Friday, October 28, 2022

Tonight! Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff in 'The Bells' (1926) in Warner (N.H.) Town Hall

A lobby card promoting 'The Bells' (1926).

The pre-Halloween silent film marathon continues with a screening of 'The Bells' (1926) tonight (Friday, Oct. 28) at the old Town Hall in Warner, N.H.

Showtime is 7 p.m. for what's a fund-raiser for the Telephone Museum of New Hampshire, which is located in Warner. (Yes, New Hampshire has a Telephone Museum!)

And what better silent film to show in support of a telephone museum than one called 'The Bells'?

Live music (plus some nifty bell sound effects) will be provided by yours truly. 

The movie itself has nothing to do with telephones, nor does it concern the famous Edgar Allen Poe poem. 

Despite the A-list cast (which also includes silent film mainstay Gustav von Seyffertitz), the film is a low-budget murder thriller from obscure studio Chadwick Pictures. 

I recorded a score for it several years ago for a DVD reissue by Reel Classics Video. But tonight's music will all be freshly improvised.

For more information, check out the N.H. Telephone Museum Web site.

And while I'm at it, thanks to everyone who turned out to pack the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I. for last night's 100th anniversary screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922).

A total of 216 tickets were sold—the most so far for any silent film program since I began performing in Newport earlier this year. 

Despite the DCP version of the film being noticeably different from the DVD transfer that I usually use, all went well. After a half-dozen 'Nosferatu' screenings in the past two weeks, I'm getting pretty good at synchronizing the chime noises when the clock strikes midnight. 

Your final chance to see 'Nosferatu' this Halloween season, at least with music by me, will by on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 2 p.m., when I accompany a screening at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H.

After that, the film goes back into its coffin until the next resurrection. 

Hope to see you at tonight's screening of 'The Bells' in Warner! In the meantime, enjoy some "atmosphere" shots from 'Nosferatu' last night in Newport, where they do quite a good job on the posters.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Tonight: 'Nosferatu' flies into the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I. for 100th anniversary

The vampire mounts the stairs in 'Nosferatu' (1922.)

 If you're looking for the "big audience" experience of silent film, look no further than tonight's screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

I'm told that already well over 100 tickets have been sold for tonight's show. Wow! So it should be a packed house, which I think always makes for a screening.

The fun starts at 7:30 p.m.; more details in the press release below.

Last night's screening of 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) drew a good-sized crowd to the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester, N.H.

Most had never seen (or heard of) the film; indeed many were first-timers at the Rex, which was recently renovated and reopened by the Palace Theatre, the city's main downtown performing arts organization.

For this film, I make a point of describing it as it was originally promoted: as a "comedy thriller." 

I think it's important for people to know that's what director Paul Leni was going for, thus giving them permission to laugh. Which they did!

Okay, here's info on tonight's screening of 'Nosferatu' in Newport, R.I. 

By the way, yesterday's Newport Daily News carried an extensive write-up of the screening. Nice job by writer Robert Duguay!

And I can't help but observe that for me, it's the second-to-last 'Nosferatu' of this 100th anniversary Halloween season.

Accompanying it repeatedly is beginning to feel like silent film aerobics: "Two more, one more..."

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The creature emerges: Nosferatu disembarks from his shipboard accommodations..

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' to screen at Jane Pickens Theater on Thursday, Oct. 27

Prepare for Halloween with 100-year-old silent horror movie with live music—see it if you dare!

NEWPORT, R.I.— Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film celebrating the 100th anniversary of its release.

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online or at the door.

The screening will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film musician.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to convey unease and terror.

To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screening.

"The original 'Nosferatu' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by," said Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H. who accompanies silent film screenings at venues across the nation.

"It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places," Rapsis said.

In 'Nosferatu,' actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence.

In the town, a rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count's arrival. Only when a young woman reads "The Book of Vampires" does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director Murnau told the story with strange camera angles, weird lighting, and special effects that include sequences deliberately speeded up.

Although 'Nosferatu' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too intense for very young children to enjoy.

Modern critics say the original 'Nosferatu' still packs a powerful cinematic punch.

“Early film version of Dracula is brilliantly eerie, full of imaginative touches that none of the later films quite recaptured,” Leonard Maltin wrote recently.

Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called 'Nosferatu' "...a masterpiece of German silent cinema and easily the most effective version of Dracula on record.”

Despite the status of 'Nosferatu' as a landmark of early cinema, another scary aspect of the film is that it was almost lost forever.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker's novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel.

Thus "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok." After the film was released, Stoker's widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the film would surface later, allowing 'Nosferatu' to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so well known that it appeared in a recent 'Sponge Bob Squarepants' episode.

In screening silent films at the Jane Pickens Theater, organizers aim to show early cinema as it was meant to be seen—in restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who will accompany the film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early cinema such as 'Nosferatu' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional "movie score" sound. He improvises the complete score in real time during the screening.

"Creating a movie score on the fly is kind of a high-wire act, but it can often make for more excitement than if everything is planned out in advance," Rapsis said.

The classic early horror thriller ‘Nosferatu’ will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport.

General admission $15; members $13. Tickets available online at or at the door. For more information about the JPT Film & Event Center, call (401) 846-5474. 

Have a nice trip!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Tonight: Halloween screenings continue with 'The Cat and the Canary' in Manchester, N.H.

Character actor Tully Marshall faces peril in 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

'Tis the week before Halloween, and the silent film screening calendar is as packed as a medieval graveyard after the plague.

Next up: the 1927 comedy thriller 'Cat and the Canary' tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 26) at the Rex Theater in downtown Manchester, N.H.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Lots more info in the press release below.

From now through Halloween, the screenings are continuous, with at least one each day—and in the case of Saturday, Oct. 29, three!

Really—this coming Saturday it's 'Nosferatu' at 2 p.m. at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey, N.H.; then 'Der Golem' at 6 p.m. the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine; and then the reconstructed 'London After Midnight' for, yes, a midnight showing at the Coolidge Corner Theater down in Boston.

Three screenings in the span of 12 hours might seem like a lot, but I appreciate the interest at this time of year. Something about Halloween brings out people to silent film screenings. 

So as a silent film accompanist, I'm willing to make hay while the sun shines, although that's a terrible expression to use regarding Halloween, which is about anything but sunshine. 

The story this year is, of course, 'Nosferatu' and the 100th anniversary of the film's original release. In the two weeks prior to Halloween, I'm accompanying a half-dozen screenings in four different states!

The most recent was last night in Keene, N.H., at the Colonial Theatre's new "Showroom" venue. (That's it at left, prior to the screening.) Despite it being a Tuesday night, a near-capacity crowd turned out to experience 'Nosferatu,' with many first-timers in the audience. 

Last week, I accompanied the film in Natick, Mass. and Brandon, Vt. On Thursday, I'll do it again in Newport, R.I.  No matter how many times I accompany it, the film never seems to get old—kind of like the vampire himself. 

The one special effect I use in scoring 'Nosferatu' is what I call a "dingy bell," which I employ to match the scenes of a clock chiming during the movie.

Two such scenes appear in the movie, and it's a bit tricky because each time, the chiming starts off screen. The characters hear it, and only then does the camera show the clock, which both times is striking midnight.

In order to make it work exactly, you need to know when to start the chiming (in my case, hitting the dingy bell) in order for it to add up to 12. After so many times, I'm usually able to do it exactly, but I'm always on edge in the moments leading up to it. 

Should I start now? Or now? Or maybe...oh crap, I'm too late!

I happened to nail it last night, as I learned from the father of a young boy who attended. Afterwards, he said his son was most impressed with how I matched the bell hits to the on-screen action.

Hey, I'll take it!

Hope to see you at 'Cat in the Canary' tonight, or at any of the upcoming Halloween shows. Check the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at upper right for the full slate.

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An original release poster for 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Cat and Canary' (1927) to play Rex Theatre with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 26

Just in time for Halloween: Creepy haunted house silent film thriller to be shown after sundown

MANCHESTER, N.H.—'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), a haunted house thriller from Hollywood’s silent film era, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 20 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The screening will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. General admission is $10 per person.

The show is the latest in the Rex Theatre's silent film series, which gives audiences the opportunity to experience early cinema as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'The Cat and the Canary' stands as the original movie thriller—the first picture to feature the reading of a will in a haunted mansion complete with clutching hands, a masked killer, disappearing bodies, and secret passageways.

