Tuesday, February 6, 2024

On Thursday, Feb. 8: 'The Flying Ace' (1926) for Black History Month at Aviation Museum of N.H.

Kathryn Boyd and Laurence Criner star in 'The Flying Ace' (1926).

Up next, it's 'The Flying Ace' (1926), an aviation thriller with an all-Black cast that I'm accompanying at the Aviation Museum of N.H. for Black History Month.

Lots more about the film and details about the screening are in the press release pasted in below.

It's an unusual one for me because when I'm not accompanying silent films, I work as executive director of, yes, the Aviation Museum of N.H.!

People sometimes ask how I get booked to accompany screenings. In this case, I know someone on the inside.

Actually, because aviation was an exciting new thing in the 1920s, there are quite a few films that feature pilots and adventure. And newsreels of the time were full of mid-air stunts staged for the cameras.

So once in awhile, I bring my traveling circus/dog-and-pony show/silent film music addiction to the museum. Over the years, we've screened well-known films such as 'Wings' (1927) and not-so-well-known films such as 'The Flying Fleet' (1929) starring Ramon Novarro or the Monty Banks comedy 'Flying Luck' (1927).

I first encountered 'The Flying Ace' when it was included in "Pioneers of African-American Cinema," a collection issued in  2016 by Kino-Lorber.

I've since accompanied it many times, but I've been waiting to program it at the Aviation Museum of N.H. as a way to honor Black History Month.

This year seemed right. So on Thursday, Feb. 8, I hope you'll join us to experience one of the very films that survive from a time when film production was segregated—just like the cinemas themselves. 

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An original poster for 'The Flying Ace' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Honoring Black History Month
Aviation Museum of N.H. to screen rare vintage aviation thriller with all-Black cast

'The Flying Ace' (1926), recently added to U.S. National Film Registry, to be shown with live music on Thursday, Feb. 8

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Would discrimination exist in an America where everyone is Black?

That's among the questions posted by 'The Flying Ace' (1926), a rare surviving example of movies produced early in the 20th century for Black audiences in segregated cinemas.

'The Flying Ace,' recently named to the U.S. National Film Registry, will be screened in honor of Black History Month on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person. Member discounts do not apply to this event.

The screening will feature live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist and the museum's executive director.

'The Flying Ace' was produced by Norman Studios in Jacksonville, Fla., using professionals such as Laurence Criner, a veteran of Harlem’s prestigious all-black theater troupe the Lafayette Players, but also many non-professionals for minor roles.

Kathryn Boyd and Laurence Criner star in 'The Flying Ace.'

In 'The Flying Ace,' Criner plays Capt. Billy Stokes, a World War I fighter pilot known as "The Flying Ace" because of his downing of seven enemy aircraft in France.

Returning home to resume his former job as a railroad detective, he's assigned to locate a stationmaster who's gone missing along with the $25,000 company payroll.

While investigating, Stokes begins romancing the stationmaster's daughter Ruth (Kathryn Boyd), causing a rivalry with another suitor which leads to a break in the case.

With Ruth's safety now at risk, Stokes' dogged pursuit of the suspects leads to climax highlighted by a dramatic airborne chase which calls upon his piloting prowess.

Films such as 'The Flying Ace' were shown specifically to African-American audiences in areas of the U.S. where theaters were segregated.

Norman Studios was among the nation's top film production companies making feature length and short films for this market from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Featuring all-Black casts in stories meant to inspire and uplift, such films were popular with African-American audiences at the time. In Norman Studios films, the stories often took place in a world without the racial barriers that existed at the time.

In 'The Flying Ace,' Capt. Stokes is a pilot returning home from serving honorably in World War I—but Blacks were not allowed to fly aircraft in the U.S. military until 1940.

In an essay for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, critic Megan Pugh wrote that Capt. Billy Stokes "...is a model for the ideals of racial uplift, fulfilling aspirations that Black Americans were not yet allowed to achieve."

"At a time when Hollywood employed white actors in blackface to play shuffling servants and mammies, the Norman Film Manufacturing Company...hired all-black casts to play dignified roles."

"Instead of tackling discrimination head-on in his films, Norman created a kind of segregated dream world where whites—and consequently, racism—didn’t even exist," Pugh wrote.

"While it’s impossible to measure the influence The Flying Ace had on its viewers, it is reasonable to assume that audiences found its lead character inspirational. Billy Stokes was a black male hero who would have never made it onscreen in a Hollywood movie of the time," Pugh wrote.

Filmed in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, Fla., 'The Flying Ace' is an unusual aviation melodrama in that no airplanes in the movie actually leave the ground. The mid-air scenes were filmed in a studio in front of neutral backdrops.

Although 'The Flying Ace' may appear crudely made to modern audiences, in 2021 the movie was named to the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Of films produced for Black-only audiences in segregated theaters, very few survive. 'The Flying Ace' is unusual in that it survives complete, and in pristine condition. The film was included in 'Pioneers of African American Cinema," a DVD collection released in 2016 by Kino-Lorber.

A live musical score for 'The Flying Ace' will be created by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer who specializes in music for silent film presentations.

Rapsis, who is also executive director of the Aviation Museum, said the screening is a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be experienced—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

The Aviation Museum is open Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 age 13 and up; $5 age 6-12, seniors 65 and over, and veterans/active military; kids 5 and under free.

The Aviation Museum of N.H., located at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H., is a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization dedicated to celebrating New Hampshire’s role in aviation history and inspiring tomorrow’s aerospace professionals.

Named “Best Place to Take Kids” in southern New Hampshire in the 2023 HippoPress Readers Poll, the Aviation Museum of N.H. was recently awarded the prestigious ‘Non-Profit Impact Award’ by the Center for N.H. Non-Profits.

'The Flying Ace' (1926), a silent aviation melodrama with an all-Black cast, will be shown with live music in honor of Black History Month on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Aviation Museum of N.H., 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, N.H.

Tickets are $10 per person at the door. Member discounts do not apply. Advance tickets are available by phone at (603) 669-4877.

For more information, visit www.aviationmuseumofnh.org or call (603) 669-4820. Follow the Aviation Museum on social media at www.facebook.com/nhahs.

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