Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Two more screenings for 2017—but first...
accolades from an unexpected source

Two programs this week will finish out the 2017 performance calendar: a Buster Keaton show in Plymouth, N.H. on Wednesday, Dec. 13 and an intense Pola Negri drama (with a Christmas twist!) in North Andover, Mass. on Thursday, Dec. 14.

But first: this morning I was looking over the just-announced Golden Globe nominations, playing my usual game of "How many of these movies have I never even heard of?" Little did I suspect that this same day would bring recognition my way.

Although not on the level of the Golden Globes, I was pleased to receive word today that the Boston Society of Film Critics has included me in a 2017 commendation for efforts at silent film accompaniment in and around Beantown, a.k.a. the Athens of America, a.k.a. The Hub of the Universe. (All three actual nicknames for Boston.)

The honor was presented jointly to me and fellow accompanists Martin Marks and Robert Humphreville:
To Boston-based musicians and silent-film-music scholars Martin Marks, Robert Humphreville and Jeff Rapsis, whose live accompaniment at silent-film screenings have delighted Boston audiences for many years. Their artistry was particularly sublime this year during the silent component of The Harvard Film Archive’s “That Certain Feeling … The Touch of Ernst Lubitsch,” a series requiring music for broad comedies, extravagant adventures and subtle dramas.
Well, thank you, Boston Society of Film Critics! What a nice way to wind up an eventful year.

I understand the Society holds an annual banquet in February. If I attend, I promise an insider's look at this glamorous event. "Sorry Academy Awards—I've already accepted an invite from the Boston Society of Film Critics! Maybe next year!"

But before we get to next year, let's finish this one. What's coming up?

Buster and Ernest Torrence hanging around in 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

• On Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m., take a break from holiday stress with Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

This is the one where Buster stands in a street during a cyclone while the front end of a building comes down around him.

Does he make it? If you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Admission $10 per person.

After something like seven years, this is the final installment of the Flying Monkey's silent film series.

In 2018, we're switching to a schedule of silent film screenings every three months or so.

Original promotional artwork for 'Barbed Wire' (1927).

• On Thursday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., it's Pola Negri and Clive Brook in 'Barbed Wire' (1927), a Paramount World War I drama with a big Christmas scene in the middle of it.

It's screening at the Rogers Center for the Arts, on the campus of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

I first saw this flick just last February, at the Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka, Kansas.

I had never heard of 'Barbed Wire,' but it turned out to be a powerful drama with a strong story and a lot of great scenes.

So once again, I am struck with now rich the silent era is, or was—that one can explore it for years, and still uncover unknown treasures.

In the case of 'Barbed Wire,' it also has the diminutive Clyde Cook (not to be confused with leading man Clive Brook) in a nice comedy relief role.

And the big Christmas scene? Well, all I'll say is that it takes place in a prisoner-of-war camp for captured German soldiers.

So it may not be the silent era's answer to 'It's a Wonderful Life.'

But it's still a darned good flick, and I look forward to doing music for it for the first time later this week.

Admission is free and the Roger Center silent film series is usually well attended. So it's a good place to experienced the "big audience" part of early cinema.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thoughts on 10 years of silent film music

Me in action in 2010 at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre, which I consider home base.

This past Halloween marked my 10th anniversary as a silent film accompanist. Since October 2007, I've been creating live music in the dark to support early motion pictures.

It's been a great ride and I look forward to doing more, and different things as well. That will mean slightly fewer live performances in 2018.

Consider: this year, I'm on track to do live accompaniment for 135 screenings. While I love doing it, that represents a serious time commitment—time that I find I need to work on some long-range projects.

I'll still be on the circuit, probably as much as ever. The improvisational nature of silent film accompaniment has been an ideal place for me to forge elements of my own personal musical language.

So I see it as a crucial element of my working method—a kind of laboratory where I can test things out. So I'll keep at it, just maybe a little less often.

For now, here's a belated "dear diary" round-up of screenings so far this month, with notes and commentary.

• Last night I accompanied a program of Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'The General (1926) for the Wilmot Community Association.