Silent film starlet Laura LaPlante leads the cast as a young heiress who must spend the night in the creepy old mansion, which is filled with relatives who all have motives to frighten her out of her wits. Meanwhile, a dangerous escaped lunatic is loose on the grounds. Can she and the others make it through the night?

Martha Maddox and Laura LaPlante in 'The Cat and the Canary.'

Created for Universal Pictures by German filmmaker Paul Leni and based on a hit stage play, 'The Cat and the Canary' proved popular enough to inspire several remakes, including one starring Bob Hope. It was also the forerunner of all the great Universal horror classics of the 1930s and '40s.

The Rex Theatre screening will use a fully restored print that shows the film as audiences would have originally experienced it. 'The Cat and the Canary' will be accompanied by live music by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in silent film scoring.

Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Silent film is all about the audience experience, and this one is a perfect Halloween crowd-pleaser," Rapsis said. "It has something for everyone—spooky scenes, some good comedy, and it's all fine for the whole family."

Critics praise the original 'Cat and the Canary' for its wild visual design and cutting edge cinematography.

Film reviewer Michael Phillips singled out the film for using "a fluidly moving camera and elaborate, expressionist sets and lighting to achieve some of the most memorable shots in silent film, from the amazing tracking shots down the curtain-lined main hallway to the dramatic zooms and pans that accompany the film's shocks."

Leonard Maltin called the original 'Cat and the Canary' a "delightful silent classic, the forerunner of all "old dark house" mysteries."

'Cat and the Canary' will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 20 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person. Tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at (603) 668-5588 or at the door.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Change of venue! Tonight's screening of 'Phantom of the Opera' now at Derry (N.H.) Public Library

Join me this evening for a scary pre-Halloween screening of 'Phantom.'

It's just before show time but wanted to post this to get out the word that the location of tonight's screening is the Derry Public Library.

It was originally another venue, but had to be moved. So come to the library and enjoy the show!

Complete details in the press release below...

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Derry Public Library on Friday, Oct. 21

Just in time for Halloween: Pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music

DERRY, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a spooky silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the silent big screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Derry Public Library, 64 East Broadway, Derry, N.H.

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

Admission is free and the program is open to all.

The show will allow audience members to experience 'Phantom' the way it was intended to be seen: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.  

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made this unusual film seem even more strange and otherworldly.

It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screenings.

"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who frequently accompanies films throughout the nation. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.

The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.

Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).

The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including 'Dracula' (1931), 'Frankenstein' (1931), and 'The Mummy' (1932).

The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Derry Public Library, 64 E. Broadway, Derry, N.H. Admission is free. For more information, contact the Derry Public Library at (603) 432-6140 or at

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Tonight in Plymouth, N.H.: Emil Jannings as 'Mephisto' in Murnau's dark epic 'Faust' (1926)

Emil Jannings doesn't hold back as 'Mephisto' (a.k.a. Satan) in 'Faust' (1926). 

As the days grow shorter, and the list of screenings for Halloween grows longer. 

Tonight, it's Murnau's 'Faust' (1926), which I'll accompany at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.  Showtime is 6:30 p.m. 

See you there! Lots more info in the press release below.

For now, a brief report on the first of several 'Nosferatu' (1922) screenings coming up in the next two weeks.

With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the film's release, interest is heavier than usual.

Last Sunday afternoon, I accompanied 'Nosferatu' to the largest crowd we've attracted so far to the silent film series at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The Center for the Arts screening room just before 'Nosferatu.'

About 40 people took in the film, with many staying afterwards for an extended question-and-answer session.

Most had never seen 'Nosferatu,' so I need to keep that in mind when I start thinking that the film gets programmed too often. 

'Faust' certainly doesn't run as often, so if you're interested in seeing Murnau's last film made in Germany prior to his move to Hollywood, join us this evening. 

Here's the press release:

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An original German poster for F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Rarely shown 'Faust' adaptation on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Flying Monkey

Silent film thriller starring Emil Jannings to be shown on the big screen with live music for Halloween program

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—It's been a novel, a stage play, and an opera. When movies first appeared a century ago, it was only a matter of time before they tackled 'Faust,' the tale of a man who consigns his soul to the devil to obtain power in the present.

