Thursday, March 30, 2023

Thou shalt not miss 'The Ten Commandments' (1923) on Sunday, April 2 in Natick, Mass.

Promotional poster for Cecil B. DeMille's silent version of 'The Ten Commandments.'

What better time of year than Easter to resurrect an original Hollywood Biblical blockbuster?

That's what we'll do on Sunday, April 2, when I accompany the 1923 silent version of 'The Ten Commandments' at the Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

Showtime is 4 p.m., meaning you'll have plenty of time to attend Mass prior to the show. (I've checked with the Archdiocese of Boston and no, the screening does not count as church.)

The film, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, differs significantly from its 1956 remake. For more info, check out the press release pasted in below.

Road report: I've just completed doing live music for a pair of thrillers the past two nights and all went well.

On Tuesday, March 28, I accompanied Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927) for an appreciative crowd at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, R.I. 

And then on Wednesday, March 29, it was music for 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the University of N.H. in Durham, N.H.

The latter was part of this year's touring 'Cinema Ritrovato' program, which the University hosts each spring. Many thanks to the UNH faculty who organize this and who've brought me in for several years now. 

The audience for 'Nosferatu' was predominantly college students, as you'd expect. Interesting: a show of hands afterwards found that it was the first time that virtually everyone had seen the film.

And that's it for the first quarter of 2023. The performance schedule is a little light for April, but that's good, as I'm nursing a pulled muscle deep in my upper right arm that really needs time to heal.

So pray for me. And what better place to do it than at this Sunday's screening of the original silent film version of 'The Ten Commandments'? See you there!

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Moses (not Charlton Heston, but Theodore Roberts) prepares to part the waters of the Red Sea in the original silent film version of 'The Ten Commandments' (1923).

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Original 'Ten Commandments' movie to screen at Natick Center for the Arts

Silent film Biblical blockbuster to be shown on 100th anniversary with live music on Palm Sunday, April 2

NATICK, Mass.—Decades before he directed Charlton Heston as Moses, filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille's original silent version of 'The Ten Commandments' (1923) wowed audiences the world over during the early years of cinema.

To celebrate the coming Easter season, DeMille's pioneering Biblical blockbuster will be screened on Sunday, April 2 at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass.

The 100th anniversary screening, the latest in the Center for the Art's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

DeMille's original 'Ten Commandments' was among the first Hollywood films to tackle stories from scripture on a grand scale. The picture was a popular hit in its original release, and served as a blueprint for DeMille's later remake in 1956.


Despite the silent original's epic scale, the Moses story takes up only about the first third of the film. After that, the tale changes to a modern-day melodrama about living by the lessons of the Commandments. In the McTavish family, two brothers make opposite decisions: one, John, to follow his mother's teaching of the Ten Commandments and become a poor carpenter, and the other, Danny, to break every one of them and rise to the top. The film shows his unchecked immorality to be momentarily gainful, but ultimately disastrous.

A contrast is made between the carpenter brother and his mother. The mother reads the story of Moses and emphasizes strict obedience and fear of God. The carpenter, however, reads from the New Testament story of Jesus' healing of lepers. His emphasis is on a loving and forgiving God. The film also shows the mother's strict lawful morality to be flawed in comparison to her son's version.

The other brother becomes a corrupt contractor who builds a church with shoddy concrete, pocketing the money saved and becoming very rich. One day, his mother comes to visit him at his work site, but the walls are becoming unstable due to the shaking of heavy trucks on nearby roads. One of the walls collapses, with tragic results. This sends the brother on a downward spiral as he attempts to right his wrongs and clear his conscience.

Throughout the film, the visual motif of the tablets of the Commandments appears in the sets, with a particular Commandment appearing on them when it is relevant to the story.

'The Ten Commandments' boasts an all-star cast of 1920s performers, including Theodore Roberts as Moses; Charles de Rochefort as Rameses; Estelle Taylor as Miriam, the Sister of Moses; Edythe Chapman as Mrs. Martha McTavish; Richard Dix as John McTavish, her son; Rod La Rocque as Dan McTavish, her other son; and Leatrice Joy as Mary Leigh.

The Exodus scenes were filmed at Nipomo Dunes, near Pismo Beach, Calif., in San Luis Obispo County, which is now an archaeological site. The film location was originally chosen because its immense sand dunes provided a superficial resemblance to the Egyptian desert. After the filming was complete, the massive sets — which included four 35-foot-tall Pharaoh statues, 21 sphinxes, and gates reaching a height of 110 feet, which were built by an army of 1,600 workers — were dynamited and buried in the sand. However, the burial location at Nipomo Dunes is exposed to relentless northwesterly gales year-round, and much of what was buried is now exposed to the elements, as the covering sand has been blown away.

The visual effect of keeping the walls of water apart while Moses and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea was accomplished with a slab of gelatin that was sliced in two and filmed close up as it jiggled. This shot was then combined with live-action footage of actors walking into the distance, creating a vivid illusion.

Live music is a key element of each silent film screening, said Jeff Rapsis, accompanist for TCAN's silent film screenings. Silent movies were not shown in silence, but were accompanied by live music made right in each theater. Most films were not released with official scores, so it was up to local musicians to provide the soundtrack, which could vary greatly from theater to theater.

"Because there's no set soundtrack for most silent films, musicians are free to create new music as they see fit, even today," Rapsis said. "In bringing a film to life, I try to create original 'movie score' music that sounds like what you might expect in a theater today, which helps bridge the gap between today's audiences and silent films that are in some cases more than 100 years old."

