Sunday, February 4, 2024

Warm up for Valentine's Day with Garbo and Gilbert in 'Flesh and the Devil' on Monday, 2/5

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926).

Next up: it's 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926), a romantic thriller starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. I'm accompanying the film on Monday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass.

 A massive success that cemented Garbo's career, the film features love scenes that were not faked, as the two stars were involved in a heated affair during filming. Director Clarence Brown later said he just had to start the cameras and then stand back!

Lots more info in the press release below. But first, a few notes about last night's screening at the Campton (N.H.) Historical Society, an annual event that includes a pot luck supper and a considerable amount of small-town charm.

For example: announcements prior to my introduction included an upcoming Antique Snowmobile Meet sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.  

When I got up to speak, I made the usual lame jokes (including one about the peanut brittle on the dessert table, which I said four out of five dentists recommended because it's so good for business), but then I realized something about the evening.

The scene prior to Saturday night's screening at the Campton Historical Society.

I found myself saying that as a silent film accompanist, it's been my privilege to be invited to perform in such far-flung and glamorous show-biz meccas as Topeka, Kansas, where I'll perform later this month at the Kansas Silent Film Festival, and Cleveland, Ohio, where I get to accompany films in March.

But, I said, despite the romance of these exotic places, it was unlikely that any of them would include announcements about the Chamber of Commerce hosting antique snowmobile meets. 

So the annual Pot Luck Supper / Silent Film Screening at the Campton Historical Society, traditionally held in the dead of winter, was special to me because it was home, or at least the small part of the world that was really familiar to me.

Dig in! The 'Pot Luck Supper' portion of last night's program.

Last night's screening was not without its celebrity guests, however. Prior the the show, when I was warming up at the keyboard, a woman came up to me and began chatting.

Her name was Danielle Freund-Buckman, and turn out she was the granddaughter legendary cinematographer Karl Freund's borther! That made her, let's see...Karl Freund's grand-niece, I think. 

So I introduced her to the audience, members of which of course would have no idea who Karl Freund was. I explained he was not related to Sigmund Freud, whose name was different anyway, but he was a cinematographer for many influential films in the 1920s, including F.W. Murnau's 'The Last Laugh' (1924) and Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' (1927).

I probably would have made a bigger impression by mentioning that Freund photographed 'Dracula' (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, and also directed Boris Karloff in 'The Mummy' (1932), and also an obscure picture called 'Moonlight and Pretzels' (1933) that is my FAVORITE 1930s musical, based on a single screening I saw at a long-ago Cinefest celebration in Syracuse, N.Y. (Another show biz capital!)

Instead, I mentioned the one thing that I knew would hit home: later in his career Freund developed the three-camera system used to shoot episodes of 'I Love Lucy' in the 1950s, and hundreds of sitcoms in the years since. Everyone perked up at that, and Mrs. Freund-Buckman was duly showered with applause.

The film was Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (1925), in the original version, which I've been played for multiple times in the past year after not accompanying it all for about a decade. 

In recent screenings, I've learned how to do music for the final cliff-hanging sequence (literally!) in a way that I think heightens the tension and the resulting laughs.

Take innocent music and keep it light and airy, with lots of pauses, as Chaplin and Mack Swain slowly discover their predicament. Only when Chaplin swings out the door do and everything becomes clear to the characters (although the audience has known what's going on all along) do you begin to amp up the music—in this case by taking the same music and boosting the tempo a bit, and maybe putting phrases in a minor key, but still keeping the texture as simple as possible.

In due course, you can ramp things up and get really big, but only right at the end, when Swain has escaped and found his mountain of gold, but Charlie is still trapped in the teetering cabin. 

And even then you have to cut out at the moment Swain finally peers back into the cabin, and a still-trapped Chaplin wiggles his finger to indicate he's still awaiting rescue. Why? Because if the big music continued, it would step on the moment. But with near silence, the moment produces an explosive laugh.

I followed this prescription last night. I'm not sure if the music really had anything to do with it, but audience reaction was huge, with people gasping and shrieking as the sequence unfolded, and then topped with a lusty cheer when Chaplin popped out just in the nick of time.

Less is more!

See you at 'Flesh and the Devil' on Monday night in Greenfield, Mass.—yet another showbiz capital! (By virtue of it being the hometown of Penn Gillette of 'Penn & Teller' fame, and who once worked at the Garden Cinema.)

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Original poster art for MGM's 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Garbo, Gilbert heat up the big screen in 'Flesh and the Devil' at Garden Cinemas

Celebrity couple fell passionately in love during filming of legendary silent classic, to be shown with live music on Monday, Feb. 5 in Greenfleld, Mass.

GREENFIELD, Mass. - Rediscover the passionate romance between early superstars Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926), the classic MGM silent melodrama that first brought the legendary Hollywood couple together.

'Flesh and the Devil' will be shown on Monday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 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 students. Tickets are available online or at the door.

Set in Germany, 'Flesh and the Devil' tells the story of a love triangle between two boyhood friends (Gilbert and Lars Hansen) and the amoral seductress (Garbo) who comes between them.

The two men are eventually forced into a violent struggle over the woman, who marries one but carries on an affair with the other.

During the shooting, Garbo and Gilbert developed their own highly charged off-screen romantic affair, the passion of which director Clarence Brown delighted in capturing on camera.

Though Garbo and Gilbert eventually went their separate ways, 'Flesh and the Devil' marked the very public beginning of one of the legendary romances of early Hollywood.

 A close-up in more ways than one: Garbo and Gilbert in 'Flesh and the Devil' (1926).
'Flesh and the Devil' is the latest installment of a monthly series of silent film screenings at the Garden Cinemas. 

The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by bringing crucial elements needed for silent film to work: classic films in best available prints; projection on the big screen; live musical accompaniment; and a live audience.

"These films are still moving and intense experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened," said Jeff Rapsis, who provides musical accompaniment for the screenings. 

"There's a reason people first fell in love with the movies. At their best, they were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone's reactions."

The appeal of 'Flesh and the Devil' has withstood the test of time. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Reviewers have continued to praise the picture's many good qualities, often singling out Garbo's performance as particularly memorable.

"Pulsatingly romantic, beautifully filmed, probably the best Garbo-Gilbert love match," wrote critic Leonard Maltin, while David Parkinson of Empire Magazine wrote that "Garbo is mesmerizing in this wild and heated romance..." Carol Cling of the Las Vegas Review proclaimed 'Flesh and the Devil' as "Garbo & Gilbert at their steamy, sultry silent peak."

Upcoming titles in the Garden Cinema's silent film series include:

• Monday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m.: 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928). Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc set new standards for cinematography and expanded the language of film in new directions.

• Monday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m.: 'Safety Last' (1923). The iconic image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a downtown clock is just one scene of a remarkable thrill comedy that has lost none of its power over audiences.

'Flesh and the Devil' will be shown with live music  on Monday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield.

Admission is $10.50 adults, $8:50 for children, seniors, and students. Tickets at the door; advance tickets are available at For more information, call the box office at (413) 774-4881.

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