At the height of the silent era, German director F.W. Murnau created a cinematic version of 'Faust' filled with stunning images that maintain their power to astonish.

See for yourself with 'Faust' (1926), the original silent film adaptation of the classic legend, to be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person, general seating.

'Faust' is a 1926 silent film produced by German studio UFA, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman as Faust, Emil Jannings as Mephisto, and Camilla Horn as Gretchen.

As the film opens, the demon Mephisto has a bet with an Archangel that he can corrupt a righteous man's soul and destroy in him what is divine. If he succeeds, the Devil will win dominion over earth.

A scene from F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust.'

The Devil delivers a plague to the village where Faust, an elderly alchemist, lives. Though he prays to stop the death and starvation, nothing happens. Disheartened, Faust throws his alchemy books in the fire, and then the Bible too. One book opens, showing how to have power and glory by making a pact with the Devil.

Faust goes to a crossroads as described in the book and conjures up the forces of evil. When Mephisto appears, he induces Faust to make a trial, 24-hour bargain. Faust will have Mephisto's service till the sand runs out in an hourglass, at which time the Devil will rescind the pact.

At first, Faust uses his new power to help the people of the village, but they shun him when they find out that he cannot face a cross. They stone him and he takes shelter in his home. Mephisto then uses the lure of restored youth and love to convince Faust to sign over his soul once and for all.

The remainder of the film follows the grim consequences for everyone, all depicted with vivid visual imagination in the last film Murnau made in Germany before making the move to Hollywood.

'Faust' continues to impress modern critics, including Roger Ebert.

"Murnau had a bold visual imagination, distinctive even during the era of German Expressionism with its skewed perspectives and twisted rooms and stairs," Ebert wrote in 2005. " 'Faust,' with its supernatural vistas of heaven and hell, is particularly distinctive in the way it uses the whole canvas."

A scene from F.W. Murnau's adaptation of 'Faust.'

In screening F.W. Murnau's version of 'Faust,' the Flying Monkey aims to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.

"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.

"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

F.W. Murnau's ‘Faust' will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 19 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

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Silent Movie Day 2022: On the joys of combining silent film music with long-haul trucking

My set-up at the Brattle, just before embarking on a 4½-hour journey with Fritz Lang's 'Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler.'

Well, that put the "odd" in odyssey!

I'm just back after a silent film swing that took me to screenings in Cambridge, Mass., Detroit and Cleveland, and then back again—all in less than three days.

This was all in support of this year's 'Silent Movie Day' on Thursday, Sept. 29, but which in my case also involved accompanying extra screenings on the days before and after it.

So for me, Silent Movie Day was actually three days in a row, each featuring a BIG (meaning lengthy) title.

First up: On Wednesday, Sept. 28, I left home in New Hampshire at 4 p.m. to make the one hour drive to Cambridge, Mass. 

That evening, the venerable Brattle Cinema (just off Harvard Square) screened Fritz Lang's 'Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler' (1922), the sprawling two-part crime thriller that clocks in at 4½ hours. Yes, I played for it all, starting at 6 p.m. and ending just before 11 p.m.

After that, I loaded my keyboard and sound gear back onto the Forester, then hopped on the Massachusetts Turnpike (a.k.a. I-90) and headed west for Detroit, Mich. Buoyed by a brief catnap at a rest area in Utica, N.Y., I pulled into the Motor City in mid-afternoon.

At Cinema Detroit, where masks are still required out of an abundance of caution.

That night (Thursday, Sept. 29), Cinema Detroit celebrated Silent Movie Day with another sprawling Lang epic, 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), with live accompaniment by me. Clocking in at 2¾ hours, it seemed like a short subject compared to 'Mabuse.'

The next day (Friday, Sept. 30), I backtracked to Cleveland, where that evening I did live music for the the Cleveland Cinematheque's screening of another silent epic: Erich von Stroheim's 'Greed' (1924).

Talk about length! Von Stroheim originally planned an eight-hour running time, and then created a four-our version before the studio finally took it from him and released a version that runs about 2½ hours, which is what we saw at the Cinematheque.

Strangely, at that length, 'Greed' turned out to be the shortest feature of the trip.