‘The Ten Commandments’ (1923) will be shown with live music by Jeff Rapsis on Sunday, April 2 at the TCAN Center for the Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick, Mass. The 100th anniversary screening, the latest in the Center for the Art's silent film series, will feature live music.

Admission is $10 per person for members; $12 for non-members. Tickets are available online at www.natickarts.org or at the door.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Next up: Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927) on Tuesday, March 28 in Newport, R.I.

Ivor Novello stars in 'The Lodger' (1927).

Ready to move in: Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger' (1927), which I'm accompanying on Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.

Although it's not Hitchcock's first movie, it's generally regarded as the first true "Hitchcock" film, meaning it has elements of what became his signature style.

Among them: 'The Lodger' contains the first Hitchcock cameo, a trademark he would continue for the duration of his long directing career.

It occurs right near the start of the film, and might not be obvious because Hitchcock is only seen from behind, and he also has hair. Here's a quick preview so you'll know what to look for:

Lots more info in the press release pasted in below. If you're in the Newport area, I hope you'll join us to experience this film as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

Yesterday saw a surprisingly healthy turnout for 'The Regeneration' (1915), an early drama that's part of our ongoing 'Silent New York' series at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The film was included because it was shot mostly on New York's Lower East Side, then a warren of slums and tenements that housed many poor and newly arrived immigrants.

Because of that, I made that point that because none of the actors are remembered today, we should really regard the city itself as the film's star.

But I now realize that many people actually would have recognized the film's female lead if I had mentioned an extraordinary role she played long after the silent era ended.

Since I didn't say it then, I'll include it here.

Remember in 'Sunset Boulevard' (1950), there's a scene where faded silent star Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) plays cards with cronies from her glory days.

At the table are Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, and...Anna  Q. Nilsson, who starred in 'The Regeneration' way back in 1915!

I'll have to remember that the next time I accompany the film.

Okay, here's more info on 'The Lodger.' See you when you check in Tuesday night at the Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport, R.I.!

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I scream, you scream, we all scream for 'The Lodger' (1927).

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Hitchcock's first thriller, 'The Lodger,' to screen Tuesday, March 28 at Jane Pickens Theatre

Creepy silent drama about killings in London marked legendary director's debut; to be shown with live music at historic Newport venue

NEWPORT, R.I.—A half-century of murder has to start somewhere.

And for movie director Alfred Hitchcock, it began with 'The Lodger' (1927), a silent thriller that stunned audiences when first released, and which contained many of his trademark touches.

'The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,' will be shown on Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.

The screening, the latest in the venue's silent film series, 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; members $13. Tickets are available online or at the door.

'The Lodger,' shot in England and based on a story and stage play by Marie Belloc Lowndes, concerns the hunt for a serial killer in London.

British matinee idol Ivor Novello plays Jonathan Drew, a quiet, secretive young man who rents a room in a London boarding house. Drew's arrival coincides with the reign of terror orchestrated by a mysterious "Jack The Ripper"-like killer, who murders a blonde woman every Tuesday evening.

As the film progresses, circumstantial evidence begins to mount, pointing to Drew as the murderer. Suspense and drama escalate in true Hitchcock fashion as the viewer wonders if the lodger really could be the killer—and if so, what danger awaits the landlord's daughter, who is developing feelings for the mysterious stranger.

The all-British cast includes Malcom Keen, Arthur Chesney, and Marie Ault.

'The Lodger' introduced themes that would run through much of Hitchcock’s later work: an innocent man on the run, hunted down by a self-righteous society; a strong link between sexuality and murder; and a fixation on blonde women.

About 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto wrote that for "the first time Hitchcock has revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death."

'The Lodger' also launched the Hitchcock tradition of making a cameo appearance in each of his films. In 'The Lodger,' Hitchcock appears briefly about three minutes into the film, sitting at a desk in a newsroom with his back to the camera and using a telephone.

The cameo appearance tradition, which continued for the rest of his long career, came about in 'The Lodger' when the actor hired to play the part of the telephone operator failed to turn up, and Hitchcock filled the role.

Some critics say 'The Lodger' broke new ground in the previously moribund British cinema, showing a truly cinematic eye at work.

In creating the movie, Hitchcock evoked contemporary films by German directors F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, whose influence can be seen in the ominous camera angles and claustrophobic lighting.

While Hitchcock had made two previous films, in later years the director would refer to 'The Lodger' as the first true "Hitchcock" picture. The movie has since been remade several times, most recently in 2009, in an updated version starring Alfred Molina and Hope Davis.

'The Lodger' will be accompanied by live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs at venues across the region and beyond.

"Films such as 'The Lodger' were created to be shown on the big screen as a sort of communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, they still come to life in the way their makers intended them to.

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

'The Lodger' will be shown on Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theatre Film and Event Center, 49 Touro St., Newport, R.I.

Admission is $15 per person; members $13. Tickets are available online at www.janepickens.com or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (401) 846-5474.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Coming Sunday, 3/26 at Town Hall Theatre: 'The Regeneration' (1915), part of silent N.Y. series

Original promotional poster for 'The Regeneration' (1915).

This Sunday, I invite you to take in a rarely screened early crime drama.

It's 'The Regeneration' (1915), which we're running on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m. as part of the "Salute to Silent New York" series at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

I'll accompany the film, which I last played for in 2015 at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif.

I remember not expecting much, as early films tend to be a bit stagy and awkward. 

But 'The Regeneration' surprised me, as it really held the screen and produced a lot of dramatic tension.

It's no wonder that it was a box office smash, and still worth seeing today.