Most of those who attended really got into Buster, greeting both films with constant astonished laughter, to borrow Walter Kerr's phrase.

That most were new to Keaton and to silent film was a special bonus. Always happy when this kind of screening clicks!

• Last Thursday night (Nov. 16) saw a marathon screening of D.W. Griffith's 'Way Down East' (1920) at a new venue for me: the Manchester (N.H.) Historic Association.

I say marathon not due to the film's 2½-hour length, but because a bronchial infection I'm battling made it hard to breath in the last hour!

What was satisfying, though, was that the movie kept a crowd of non-silent-film-goers glued to their seats the entire time.

The music came together nicely, but the narrative pull of 'Way Down East' is so strong that you could play klezmer music and it would still work.

• Wednesday night saw a return to 'Zaza' (1923), the Paramount costume vehicle for Gloria Swanson that I scored for Kino-Lorber earlier this year.

It was fun to revisit the film while accompanying it live at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

It was somewhat less fun to announce to the audience that in 2018, I'll be scaling back my performance schedule at "the Monkey."

Just need to make time for projects that are proving difficult to work on when you're accompanying 130 film programs a year!

But one nice side effect of this news was heavy sales of 'Zaza' discs in DVD and Blu-ray that I got for Kino-Lorber.

• Tuesday night at the Manchester (N.H.) City Library was a bummer of a screening in several ways.

First, while loading in, my digital keyboard slipped from where I had positioned it against my car, with one corner of it landing directly on my foot.

Youch! This happened in a rainy street in downtown Manchester, just before a screening of 'What Price Glory?' (1926), which I was to accompany.

It hurt like hell, but I figured I'd get through the film first (the show must go on!) and deal with it later.

Alas, the copy of 'What Price Glory' (1926) was a disc that I hadn't previewed, and turned out to have significant problems.

About half-way through the movie, the image began to pixellate and freeze up. Finally, it got so bad, I stopped the music and told everyone I'd see what I could do.

One-man-band that I am (at the library, anyway), I went back to the utility room where the library's media equipment lives and looked at the disc.

It didn't seem flawed, at least visually. So I did the only thing I could think of: I wiped it carefully with my shirt sleeve just to see what would happen.

Surprise! It actually worked. So after recuing the film, off we went until about a half-hour later, it started deteriorating again.

I stopped it again and applied the same fix, which got us going through the key battle scenes.

But with 20 minutes to go, it started again. One more attempt at fixing didn't help, so I asked the audience and we all decided to call it day.

So I can still say that in all the screenings I've done, nary a show has been missed. But this is the first time I can recall where I couldn't finish a screening.

• A week ago Sunday saw me at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre with our make-up screening of 'Häxan' (1922), the bizarre pseudo-documentary about witchcraft.

We had a healthy crowd on hand for this, even though it wasn't the usual "last Sunday of the month" on which we run silents with live music at Wilton.

The reason for the make-up screening was that we'd originally scheduled 'Häxan' for the Sunday before Halloween, but at the last minute I discovered I didn't have the film!

So we substituted with Paul Leni's comedy thriller 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), which I hadn't done in Wilton for a long time. People loved it!

And the first weekend this month, I trekked out to the San Francisco Bay area for a gig at the Niles Essenay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, Calif.

I always seem to pass through when they program obscure Westerns, and this time was no exception: 'The Border Sheriff' (1926) starring Jack Hoxie. Huh?

Well, add another title to the list of silent film features I've accompanied, which is closing in on 300.

It actually turned out pretty well, considering I'd never seen the film, plus what seemed to be some incoherence on the part of the plot.

Still, it came together quite effectively. The audience, a majority of whom were first-time silent film attendees, ate it up, cheering on cue and all that.

While out West I managed to attend a performance of the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, who is retiring after next season. Get it while you can!

On the program: Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety' Symphony No. 2 (some good parts) and 'Ein Heldenleben' by Richard Strauss—a big, heavily orchestrated work that really needs to be heard in a concert hall.

It served to remind me of the excitement of live performance, and also reaffirmed my desire to spend more time putting notes on paper.