Also on the bill at Cleveland: a newly discovered industrial promotion film, 'The Heart of Cleveland' (1924), a half-hour commercial for the wonders of electricity that was filmed and shown in the city. 

What a surprise! Featuring shots of a family touring giant industrial facilities, it anticipated Dziga Vertov's 'Man With The Movie Camera' by several years. More on the film (and a link to the video) is here

The Cinematheque audience just before Friday night's screenings. Taken from the keyboard with the fisheye lens on my new iPhone 13.

Afterwards, I loaded my gear and pointed the Forester east on I-90 to take me back home via the N.Y. State Thruway. After a brief catnap (again in Utica, N.Y.), I arrived home at 10:30 a.m.—exactly 66½ hours and 1,705 miles later.

Out of those 66½ hours, I was at the keyboard improvising music for more than 10 of them. That's a lot of music to spin out in live performance over three days. 

The only concession to the sheer quantity of scoring needed was that I allowed myself to use some common motifs that worked for all three films. Usually I'd try to avoid recycling material,

What motifs? The most common was a simple sequence of three descending notes: D, C#, G, with the last being held. You can build amazing things with this! (Only now do I realize it's a slight twisting of the opening notes of Rachmaninoff's very familiar 'Prelude in C# minor.')

Okay, now for the big question: Why do a stunt like this? Why combine silent film accompaniment with the romance of long-haul trucking?

Well, partly to challenge myself, and to see if I really could do it. Did I have the mental and physical stamina to get through this marathon?

Turns out I did, mostly. Only twice did I catch myself going into a mild "swoon" state on the piano bench: once near the start of Part II of 'Dr. Mabuse' (about three hours into the movie), and then near the end of 'Greed.'

Both times I felt a wave of wooziness wash over me, and so did a mental check to make sure it wasn't the symptom of some larger Fred-Sanford-like attack coming on. ("It's the big one, Weezy, I'm coming to join yez!") 

In both cases, while being so absorbed in creating music, I had apparently stopped breathing. So I began breathing again, and all was well.

Otherwise, everything about this escapade fell into place quite nicely. No giant traffic delays, no car troubles, no unexpected weather.

The main cast of Fritz Lang's lunar voyage epic, 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

The only concern came at Cinema Detroit, where the heat was cranked up prior to 'Woman in the Moon,' making the house way to warm for me to survive 2¾ hours in live improv mode. 

I was preparing to strategically disrobe if necessary, but they turned off the heat before the show started and all went fine.

Another reason to do this was to take advantage of 'Silent Movie Day' (which only started last year) to engineer something of a deep dive for myself: to do music for a series of longer films to see how that would affect the music-making, if at all.

I find a longer film of any type often affords enough running room to thoroughly explore whatever musical material I'm working with. With films that run two, three or four hours, you do things that just aren't possible with a film that runs an hour and change. 

Counter-intuitively, I find shorter films far more demanding to score effectively, as everything's more tightly wound, especially with comedies. Often there's just no slack to lose yourself and come up with natural and effective scoring, at least the way I do it.

Talk about trances: a scene from 'Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler.'

So my mini-marathon of 10 hours was a chance to push myself as deeply as one can go into the wide open spaces of improv. And it did just that: near the end of Part 1 of  'Mabuse,' I was so completely absorbed when I realized I had no idea what the actual time was.

The Brattle has a wall clock up above where I was sitting, so I glanced up and saw: 8:35 p.m. So something like half-way through, with hours still to go. And I then dove back into the trance-like state, once again completely absorbed in translating images into music to help the film cast its spell.

I can't speak for other accompanists, but I love those rare times when a movie absorbs you so completely that you lose sight of the beginning and the end. You always know they're there, of course, but the movie is so big that both start and finish lie well beyond the horizon. 

It's those times when I feel free to do what I think is my best work—where all the second-guessing subsides and the music flows naturally, as if in a dream. It's always underpinned by constant calculating and anticipation and so on, but all that becomes second nature in a way that never happens when you're playing, say, a one-reel Snub Pollard comedy. 

So in terms of losing myself, I have to say I got ample doses of that with all three films. But 'Mabuse' stands out as unique, in that the sheer quantity of time to be playing live, and then knowing that I would launch myself westward in the wee hours of the morning, creating a sense of being alive and in the moment that made 'Silent Film Day' worth all the effort. 