Also, 'The Regeneration' was filmed in the tenements and slums of New York City's Lowest East Side. Today, in addition to telling a strong story, it's an eye-opening look at what life in that area more than a century ago. 

More details in the press release below. Hope to see you Sunday afternoon!

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Anna Q. Nilson and Rockliffe Fellowes star in 'The Regeneration.'

MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent crime drama 'The Regeneration' to continue Town Hall Theatre salute to the Big Apple

Early feature film to be shown Sunday, March 26 with live music; latest in series of vintage movies set in New York City.

WILTON, N.H.—Start spreadin' the news! New York City is the star of the Town Hall Theatre's series of vintage silent feature films all set in the Big Apple.

Next up is 'The Regeneration,' (1915), an early feature-length crime drama filmed on location among the slums and tenements of the city's Lower East Side.

'The Regeneration' will be shown on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The film will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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

Set in New York City, 'The Regeneration' was shot on location in New York City's Lower East Side and used real prostitutes, gangsters and homeless people as extras. It was the first movie produced by Fox Film Corporation, a forerunner of the 20th Century Fox.

Cited as one of the first full-length gangster films, 'The Regeneration' tells the story of a poor orphan who rises to control the mob until he meets a woman for whom he wants to change.

The film was adapted from the autobiography of Owen Frawley Kildare, then known as "the Kipling of the Bowery."

The story follows the life of Owen (Rockliffe Fellowes), a young Irish American boy who is forced into a life of poverty after his mother dies.

As a result, Owen is forced to live on the street eventually turning to a life of crime.

Owen is eventually reformed, however, by the benevolent social worker Marie Deering (Anna Q. Nilsson). Also featured is a fire aboard an excursion ferry, much like the General Slocum disaster of 1904.

'The Regeneration' was the first film directed by Raoul Walsh, an actor whose previous roles included John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith's epic 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915). Walsh would go on to direct more than 140 motion pictures.

The film was released in September 1915 to critical acclaim and was a box office hit.

In 2000, 'The Regeneration' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

The Town Hall Theatre's 'Silent New York' series will run on selected Sunday afternoons from March through May.

The movies range from 'The Docks of New York' (1928), a gritty melodrama set in New York's waterfront, to 'Speedy' (1928), an uproarious Harold Lloyd comedy filmed throughout New York City, and which includes a cameo by Babe Ruth.

Featured stars range from versatile actress Marion Davies to deadpan comedian Buster Keaton.

All films will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

"Each of these films is a great way to see what life in New York City was like 100 years ago or more," Rapsis said. "Today, in addition to being great entertainment, they're also a vivid window into the past."

Other films in the series include:

• Sunday, April 23, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'Lights of Old Broadway' (1925) starring Marion Davies. Set in late 19th century NYC, Davies plays twins orphaned in childhood who grow up unaware of each other but whose lives intertwine much later on, with comic and dramatic results. Lavishly produced MGM release preserved by the Library of Congress. (Originally scheduled for April 16.)

• Sunday, April 30, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'Speedy' (1928) starring Harold Lloyd. Lloyd's final silent feature finds him at the peak of his career playing a baseball-crazed go-getter forced to rescue the business of his girlfriend's father from being destroyed by thugs. Filled with great scenes of 1920s NYC, with notable cameo by baseball's Babe Ruth.

• Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'The Docks of New York' (1928). Set in late 19th century New York, roughneck stoker Bill Roberts gets into unexpected trouble during a brief shore leave when he falls hard for Mae, a wise and weary dance-hall girl. Intense and moving silent drama from legendary director Josef von Sternberg.

• Sunday, May 21, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'The Cameraman' (1928) starring Buster Keaton. Keaton tries to impress the gal of his dreams by working as a newsreel photographer. Can he get a break and get the girl? Classic visual comedy with Keaton at the peak of his creative powers; set in NYC and includes 1920s shots of Midtown Manhattan and the old Yankee Stadium.

The Town Hall Theatre strives to show silent film as it was intended 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 films. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that audiences find surprising."

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.

Rockliffe Fellowes stars in 'The Regeneration' (1915).

Rapsis encouraged people unfamiliar with silent film to give it a try.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films still connect with cinema-goers. They retain the power to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions. They may be from another time, but they're new to us."

'Regeneration' (1915) will be screened on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more information, call (603) 654-3456.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Up next: Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry' (1923) at Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H. on Saturday, 3/18

In 'Why Worry?', Harold Lloyd demonstrates the basic comedy principle of 'Big shoes are funny.'

Okay, on to the next venue in the high-profile jet-setting life of this silent film accompanist: the Blazing Star Grange Hall in Danbury, N.H. 

 There—where the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson still hangs proudly—I'll do live music for a screening of Harold Lloyd's 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18.

More details on the show are in the press release pasted in below. 

The Grange screening was a homecoming of sorts. I did annual "mud season" silent film programs in Danbury for quite a few years until 2020, when the screening was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Now, three years later, the tradition is being revived by the Blazing Star Grange, one of very few chapters still active in New Hampshire. 

Why 'Why Worry?' Because it's one of Harold's funniest comedies, I think, and also because this year marks the 100th anniversary of its release.

It shares that distinction with Lloyd's 'Safety Last' (1923), which is far better known due to its famous building-climbing climax. 

So for its 100th anniversary, I've accompanied 'Safety Last' three time already this year, with more to come, and so I suggested 'Why Worry' in the interest of equal time. 

If you're in the area, hope you can join us, as a packed house is good for comedy. And good for you!

And despite the small-town nature of most of my work, I'm pleased to report that recently we've staged satisfying screenings of some pretty big-time pictures.

