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:

*   *   *

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.

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