Crossing my fingers that 2018 is the year I make progress in that direction.

Friday, November 3, 2017

California, here I come—to do music for a show at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

This Saturday night (Nov. 4) I'm at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Niles, Calif., just across the bay from San Francisco.

Featured attraction is 'The Border Sheriff' (1926), a Jack Hoxie Western from Universal. It's one of those obscure titles that Niles sometimes programs because, after all, they run a different silent film program every week.

There's also 'Ice Cold Cocos' (1926), a Sennett two-reeler with Billy Bevan hauling ice up the same long flight of steps that would later bedevil piano movers Laurel & Hardy in 'The Music Box' (1932). And a Koko the Clown 'Out of the Inkwell' cartoon as well.

The visit to Niles is a nice change of pace (and scenery) from the recent marathon of Halloween screenings around New England, which saw a dozen programs in 14 days in venues across four states.

By Halloween night, when I accompanied 'Nosferatu' (1922) for an enthusiastic crowd at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., I felt just about spooked out.

Things will quiet down now, in part because the pace of screenings slows somewhat as we enter the holiday season.

But it'll also be by design. Things will stay slow in 2018 because I have a number of longer-term projects in the works. So fewer screenings means more time (finally!) for significant progress, I hope.

I'm in Phoenix right now, where I plan to do a longish run first thing Friday morning. Later in the day I'll fly to San Francisco, where I'll attend a San Francisco Symphony concert that night and then make my own music on Saturday night in Niles.

If you're in the Bay area, please drop by! Besides the film screenings, the Niles Essanay museum houses an extensive collection of early movie memorabilia, a store, and many other interesting things. Really worth checking out!

The front door of the Niles museum.

One claim to fame is that Niles is where a certain British-born comedian began experimenting with pathos in his short comedies, especially in one from 1915 called 'The Tramp.'

It's the first one of his that ends with a scene of him ambling off down the road to further adventures:

And if you want to, you can still see the spot where this scene was filmed, not far from the Niles museum.

One of the things about Niles that's a hoot is that because of this connection, the whole town has embraced its inner Charlie Chaplin. You'll see his image all over: on stores, on sidewalks, on murals, and more.

And then on Sunday it's back to New Hampshire, where I'll start hunkering down for the holidays.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

'Nosferatu' on Tuesday, Oct. 31 nearing sell-out status at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

A highly stylized poster for 'Nosferatu,' which translates from Greek as "Carrier of Plague."

One more time!

And now for this year's final Halloween silent film screening: the vampire classic 'Nosferatu' (1922) on Halloween night itself (Tuesday, Oct. 31) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m.; live music is by yours truly.

More info than you can shake a stake at is in the press release below.

For now, let me say that the Red River folks report strong advance ticket sales, so we're hoping for a full house.

That's terrific because we're running 'Nosferatu' in one of Red River's two larger theaters rather than the smaller screening room.

So, many thanks to the folks at Red River for continuing to include silent film with live music in their diverse offerings.

And while I'm at it, thanks to a local newspaper, The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H., for putting our show on the cover of a recent edition of "Encore," their weekly entertainment guide.

Here's the front page:

Yes, my mother was thrilled to open our hometown newspaper to see her son's picture featured prominently next to the word "CREEPY."

And here's the spread inside:

Wow! Never thought I'd be part of a centerfold, but that's show biz!

'Nosferatu' gets quite a bit of play this time of year, for obvious reasons. And let me confess I'm a bit jealous that Nosferatu himself has been making in-person appearances this year at screenings accompanist by my silent film colleagues in other parts of the country.

In at least one case, the creature summoned his supernatural powers to appear at two separate screenings at the same time. He was everywhere—kind of like Santa Claus on Christmas.

But not at any of my screenings. :)

So as this Halloween draws nigh, I'm starting to feel like a kid before Christmas—the kind who wonders if Santa might be passing me by for some reason.

Although because it's Nosferatu, in this case I have to wonder if I've been bad enough during the past year. Have I somehow not done enough evil?

Please, Mr. Nosferatu—don't forget us on Halloween night at Red River Theatres in Concord. As a musician, surely I've done enough bad things in the past year to warrant an appearance!

And if that's not enough, Concord is our state's capital, so there's a good chance some state legislators and even actual lawyers will be in the audience.

Surely they're your kind of people, no?

And even if he doesn't show in person, we'll have him on the big screen with live music on Halloween night. Details below!

* * *

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in 'Nosferatu.'

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

Creepy classic thriller 'Nosferatu' coming to Red River Theatres on Tuesday, Oct. 31

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer silent horror movie on the big screen with live music—see it if you dare

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

'Nosferatu' (1922), the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' will be screened with live music on Halloween night, Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

Admission is $12 per person. The film will by accompanied by live music performed by New Hampshire-based silent film musician Jeff Rapsis.

'Nosferatu' (1922), directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, remains a landmark work 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 Red River 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. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

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.

In 'Nosferatu,' director Murnau made use of shadows and other then-unusual visual techniques to create atmosphere and tell the story.

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 the 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 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' espisode.

‘Nosferatu’ will be shown on Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. Admission is $12 per person.

For more info, visit www.redrivertheatres.org. or call (603) 224-4600. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Wilton Town Hall Theatre screening update: change of plans for today's silent show

Sorry for the last minute change, but we will be unable to show 'Häxan' (1922) at today's silent film screening at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

As a last-minute substitute, we'll be running the horror classic 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) at today's show, which starts at 4:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

And I'll try to get 'Häxan' rescheduled for a screening in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

For now, just wanted to get out word of this last-minute substitution.

Apologies for any disappointment—it's certainly not my intention to rile up fans of witchcraft and sorcery.

Happy Halloween to all despite this unfortunate hiccup.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

'Jekyll & Hyde' at Leavitt on Saturday, 10/28: highlighted by Barrymore's transformation

An original poster promoting 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.'

The moveable Halloween silent film marathon continues with shows through this weekend in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

A big one, I think, will be the annual "Chiller Theatre" show on Saturday at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

It's called "Chiller Theatre" because Ogunquit being a seaside resort, the summer-only moviehouse lacks central heating.

But that doesn't stop us from programming a silent film show for the Saturday before Halloween, and this year is no exception.

This time around, it's John Barrymore in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (1920) on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

Complete details in the press release below.

(I'm also doing the film at Merrimack College on Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. More details via the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at upper right.)

I love going out to Ogunquit for our annual "Chiller Theatre" show because although it's the off-season, Ogunquit's small downtown is usually rocking with Halloween parties.

And as Ogunquit is a gay-friendly community and home to a regional theater, more effort than usual is put into costumes that can often be utterly amazing.

So I go out early to get dinner and just enjoy the show, which even on the sidewalks can be spectacular as people parade about in their Halloween finest.

I recall one year watching a very tall man in a spectacular drag outfit, tottering along in what had to be six-inch heels and getting his wig caught in storefront awnings.

But back to 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' which is highlighted by a different kind of transformation.

Let me say here that 'Jekyll' is my choice for this year's "under-appreciated creepy silent film that should get more play at Halloween."

The reason for this is even with dozens of great silents that would work well for Halloween, the same two films get shown over and over again: 'Nosferatu' (1922) and 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

Nothing wrong with those, but it's like anything. Too much of a good thing can be...well, not exactly wonderful, despite what Mae West once said.

So each season, I try to bring something different to the Halloween circuit: a film worthy of the occasion but not really shown very often.

Previous selections have included Alfred Hitchcock's thriller 'The Lodger' (1927) and Paul Leni's haunted house comedy/drama 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

This year, I felt it was time to dust off the 'Jekyll' film, which is highlighted by Barrymore's on-screen full-body transformation from the austere Dr. Jekyll into the depraved Mr. Hyde.

In presenting it, I remind people that Barrymore's performance pre-dated any kind of sophisticated special effects, so his on-screen transformation is all the more remarkable for how much of it is accomplished just using his body and facial expressions.