Last night in Plymouth, N.H., a completely improvised score for John Ford's 'Hangman's House' (1928) was one of those times where I had all the right material at just the right moments. 

The only thing I knew in advance that I would use was a lively tune for the big horse-racing scene. Other than that, I played and watched, and watched and played.

What came out were melodic lines with a slightly modal flavor and rhythmic catches that to me made them sound vaguely "old country," which I think fit the story, the setting, and the film's visual style.

I wouldn't say it was specifically Irish, because my knowledge of Irish music is limited to the tune in the old "Irish Spring" soap commercials. ("Manly, yes, but I like it, too.")

Out of that developed two licks that ended up carrying a lot of the dramatic freight: one originally played for the despised Judge who dies early in the film, but whose demise casts a shadow over  the piece, and another for the villain. 

I was able to use these two lines to build up dramatic tension, adding more insistent rhythmic patterns underneath as things intensified. It all fell together marvelously, I thought, and helped build to a terrificly cinematic climax.

Prior to that, last Sunday I had a great time doing music for Marion Davies in 'Little Old New York' (1923) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. 

And the week before that, for Lillian Gish in 'Annie Laurie' (1925), a big drama of big emotions and the kind of picture that my method of accompaniment seems best-suited for. Plus a screening of 'Wings' (1927) in Greenfield, Mass. that went well, and a kick-ass 'Caligari's Cabinet' (1920) for students at UNH.

Why the hot streak? Who knows? Probably just that like many other things (cooking, bowling, stilt-walking), doing it a lot tends to improve one's batting average. (Baseball, too!) 

Also, right now there's way too much going on in my non-silent-film life. So when it's time to lose myself in creating music for a screening, it comes as a relief and there's a lot of pent-up energy ready to go.

And after focusing on live film accompaniment  for 15 years (more than 100 shows per year, so over 1,500 performances), I think I've gradually developed a fluency in a certain kind of musical language and a comfort level in using it. It's just what I do.

Plus, I steal from the best! Sometimes without knowing it. Just this morning on the radio, I heard the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's opera 'Eugene Onegin,' and it starts with dotted-note up-and-down scales in the strings that are pretty much exactly what I used in a movement of my Kilimanjaro Suite.Ooops!

(Which, by the way, I really enjoyed hearing played live in concert a few years ago by the N.H. Philharmonic. And one of the highlights was the end of this movement. The piece is a musical depiction of a Westerner trying to respond to the other-worldly beauty of Africa and Kilimanjaro, and in this case the movement finishes by breaking into an all-out Sousa-like march (complete with trombone lines from the 'Washington Post March') that's very much in the spirit of Charles Ives, and which makes a heckuva racket when played in a concert hall rather than modest computer speakers. Anyway...)

Well, for whatever reason, it's been a good month so far. I'm looking forward to continuing the streak with 'Why Worry?' this coming Saturday night. See you at the Blazing Star Grange! And then on Monday, March 20 in the big city, when I'll accompany Buster Keaton's 'The Navigator' (1924) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass., just over the line from Boston.

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Promotional art for Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?'

MONDAY, FEB. 20, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Harold Lloyd stars in 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18 in Danbury, N.H.

Public welcome: Blazing Star Grange to screen classic feature-length silent comedy with live music

DANBURY, N.H.—He was the bespectacled young man next door whose road to success was often paved with perilous detours.

He was Harold Lloyd, whose fast-paced comedies made him the most popular movie star of Hollywood's silent film era.

See for yourself why Lloyd was the top box office attraction of the 1920s in a revival of 'Why Worry?' (1923), one of his best comedies.

The Blazing Star Grange will host a 100th anniversary screening of 'Why Worry?' on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the historic Blazing Star Grange Hall, 15 North Road in Danbury.

The show is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $5 per person.

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

Lloyd's go-getter character proved immensely popular throughout the 1920s, with fans following him from one adventure to the next.

Harold Lloyd plays a rich hypochondriac in 'Why Worry?'

In the political satire 'Why Worry?', Harold plays a wealthy hypochondriac traveling abroad who gets caught up in a local uprising.

Thrown into prison, Harold is forced to use his wits to escape and rescue his nurse from the clutches of an evil Revolutionary.

Regarded as one of Lloyd's most surreal movies, 'Why Worry?' features a cast that includes an actual real-life giant—8-foot-tall John Aasen, discovered in Minnesota during a national talent search.

Rapsis will improvise a musical score for 'Why Worry?' as the film screens. In creating accompaniment for the Lloyd movies and other vintage classics, Rapsis tries to bridge the gap between silent film and modern audiences.

"Creating the music on the spot is a bit of a high-wire act, but it contributes a level of energy that's really crucial to the silent film experience," Rapsis said.

The short Harold Lloyd comedy 'Number, Please' (1920) will also be included in the program.

‘Why Worry?’ will be shown on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the historic Blazing Star Grange Hall, 15 North Road in Danbury.

The show is open to the public with suggested $5 donation.
 

Harold Lloyd in 'Why Worry?', not to be confused with another Lloyd feature, 'Hot Water' (1924).
 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Prepare for St. Patrick's Day with 'Hangman's House' (1928), drama set in Ireland, screening 3/15 at Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H.

The dogs are big in John Ford's 'Hangman's House' (1928).

St. Patrick's Day is nearly upon us! Movie lovers, let's celebrate with a vintage drama set in Ireland and directed by John Ford, and with John Wayne in it.

It's 'The Quiet Man' (1952), right? 

Wrong!

