films, the stories often took place in a world without the racial barriers that existed at the time.

In 'The Flying Ace,' Capt. Stokes is a pilot returning home from serving honorably in World War I—but Blacks were not allowed to fly aircraft in the U.S. military until 1940.

In an essay for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, critic Megan Pugh wrote that Capt. Billy Stokes " a model for the ideals of racial uplift, fulfilling aspirations that Black Americans were not yet allowed to achieve."

"At a time when Hollywood employed white actors in blackface to play shuffling servants and mammies, the Norman Film Manufacturing Company...hired all-Black casts to play dignified roles."

"Instead of tackling discrimination head-on in his films, Norman created a kind of segregated dream world where whites—and consequently, racism—didn’t even exist," Pugh wrote.

"While it’s impossible to measure the influence The Flying Ace had on its viewers, it is reasonable to assume that audiences found its lead character inspirational. Billy Stokes was a black male hero who would have never made it onscreen in a Hollywood movie of the time," Pugh wrote.

Filmed in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, Fla., 'The Flying Ace' is a unique aviation melodrama in that no airplanes actually leave the ground. The mid-air scenes were filmed in a studio in front of neutral backdrops.

A scene from 'The Flying Ace.'

Although 'The Flying Ace' may appear crudely made to modern audiences, in 2021 the movie was named to the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Of films produced for Black-only audiences in segregated theaters, very few survive. 'The Flying Ace' is unusual in that it survives complete, and in pristine condition. The film was included in 'Pioneers of African American Cinema," a DVD collection released in 2016 by Kino-Lorber.

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

Rapsis said the Leavitt Theatre screening 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.

The Leavitt, a summer-only moviehouse, opened in 1923 at the height of the silent film era, and has been showing movies for nearly a century.

The silent film series honors the theater's long service as a moviehouse that has entertained generations of Seacoast residents and visitors, in good times and in bad.

Following 'The Flying Ace' on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., other programs in this year's Leavitt silent film series include:

• Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.: 'Der Golem' (1920). Prepare for Halloween with one very weird flick! 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.

The all-Black crime melodrama 'The Flying Ace' will be shown on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St, Route 1 in Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $12 per person, general seating. For more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit