Friday, June 9, 2023

Lillian Gish and 'The Wind' blowing into Wilton, N.H. on Sunday, June 11 with live music

An original release poster for 'The Wind' (1928).

The weekend forecast calls for 'The Wind' (1928) to be felt on Sunday, June 11 in Wilton, N.H.

There, at the Town Hall Theatre, at 2 p.m., the MGM classic silent drama starring Lillian Gish will be screened with live music by me. 

Lots more info on the press release pasted in below. For now, a few thoughts on recent screenings—and then a confession.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of accompanying the original silent version '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' (1916) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

The screening attracted a lively crowd of nearly 100 people—quite large by the standards of the monthly screenings I've done there for more than 10 years now.

Pre-show at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center.

By "lively," I mean very reactive to what was on the screen. Because of the somewhat primitive nature of the movie-making to today's eyes, people were prone to laugh at some of the drama—at scenes and sequences that weren't going for laughs, but were getting them.

I remember early on in this adventure of creating music for silent film screenings, it bothered me when accompanying a film intended to be serious, but which audiences treated as hilarious.

Was I doing something wrong?

I specifically remember a screening of 'Phantom of the Opera' around Halloween one year, at which Mary Philbin's broad gestures produced belly laughs worthy of Mack Swain. 

It seemed to spin the whole experience away from the deeply felt communion with big emotions that's one of the great things about silent cinema, I think. And it helped spoil it for everyone else.

What to do? Well, over the years, in speaking before film screenings, I've learned to try to set expectations by not over emphasizing the "audience participation" element of the experience. Feel free to react. But try to let the film in and do what its makers wanted it to do.

Yes, the audience is a crucial element of the silent film experience. However, the show should really be mostly on the screen, and not among your fellow theater-goers. 

But for '20,000 Leagues'—well, it's such a trippy film to modern eyes, I bowed to the inevitable. After making sure everyone know this was NOT the Disney version from the 1950s with James Mason as Captain Nemo, I said it was okay to treat it as a kind of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" experience.

And many did! And in this case, it seemed to be okay. Yes, there was a lot of hooting and hollering at the film's more implausible elements, all the way up to the bizarre flashback ending, described as a story "Jules Verne never told."

But there was also genuine emotion present throughout the film. There was wonder at the primitive underwater photography. (Because the undersea scenes were viewed behind a big glass window in Nemo's 'Nautilus,' I felt justified in playing Philip Glass music during these sequences.)

There was also heartbreak at Nemo's own backstory. It was still there, not washed away by the laughter but somehow still present to be savored. Maybe the laughter helped unlock the way to more tender emotions. Anyway, it worked.

Another interesting experience occurred last week, when I played the same film to two very different audiences. It was Buster Keaton's 'Our Hospitality' (1923), first to a gymnasium filled with 400 middle schoolers, then two days later to an audience of about 40 senior citizens.

The audience at Great Brook Middle School in Antrim, N.H.

In both cases, Keaton killed. The young kids were into it, and the older folks, too. How amazing that a 100-year-old entertainment can still have such broad appeal and speak to such a wide range of people after so much time.

Finally, there was Greta Garbo in 'The Temptress' (1926), a little-regarded drama that I've found has a mesmerizing effect on modern audiences. 

We screened it last Saturday in Brandon, Vt., and it literally stunned the audience into silence. The film ended with mouths agape. Applause seemed to be an afterthought, or somehow inappropriate. 

This might have been because people were waiting for the second "happy" ending, which we showed after a pause to change digital reels, so to speak. After that, applause came forth.

However, a quick post-film poll indicated that virtually everyone present preferred the original "tragic" ending. So much for Louis B. Mayer's faith in Hollywood-style happy endings!

And now, the confession. As a former journalist and editor, I take pride in composing press releases that I think reflect a fairly high standard within the profession. I take time to research and synthesize and write. I put them together to be easy-to-use by harried editors. It's the one useful skill I have!

So it's with some trepidation that I reveal that the press release below was actually composed by generative AI—specifically, the ChatGPT application that's been in the news so much lately.

Not long ago I scoffed at this, vowing to never make use of AI in this fashion. But after experimenting with it for innocuous purposes, such as writing celebratory limericks for co-worker and colleagues, I got curious about what AI could do in the press release department.

The result is below. What it produced is definitely not what I would have written, but it wasn't bad. There was some unnecessary hyperbole that I edited out, but it did a pretty good job capturing the film's importance and why people might want to see it.

It also got the who-what-when correct, prompting me to fill in any missing but necessary information.

So I sent it out, and yes—it was picked up by some of the few remaining local news outlets we have in this part of the country. 

I don't think I'll make a habit out this. But I'm here to say the future is now, even in the arcane field of silent film press releases.

Sounds like another story Jules Verne never wrote!

*   *   *

Classic still of Lillian Gish losing her grip in 'The Wind' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Lillian Gish stars in silent classic 'The Wind' on Sunday, June 11 at Town Hall Theatre

Screening features live music; rare chance to see renowned MGM drama on big screen

WILTON, N.H.—The Town Hall Theatre is delighted to announce a special screening of the timeless classic silent film, 'The Wind,' starring the legendary Lillian Gish. This remarkable cinematic experience will take place on Sunday, June 11, at 2 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $10. Attendees will also have the pleasure of enjoying live music accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis.

Directed by Victor Sjöström and released in 1928, 'The Wind' has long been regarded as a masterpiece of early silent cinema.

The film tells the gripping story of a young woman named Letty Mason (Lillian Gish) who moves to a desolate Texas prairie, where she battles against the relentless forces of nature and confronts her own internal demons.

Gish's exceptional performance, coupled with Sjöström's visionary direction, has secured 'The Wind' a place in film history as one of the most significant and haunting films of its time.

Lillian Gish and suitor Montagu Love in 'The Wind' (1928).

The screening of 'The Wind' at the Town Hall Theatre presents a rare opportunity for cinephiles and film enthusiasts to experience the magic of silent cinema in its purest form.

The film's powerful narrative, combined with Gish's mesmerizing acting, will transport the audience to the stark landscapes of the Texas prairie, allowing attendees to feel the turmoil and struggle faced by the characters.

In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Adding to the enchantment of the event, acclaimed silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will provide a live musical score, enriching the viewing experience with his talent for capturing the mood and emotion of each scene.

The Town Hall Theatre invites the community to join them on Sunday, June 11, at 2 p.m., for this unique cinematic event.

While admission is free, a suggested donation of $10 will support the preservation and restoration of classic films and the continuation of such captivating screenings in the future. Don't miss this extraordinary opportunity to witness a silent film masterpiece with live music accompaniment!

For more information contact the theater at (603) 654-3456. 

 Hey! That thing may be loaded!

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