It's 'Hangman's House' (1928), a much earlier movie directed by Ford released near the end of the silent era. I'll be accompanying the picture tonight (Wednesday, March 15) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Showtime is 6:30 p.m. More details in the press release pasted in below.

Although John Wayne appears in it, he's not the star. Instead, Victor McLaglen leads an ensemble cast.

But 'Hangman's House' is the first film in which Wayne can be spotted in a prominent cameo—in a scene where he gets so excited watching a horse race, he leads a group of villages in tearing down a fence.

Quite a contrast to the character that movie-goers would see a quarter-century later in 'The Quiet Man'!

Hope you're done shoveling in time to head to Plymouth to take in this rarely screened John Ford silent set in the Emerald Isle.

Sure'n it'll put you in the mood for all the green beer to come later this week!

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A vintage poster promoting 'Hangman's House' (1928).

MONDAY, FEB. 20, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent drama 'Hangman's House' with live music at Flying Monkey on Wednesday, 3/15

Early John Ford horse-racing story set in Ireland; features prominent cameo by very young John Wayne

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—The silent film era returns to the big screen at the Flying Monkey with a showing of 'Hangman's House' (1928), a classic John Ford-directed silent drama accompanied by live music.

Showtime is Wednesday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission is $10 per person.

The screening, the latest in the Flying Monkey's silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films.

Set in Ireland, 'Hangman's House' follows wanted man Denis Hogan (Victor McLaglen) who returns in disguise to his Irish homeland to seek revenge.

Once back, he becomes embroiled in an intense romantic drama involving a local judge (Hobart Bosworth), his daughter (June Collyer), a forced marriage and surprising revelations about his own sister.

A vintage lobby card from 'Hangman's House' (1928).

The film is highlighted by a high-stakes horse race. Among the spectators is a very young John Wayne, clearly visible as an extra who gets so excited he single-handedly destroys a fence.

The story culminates in a spectacular fire sequence that mesmerized the film's original audiences and still maintains its power today.

'Hangman's House' is praised for taut story-telling and evocative camerawork. Ford returned to Ireland as a setting in his later film 'The Quiet Man' (1952), this time starring John Wayne.

Later in his career, Ford would win a total of four Academy Awards for 'Best Director,' a record that stands to this day.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis will improvise an original musical score for 'Hangman's House' live as the film is shown.

"When the score gets made up on the spot, it creates a special energy that's an important part of the silent film experience," said Rapsis, who uses a digital synthesizer to recreate the texture of a full orchestra for the accompaniment.

Upcoming titles in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Wednesday, April 12, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Ten Commandments' (1923). Long before Charlton Heston played Moses in Technicolor, director Cecil B. DeMille filmed this silent blockbuster on a grand scale.

• Wednesday, May 10, 6:30 p.m.: 'Girl Shy' (1924) starring Harold Lloyd. Join us for the original rom-com featuring an unforgettable race-to-the-church finish.

• Wednesday, June 7, 6:30 p.m.: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916). Early version of the classic Jules Verne tale, with a few other stories mixed in. Feature film that pioneered underwater photography techniques.

• Wednesday, July 19, 6:30 p.m.: 'The General' (1927) Buster Keaton's Civil War-era masterpiece tells the story of a Confederate railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies. One of the great films of any era!

• Wednesday, Aug. 30, 6:30 p.m.: 'My Best Girl' (1927) starring Mary Pickford. In a big city department store, what happens when romance blossoms between a humble clerk and the store owner's son?

• Wednesday, Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m.: 'Scaramouche' (1923). When a nobleman murders his best friend, a lawyer becomes a revolutionary with his heart set on vengeance. Swashbuckler based on best-selling novel by Rafael Sabatini.

• Wednesday, Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m.: Lon Chaney creepy double feature. Just in time for Halloween. In 'The Unknown' (1927), Chaney plays "Alonzo the Armless," a circus knife thrower who uses his feet; in 'West of Zanzibar' (1928), Chaney plays a vaudeville magician who loses use of his legs in an accident and journeys to Africa to seek revenge.

• Wednesday, Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Original screen adaptation that set the bar for future versions of the famous story, as well as the swashbuckler genre itself.

‘Hangman's House’ (1928), a classic silent drama directed by John Ford, will be shown with live music on Wednesday, March 15 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 www.flyingmonkeynh.com.

 P.S. Is it just me, but isn't the artwork style of the above poster eerily similar to the style of the old Wacky Packages product parody stickers of my youth?


Sunday, March 12, 2023

Start spreadin' the news: 'Silent New York' series begins Sunday, 3/12 in Wilton, N.H. with screening of Marion Davies in 'Little Old New York'

Dennis at the Town Hall Theatre's popcorn machine.

This month marks a major milestone: the 50th anniversary of Dennis Markevarich taking over the stewardship of his hometown moviehouse, the Town Hall Theatre of Wilton N.H.

His tenure opened in grand style with a re-release screening of 'Gone with the Wind' (1939). And he's been at it ever since—through ups and downs, the industry's conversation to digital and, more recently, the pandemic.

Movies had been shown on and off in the old town hall since 1912. But it's unlikely that anyone will match Markevarich's record of five decades and counting of continuous service.

Exterior of the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. No, that's not a red carpet, just a crosswalk painted for safety.

In honor of this achievement, we're honoring Dennis with a cinematic tribute to the one place he adores just as much as Wilton, N.H.

It's New York City. Starting this weekend, we're running a series of a half-dozen silent pictures set in the Big Apple, a town that blew young Markevarich's mind when he first visited on the local high school senior class trip.

It was 1964, the year of the World's Fair. And if that wasn't enough, there was Radio City Music Hall, and so much else besides.