Also, audiences at the time would have been conditioned by decades of touring stage productions, in which whomever played the title role would have no choice but to make the transformation right there in front of everyone.

Unlike today, no one in a movie audience assumed special effects would do the heavy lifting. Although a few primitive cross-fades/dissolves are used in the movie, at the time there was an expectation that an actor would do most of the work.

And on that score, Barrymore comes through big time. As a stage actor, he knew how to deliver the goods. Here's a nice analysis of the transformation scene that gets into detail and provides a lot of context.

Enjoy! And hope you and all your personalities can join us this Saturday night at the Leavitt for 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.' One admission price for all your identities!

* * *

John Barrymore as Dr. Jekyll.

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

Original 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' movie on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Leavitt Theatre

Silent film thriller starring John Barrymore to be shown on the big screen with live music for Halloween-themed program

OGUNQUIT, Me.—It was first a best-selling novel, then an immensely popular stage play. So it was just a matter of time before the movies tackled 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a man tortured by two personalities—one thoroughly good and the other completely evil.

'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' (1920), the original silent film adaptation of Stevenson's classic story, will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

Admission is $10 per person, general seating.

Starring iconic actor John Barrymore, the film was a huge early hit for Paramount Pictures. It helped establish the "thriller" genre and showed the potential of the movies to vividly tell disturbing and creepy stories.

Dr. Jekyll, a London physician and philanthropist, becomes fascinated with the dual nature of man after the profligate Sir George Carew exposes him to temptation. When Jekyll invents a potion that separates the good from the evil in a person, he decides to live both roles and names the evil persona Mr. Hyde.

Jekyll is in love with Millicent, the daughter of Sir George; meanwhile, Hyde prowls the poorer districts of London, debases and discards Theresa, a dance hall performer. Jekyll's control over Hyde weakens gradually to the point where his alter ego resorts to murder, forcing Hyde into a showdown to save his loved ones and reign in the evil he himself has spawned.

The film put Barrymore, a noted stage actor, on the cinematic map. Following 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' Barrymore would go on to be one of the biggest stars of early cinema. His handsome visage, dubbed "the great profile," was instantly recognizable to movie-goers of the time, who flocked to see Barrymore in later films such as 'Sherlock Holmes' (1922), 'Don Juan' (1926), and 'The Beloved Rogue' (1927).

Barrymore's performance in 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' is noteworthy in part because, in an era of limited special effects, his portrayal of the early stages of Jekyll's transformation was done using only facial expressions and gestures. Make-up was only used later in the film following the full transformation of the Hyde character.

Stevenson's story has been refilmed many times, including versions in 1931 and 1941, and was most recently remade in 2008 as a TV movie starring Dougray Scott.

In screening the original 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,' the Brandon Town Hall 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.

‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission is $10 per person, general seating.
For more information, visit www.leavittheatre.com or call (207) 646-3123.

For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Coming up next: 'The Man Who Laughs' on Wednesday, 10/25 at the Regent Theatre

Conrad Veidt and Olga Baklanova in 'The Man Who Laughs.'

Coming up next: live music for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), one of the truly great silent films for Halloween.

Nothing wrong with perennial favorites 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom.' But if I had my way, 'The Man Who Laughs' would screen just as often.

Never seen it? You chance is coming this week: it's playing on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass.

More details in the press release below.

Actually, I think 'The Man Who Laughs' is a great film for any time of the year. It's a truly skillful adaptation of an underrated Victor Hugo novel.

And the title character seems tailor-made for silent film: a man whose disfigured face forces him to display an insane grin no matter what tragedy befalls him. Talk about visuals!

The film's principle drawing card for today's audiences is that the make-up job for the title character, played by Conrad Veidt, inspired the look of Batman's nemesis, the Joker.

But 'The Man Who Laughs' is not just a make-up job. It's full of strong performances, starting with Veidt, who gives it his all in a role that must have been a challenge to realize.

The supporting cast is equally strong, and generously salted with odd-ball character actors that director Paul Leni often employed.

