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. 

 *   *   *

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

No comments:

Post a Comment