First up is 'Little Old New York' (1923) starring Marion Davies (at left), one of 1923's top-grossing films that also happens to be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its original release.

And the only reason we can show 'Little Old New York' is because the film's transfer to digital media was accomplished via a Kickstarter campaign to which Town Hall Theatre silent film patrons contributed!

The film screens today (Sunday, March 12) at 2 p.m. Join us for a vintage historical drama set in New York City of the early 19th century. More info about 'Little Old New York' and the rest of the series is in the press release below.

 *  *  *

An original release poster for 'Little Old New York' (1923).

MONDAY, MARCH 6, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Little Old New York' to open Town Hall Theatre salute to the Big Apple

Top-grossing film of 1923 starring Marion Davies to be shown Sunday, March 12 with live music; first in series of vintage movies set in New York City.

WILTON, N.H.—It's played a starring role in the movies since they were first made.

It's New York City, and the Big Apple is ready for its close-up in the Town Hall Theatre's series of six vintage silent feature films all set in America's largest city, then and now.

First up is 'Little Old New York,' (1923), a historical drama starring Marion Davies that was among the top-grossing films of 1923.

'Little Old New York' will be shown on Sunday, March 12 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

The film will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

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

In 'Little Old New York,' an Irish girl comes to early 19th century New York disguised as a boy to claim a fortune left to her brother, who has died. 

Marion Davies (at right) masquerades as a young man in 'Little Old New York.'

Lavish production values helped place the film among 1923's highest grossing pictures; the story of an Irish immigrant family makes it a great way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

The movie was a triumph for Marion Davies, and she was named "Queen of the Screen" and the #1 female box-office star of 1923 at the annual theater owners ball.

The rarely screened film was recently transferred from a surviving 35mm print held by the Library of Congress via a Kickstarter campaign supported in part by Town Hall Theatre patrons.

The Town Hall Theatre's 'Silent New York' series will run on selected Sunday afternoons from March through May.

The movies range from 'Regeneration' (1915), a gritty melodrama filmed on location in the slums of the Lower East Side, to 'Speedy' (1928), an uproarious Harold Lloyd comedy filmed throughout New York City, and which includes a cameo by Babe Ruth.

Featured stars range from versatile actress Marion Davies to deadpan comedian Buster Keaton.

All films will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

"Each of these films is a great way to see what life in New York City was like 100 years ago or more," Rapsis said. "Today, in addition to being great entertainment, they're also a vivid window into the past."

Other films in the series include:

• Sunday, March 26, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'The Regeneration' (1915). A powerful slum melodrama shot on location on New York's lower East Side, with a gaggle of authentic low-life types performing alongside professional actors. Directed by Raoul Walsh; one of the first U.S. feature-length films, released the same year as D.W. Griffith's 'The Birth of a Nation.'

• Sunday, April 23, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'Lights of Old Broadway' (1925) starring Marion Davies. Set in late 19th century NYC, Davies plays twins orphaned in childhood who grow up unaware of each other but whose lives intertwine much later on, with comic and dramatic results. Lavishly produced MGM release preserved by the Library of Congress. (Originally scheduled for Sunday, April 16 but moved due to conflict.)

• Sunday, April 30, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'Speedy' (1928) starring Harold Lloyd. Lloyd's final silent feature finds him at the peak of his career playing a baseball-crazed go-getter forced to rescue the business of his girlfriend's father from being destroyed by thugs. Filled with great scenes of 1920s NYC, with notable cameo by baseball's Babe Ruth.

• Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'The Docks of New York' (1928). Set in late 19th century New York, roughneck stoker Bill Roberts gets into unexpected trouble during a brief shore leave when he falls hard for Mae, a wise and weary dance-hall girl. Intense and moving silent drama from legendary director Josef von Sternberg.

• Sunday, May 21, 2023 at 2 p.m.: 'The Cameraman' (1928) starring Buster Keaton. Keaton tries to impress the gal of his dreams by working as a newsreel photographer. Can he get a break and get the girl? Classic visual comedy with Keaton at the peak of his creative powers; set in NYC and includes 1920s shots of Midtown Manhattan and the old Yankee Stadium.

The Town Hall Theatre strives to show silent film as it was intended 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 films. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood leap back to life in ways that audiences find surprising."

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.

Rapsis encouraged people unfamiliar with silent film to give it a try.

"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films still connect with cinema-goers. They retain the power to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

'Little Old New York' (1923) will be screened on Sunday, March 12 at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $10 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more information, call (603) 654-3456.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Yesterday: 'Annie Laurie' and 'Cinderella'; tonight: 'Wings' at Garden Cinema in Greenfield, Mass.

Lillian Gish in 'Annie Laurie' (1927).

Yesterday saw me do music for two films I'd never accompanied before: Lillian Gish in 'Annie Laurie' (1927) and 'Cinderella' (1914), with Mary Pickford in the title role.

Tonight, it's an familiar favorite: 'Wings' (1927), which I'm accompanying at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass. Showtime is 6:30 p.m.; more info is in the press release pasted in below.

Yesterday's double bill at the Somerville Theatre was something of an endurance test, and not because of the length of the program, which was nearly three hours.

What I mean is: I recently pulled or strained muscle tissue in my shoulder. In the past couple of weeks, this has made it intermittently painful to use my right arm for typing or, yes, playing keyboard. 

But the show must go on. And I've found if I dose myself with Ibuprofin and Naproxen prior to accompanying a film, I can get through it okay. In the meantime, I'm doing exercises to heal and strengthen the injured area, which I believe happened when I was tossing a tree branch over a fence. (Don't ask.)