Even Mary Philbin, as the blind Dea, redeems herself from her 'Phantom' over-acting with a remarkably nuanced performance.

And the story really taps into the big emotions that drive the greatest silent films: love with a capital L, fear, jealousy, joy, greed, and so much more.

So I invite you to join us for 'The Man Who Laughs' at the Regent, a fantastic neighborhood theater and performance space that's an ideal venue for silent film to be seen at its best.

* * *

A few notes from the road.

Lately, if my life were a Dr. Seuss book, it would be "Oh, The Places You'll Go!"

Really: with Halloween coming up fast, the past five days have taken me to silent film screenings in all kinds of venues.

How about a town office complex in Jacksonville, Vermont?

Or the Tuscan Opera House, a ramshackle function hall just down the road from an enormous paper mill complex in Rumford, Maine? (On the program: 'The Man Who Laughs.'

And Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt., where I accompanied the silent version of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'

And how about the newly renovated Natick Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.?

In a break from the Halloween programming, the folks in Natick opted for a Charlie Chaplin comedy program to launch what's hoped to be a regular silent film/live music series.

It's about the right size, and the projection system is top notch.

So I hope a series comes to pass, as it's an excellent venue for silent film. As a bonus, it has a brand spanking new Yamaha concert grand piano right in the hall:

I didn't make use of it as I had already set up my digital synthesizer for the Chaplin program. But I spent some time getting to know the Yamaha, and it's like driving a Porsche. I look forward to working with it for future programs if the opportunity arises.

* * *

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

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) to screen with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at Regent Theatre

Just in time for Halloween: Creepy silent film thriller inspired the look of Batman's nemesis 'The Joker'

ARLINGTON. Mass.—'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), a classic silent film thriller, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.

General seating admission is $12 per person in advance or day of show.

Live music will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

'The Man Who Laughs,' directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, is a silent thriller about a disfigured man forced to wear an insane grin all his life.

The movie was a popular and ground-breaking silent film adaptation of a sprawling Victor Hugo novel set in 17th century England.

Veidt stars as Gwynplaine, a child born of English nobility. After his father is executed, a cruel King James II orders a royal surgeon to hideously disfigure young Gwynplaine's face into a permanent smile, so that he may always laugh at his father's foolishness.

Abandoned and shunned, young Gwynplaine is left to make his way on his own. He learns to conceal his face from strangers, befriending Dea, a blind girl who is not aware of his disfigurement.

The pair are then adopted and put to work by a travelling impresario, who makes use of Gwynplaine's startling face in his theatrical productions.

Gwynplaine and Dea grow to adulthood and eventually fall in love, but complications arise when Gwynplaine's noble lineage is revealed, entitling him to his father's estate—provided he marry another woman of noble birth.

Veidt, who starred earlier in the German expressionist horror classic 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919), played the role of Gwynplaine by using a prosthetic device inside his mouth to force his face into a hideous grin and display outsized teeth.

This striking look was later adapted by Batman creator Bob Kane as a model for the physical appearance of iconic villain 'The Joker.'

Critics have praised 'The Man Who Laughs' for its dark visual style and daring story content.

"'The Man Who Laughs' is a melodrama, at times even a swashbuckler, but so steeped in Expressionist gloom that it plays like a horror film," wrote Roger Ebert in 2004. "The film is more disturbing than it might have been because of Leni's mastery of visual style."

Director Leni, originally trained as an artist, made ample use of shadows and darkness in 'The Man Who Laughs,' which set the stage for many legendary Universal horror classics soon to follow, including 'Dracula' (1931) and 'Frankenstein' (1931).

Upcoming programs of silent film with live music at the Regent include:

• Friday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m., 'The Wizard of Oz' (1925). Early silent film version of Frank L. Baum's immortal tales features silent comedian Larry Semon in a slapstick romp that also casts Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man and takes extreme liberties with the beloved classic tales and characters. Oz as you've never seen it before!

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) will be screened on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass.

General seating admission is $12 per person in advance or day of show. Tickets may be booked online at www.regenttheatre.com. For more information, call the theater at (781) 646-4849.

For more information on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.