A scene from 'Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler.'

Audiences were generous with their reactions both during the screenings and afterwards. The Brattle Mabuse marathon attracted about 35 people (more than expected) who were welcomed by creative director Ned Hinkle as the "hard core."

Ned mentioned that he'd wanted to program the whole Mabuse saga in one big gulp, and the film's 100th anniversary plus Silent Film Day seemed to be the right occasion for it. 

However, at first he hadn't considered live music because he couldn't imagine anyone wanting to tackle the whole thing in one evening. Little did he know!

As far as I could tell, everyone at the Brattle stayed to the end, at which point they lustily cheered the film. In fact, we seem to have ended with significantly more people than when we started. 

Afterwards, I spoke with several people who had no idea they were in for such a long haul. It's one thing to see "270 minutes" in the listing, but quite another to do math.

I also talked with a young guy who turned out to be a visiting student from China who'd been in the U.S. for all of three weeks. He could not be more enthusiastic about the programming at the Brattle, which he's apparently attended every evening since his arrival.

I was glad to hear this, but couldn't help thinking he's not quite getting a very accurate impression of life in America.

At Cinema Detroit, a good-sized crowd remained engaged and reacted noisily throughout 'Woman in the Moon.' A high point was when the Walter Turner character played by Fritz Rasp does his "quick change" into another character and back again right before our eyes, which produced bursts of astonished laughter.

I think one thing that helped was that for the first time ever, I had a distinct musical signature for this character that I used only when he was on screen, and then never again except for that one moment when he reappears as if by magic. 

With its one-of-a-kind mix of prescient sci-fi and completely erroneous assumptions about space travel, 'Woman in the Moon' produced the "gaping mouths" reaction that only it can do. 

The one thing I forgot to mention beforehand was that although the film is a serious drama, it contains a great deal of comedy that was intended to break the tension. For modern audiences who often don't know what to make of what they're seeing, it helps to give people permission to laugh.

But the Cinema Detroit audience seemed to get this without any prompting. Several big laugh moments stand out in my mind as highlights of the communal experience.

In Cleveland, 'Greed' attracted something like 80 people, which Cinematheque director John Ewing observed was the largest in-person attendance of any screening since the pandemic. 

(That's John at left, at the podium, which renders him invisible where I sit below at the keyboard.)

Fortified by a meal at 'L'Albatross,' my favorite restaurant in all of North America (no kidding!), and knowing I was in the home stretch of my marathon, I pushed myself to rise to the challenge of scoring von Stroheim's legendary lost masterwork. 

And that's all I remember. Well, not really, but kinda sorta. It takes awhile to awaken from that dream state.

The next thing I knew, I was on I-90, heading east through Ashtabula, Ohio, and wondering if it had all been a dream. In other words, success!

Many thanks to the many people who made this Silent Movie Day oddysey possible, especially Ned Hinkle and Ivy Molan of the Brattle Cinema in Cambridge, Mass.; Paula and Tim Guthat at Cinema Detroit; and John Ewing and Genevieve Schwartz at the Cleveland Cinematheque. 

(And a special thanks to Genevieve for joining me on the L'Albatross pilgrimage, which included visiting a side street paved with wood.)

All of these people remain willing to include silent film with live music as part of their programming—not just on Silent Movie Day, but at any time. I think that's something worth celebrating all year long.

Well...after a phenomenally busy September full of challenging live performances, I'll be taking a bit of a break now. As I said earlier this month to the audience after doing live music for Louis Feuillade's 'Les Vampires' (1915), which is 7½ hours long: "I'm going to lie down now."

But look out, as here comes Halloween! This year's schedule is highlighted by numerous screenings of 'Nosferatu' (1922) to mark the 100th anniversary of its release.

There's also a rare three-screenings-in-one-day on Saturday, Oct. 29, when I'll do 'Nosferatu' in the afternoon in Jaffrey, N.H., then 'Der Golem' in the evening in Ogunquit, Maine, and then a midnight screening of the reconstructed 'London After Midnight' at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Brookline, Mass. 

One day, three screenings, three states. 

Anyone want to book a morning screening in Rhode Island that day to make it four?

If we start at 6 a.m., we can fit in the entire 'Dr. Mabuse' saga, with plenty of time for lunch...