I greatly enjoyed doing music for 'Annie Laurie,' a lavishly produced historical romance set among the still-feuding clans of Scotland after the union with England. 

It's full of scenes that naturally lend themselves to broad musical gestures. Big action scenes, even bigger "love" scenes between Gish and Norman Kerry, who came across in the movie as a kind of combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Gable.

Also, the way the film was paced and structured provided ample opportunity to work over the basic melodic ideas I brought to the theater: one theme for the Campbells, one for the MacDonalds, and other subsidiary motifs. 

I know there's an actual Annie Laurie song that goes with the movie, but I came up with my own melody for what's sung on screen. As the film progressed, it actually morphed into a melodic cell that came in handle during battle and action scenes. That's one of the things about improvisational accompaniment: how it unfolds can sometimes surprise even the accompanist.

One challenge was recreating the ambiance of bagpipe music on the keyboard. I found what worked was a drone of open fifths, not too low, and then topped by diatonic melodic material with a hint of flatted 7ths in the scale.

And now my right arm is acting up (as I type), so I'll pack it in and just invite you to experience 'Wings' (1927) on the big screen tonight in Greenfield, Mass.

It's the very first 'Best Picture' winner, and so a great way to get ready for this year's Academy Awards, coming up this weekend.

*  *  *

Original poster art for 'Wings' (1927).

Epic silent film 'Wings' (1927) on Monday, March 6 at Greenfield's Garden Cinema

Story of U.S. aviators in World War I won first-ever 'Best Picture'; screening to feature live musical accompaniment

GREENFIELD, N.H.—It won 'Best Picture' at the very first Academy Awards, with spectacular midair flying sequences and a dramatic story that still mesmerizes audiences today.

'Wings' (1927), a drama about U.S. pilots in the skies over Europe during World War I, will be shown on Monday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

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

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and veterans. Tickets are available online or at the door. The screening is sponsored by Precision Driving School of Greenfield.

The show will allow audiences to experience 'Wings' the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

'Wings,' a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. 'Wings' stunned audiences with aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.

'Wings' stars Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, 'Wings' was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

'Wings' is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy 'Wings' as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was fought in Europe from 1914 to 1918.

" 'Wings' is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured," accompanist Jeff Rapsis said.

"It's a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one's country a century ago."

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for 'Wings' on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

"Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "At the time, most films weren't released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film's impact. That's what I try to recreate," Rapsis said.

'Wings' runs about 2½ hours. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

‘Wings’ (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen will be shown with live music on Monday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass. Admission is $10.50 for adults; $8.50 for children, seniors, and veterans.

Tickets are available online at www.gardencinemas.net or at the door. For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

A late night preview of 'Annie Laurie' in 35mm, with a little 'Cocaine Bear' thrown in

An original lobby card for 'Annie Laurie' (1927) starring Lillian Gish.

Coming up on Sunday, March 5: I'll do live music at the Somerville Theatre for a double feature of two silents shown via 35mm prints from the Library of Congress.

The pair are 'Annie Laurie' (1927) a little-known-but-big-budget MGM historical epic starring Lillian Gish, and an early screen adaptation of 'Cinderella' (1914) starring Mary Pickford.

The fun begins on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Somerville, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. You'll find more details on our 'Women's History Month' program, and the Somerville's whole 'Silents, Please!' program, in the press release below.

The thing about 'Annie Laurie' is that it's one of those silent titles that's very difficult to see. It's never been released for home viewing in any format, nor are any versions floating around the Internet, bootleg or otherwise.

So to see 'Annie Laurie,' you really have to get a print of the film and run it, which is what we're doing on Sunday. The Library of Congress happens to have a circulating 35mm print, and that's what's being used for the Somerville's screening. (The film itself is now in the public domain as of Jan. 1, 2023.)

Because I'd never seen it, projectionist David Kornfeld offered to arrange an advance screenings some night this week, after the Somerville's last first-run movie showings. So last night I headed down to the theater, arriving at about 9:45 p.m., just in time to see the last 10 minutes of 'Cocaine Bear.' (Not really my type of picture, but hey...)

A selfie taken up in the Somerville's balcony while waiting for projectionist David Kornfeld to set up 'Annie Laurie' (1927).

After that, David prepped 'Annie Laurie' high up in the projection booth, and then joined us in what's called 'House 1' (the Somerville's main theater) for the screening, shown without music.

I'm pleased to report that the print itself looks great. About 10 minutes into it, David proclaimed it "gorgeous" and I agree. As for the movie, it's quite a hoot. I don't want to spoil it for you, but 'Annie Laurie' is a riot of historical epic-itis, or inflammation of the historical epic. 

The costumes, the settings, the story, the emotions, the stereotypes—everything is over the top. But it works, as it only can in silent film, I think. 

If you're in the mood to lose yourself in another world, 'Annie Laurie' works doubly well, as it transports a viewer to early 18th century Scotland and also 1920s Hollywood—at this point, an equally exotic place.

As the accompanist, I was especially grateful for a chance to preview the film as it's filled with music on screen. 

As you'd expect, there's quite a lot of bagpipe playing to accompany ceremonies, marching, games, dancing, and personal hygiene routines. I estimate at least a quarter of the film has bagpipes playing on screen. (The image at left, taken during the screening, is a typical intertitle.)

But there's also a surprising amount of lute music. Turns out Annie Laurie (the gal, not the movie) inspires a great deal of singing by others, always (it seems) accompanied by a guitar-like stringed instrument that I'll call a lute, although it's probably not. 

For most films, I wouldn't mind playing music for them "cold," or without the chance to see them beforehand. This happens once in awhile, and an experienced accompanist ought to be able to "sight read" a film in real time and come up with appropriate music on the fly. 

However, with 'Annie Laurie' being a big budget extravaganza, and with the Somerville charging a good price for tickets ($20 to see both films), I wanted to get a sense of what was in it so as to plan out any complicated sequences.

I'm glad I did, because music can really make a difference with this kind of film, and there's no way I would have anticipated or caught many of the moments without a look beforehand. Thank you, David!

So this Sunday, I encourage you to head to the Somerville and check out 'Annie Laurie.' It's a rare chance to see a big budget epic as originally intended—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience. (That's where you come in. Literally!) More details in the press release below.

And thanks to last night's sneak preview, I'll be prepared for the all the various ways that music plays an important role in the picture, both on-screen and as underscoring.

I just have to go find a set of bagpipes and a lute before Sunday afternoon.

*   *   *

Lillian Gish in one of her more sedate costumes in 'Annie Laurie' (1927).

THURSDAY, FEB. 23, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Ladies first: Pair of pioneering female filmmakers spotlighted in silent double feature at Somerville Theatre

'Annie Laurie' starring Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford's 'Cinderella' to be shown in 35mm with live music on Sunday, March 5 for Women's History Month

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—What they did would make a good movie.

Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, both iconic stars of early cinema, achieved fame and fortune in cinema's chaotic early days despite working in a new industry largely controlled by male businessmen.

Both were able to leverage their star power and public popularity to call their own shots, build successful careers, and have a lasting influence on the emerging movie business.

To honor their achievements, and to salute 'Women's History Month,' on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m. the Somerville Theatre will run a double feature of two rarely screened silent films starring Gish and Pickford.

First up at 2 p.m. is 'Annie Laurie' (1927), starring Lillian Gish as the female lead in a big budget MGM historical epic about warring Scottish clans.

Then, at 3:45 p.m., it's 'Cinderella' (1914), an early screen version of the famous tale starring Pickford in the title role.

Both films will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in accompanying silent films.

Both films will be shown via 35mm prints on loan from the Library of Congress.

By the way they built their careers in early Hollywood, Gish and Pickford are often cited as models for female entrepreneurs.

"These two ladies were not just movie stars," Rapsis said."They both used their influence to shape early Hollywood behind the scenes, making sure performers and artists were given credit for their work and also fairly compensated for it."

Pickford, dissatisfied with studio production deals that failed to reflect the value of her immense box office appeal, co-founded United Artists. This enabled her to control all aspects of her film work as well as her career.

Pickford went on to co-found the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which awards the annual Oscars.

Gish, hugely popular due to her starring role in early D.W. Griffith epics such as 'Way Down East' (1920) and 'Orphans of the Storm' (1921), parlayed that fame into a lucrative contract with MGM that gave her creative control within the tightly-run studio.

Gish went on to a lengthy career in film, stage, and television, in later life making appearances on shows such as the 'The Love Boat' in 1981.

"Seeing both these films today, on the big screen and with live music, is a great way to appreciate the appeal of these two great female stars as they were building their careers in early Hollywood," said Ian Judge, the Somerville Theatre's creative director and general manager.

The Somerville Theatre's ongoing 'Silents, Please!' schedule features a broad range of titles, from well-known classics to obscure films rarely seen since their release, which in some cases was more than a century ago.

Several programs are double bills on a common theme, such as a July program saluting 'Canada Day' with two films set in the Canadian West. All films in the series will be shown using 35mm prints, with most on loan from the U.S. Library of Congress.

A roster of upcoming films in the 'Silents, Please!' series includes:

• Sunday, May 7, 2023, 2 p.m.: Buster Keaton 'Boats and Trains' Double Feature! Two Keaton classics in which Buster creates large-scale comedy with big machines. In 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928), Buster plays the effete college-educated son of a rough-hewn riverboat captain who must help his father fight a domineering businessman—who just happens to be the father of Buster's girlfriend. In 'The General' (1926), Buster's Civil War-era masterpiece tells the story of a Confederate railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies.

• Sunday, July 9, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'Salute to Canada' Double Feature! To mark "Canada Day" (July 1), we salute our neighbors with a double helping of vintage cinema set north of the border. In 'Mantrap' (1926), silent-era "It" girl Clara Bow stars in a battle-of-the-sexes comedy about a big city divorce lawyer hoping to get away from it all at a Canadian wilderness retreat. 'The Canadian' (1926) stars Thomas Meighan in the tale of a pioneering couple homesteading in Alberta, where they battle bad weather and financial woes.

• Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Fire Brigade' (1926). MGM’s blockbuster production stars Charles Ray as the youngest in a long line of fearless Irish American firefighters. Things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter (May McEvoy) of a crooked building contractor. Spectacular fire sequences with hand-colored effects included in this recent Library of Congress restoration.

• Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Big Parade' (1925) starring John Gilbert, RenĂ©e Adoree. We salute Veterans Day with this sweeping saga about U.S. doughboys signing up and shipping off to France in 1917, where they face experiences that will change their lives forever—if they return. MGM blockbuster directed by King Vidor; one of the biggest box office triumphs of the silent era.

'Annie Laurie' (1927), a silent drama starring Lillian Gish, will be shown on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m., followed by 'Cinderella' (1914) starring Mary Pickford at 3:45 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Both films will be shown in 35mm with live music.

Tickets for the double feature are $20; tickets for one film only are $16; seniors/children $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.somervilletheatre.com or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.