Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Post V-Day program: 'The Clinging Vine' (1926)
on Thursday, 2/16 at Flying Monkey, Plymouth

An androgynous Leatrice Joy gets dating advice from grandma in 'The Clinging Vine' (1926).

Just back from London, where I made my accompaniment debut last week with music for 'Salt for Svanetia,' a Soviet propaganda film, at the amazing Kennington Bioscope in Lambeth.

Before the film, I was asked to make remarks. So I couldn't resist: "For those fans of Soviet-era economic plan promotional films, I'm sorry to report that this one has no tractors in it. However, it does have some really great steam roller footage."

I'll post a lot more about the Bioscope when I get photos back from a friend who was there. (I didn't take pics as my phone had died.) But it was a great time and I got to meet a lot of folks in the British silent film community.

And yes, applause broke out when the steam roller appeared!

Coming up: later this week I head out to Sioux City, Iowa to do music on a big old Mighty Wurlitzer for a silent comedy program on Sunday, Feb. 19 at the Orpheum Theatre.

Very much looking forward to that, and would like to publicly thank Rick Mullin and everyone else with the festival for organizing this special presentation.

But first, it's up to Plymouth, N.H. on Thursday to do music for 'The Clinging Vine' (1926), a seldom-screened romantic comedy with a surprising gender-bending premise.

More details in the press release below. But because the screening date for this monthly series fell just after Valentine's Day, we figured it would be a perfect chance to showcase this unusual take on romance and gender stereotypes.

The film will run on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!

A more traditional publicity shot of Leatrice Joy, silent-era leading lady.

* * *

TUESDAY, FEB. 7, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Gender-bending comedy 'The Clinging Vine' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Feb. 16


Uproarious silent film farce about gender stereotypes to be shown with live musical score

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—Tired of Valentine's Day? The Flying Monkey has just the antidote.

It's 'The Clinging Vine' (1926), a silent film comedy that turns traditional gender roles completely upside down.

The movie, starring Leatrice Joy, will be screened on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth.

Admission is $10 per person.

The program will feature live music for the movie by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. The film is appropriate for all ages, making for a unique evening of family entertainment.

Produced by Cecil B. DeMille, 'The Clinging Vine' tells the story of a successful hard-driving female business executive who yearns for romance.

But she's frustrated in love because all men she encounters are intimidated by her ability and intelligence.

After confiding in her wise grandmother, the two set about transforming her into a woman who men will find attractive.

Considered daring for its time, 'The Clinging Vine' continues to earn comments from critics for its story and subject matter.

In a recent online review, author Kevin M. Wentink wrote that "what, on the surface, appears to be a slight romantic comedy that playfully addresses the changing role of women in the postwar jazz age, 'The Clinging Vine' actually flat out states that all men are stupid, really really stupid, in every way imaginable."

"And...even though women are by far superior to men in intellect and business acumen," Wentink wrote, "a woman would be far happier pretending to be dumber, and thus attractive to the Neanderthal, then she would to be a wise and successful spinster."

"An equal opportunity offender of both sexes, 'The Clinging Vine' is one of the most daringly trivial programers to come out of Hollywood in the silent era."

How's that as antidote for Valentine's Day?

Making her film debut as an extra in 1917, actress Leatrice Joy soon graduated to playing opposite comics Billy West and Oliver Hardy. Director Cecil B. DeMille took her under his wing and starred her in several of his films, including 'The Clinging Vine.'

Often playing career girls dressed in mannish suits, or sophisticated society girls, Joy is generally credited with starting the bobbed-hair craze in the 1920s.

In an early celebrity wedding, Joy she married superstar John Gilbert in the 1920s.

She retired shortly after the advent of sound, but made occasional appearances in small supporting roles over the years. She died in 1985 at age 91.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating live musical scores for films made prior to the introduction of recorded sound. Based in New Hampshire, Rapsis specializes in improvising music for silent film screenings at venues ranging from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in San Francisco, Calif.

Rapsis creates film scores in real time, as a movie is running, using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of a full orchestra. He averages about 100 performances per year, and has created music for more than 250 different silent feature films.

"Improvising a movie score is a bit of a high wire act, but it can result in music that fits a film's mood and action better than anything that can be written down in advance," Rapsis said. "It also lends a sense of excitement and adventure to the screening, as no two performances are exactly alike."

'The Clinging Vine' is the latest in a monthly series of silent films presented with live music at the Flying Monkey. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

Rapsis said it's currently a new golden age for silent film because so many titles have been restored, and are now available to watch at home or via online streaming.

However, the Flying Monkey series enables film fans to really understand the power of early cinema, which was intended to be shown on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"Put those elements together like we do at the Flying Monkey, and films from the silent era spring right back to life in a way that helps you understand why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

Upcoming silent film titles at the Flying Monkey include:

• Thursday, March 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Sadie Thompson' (1928) starring Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore. Intense drama of a "fallen woman" who comes to an island in the South Seas to start a new life, but encounters a zealous missionary who wants to force her back to her former life in San Francisco.

• Thursday, April 13, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'King of Kings' (1927) directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Just in time for Easter: Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster includes crucifixion scene complete with earthquake, landslides, and a cast of thousands.

• Thursday, May 18, 2017, 6:30 p.m.: 'Speedway' (1929) starring William Haines, Ernest Torrance. Fasten your seat belts! We mark the traditional Memorial Day running of the Indianapolis 500 with a vintage race car drama filmed right on the famed track—at speeds topping 115 mph!

‘The Clinging Vine’ (1926) will be shown on Thursday, Feb. 16 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. For more info, call (603) 536-2551 or visit www.flyingmonkeynh.com. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Monday, February 6, 2017

This week: making my London debut
plus Buster Keaton on 2/12 for Valentine's Day
and a story of sheet music and '7th Heaven'

Comrades! Dear Leader requests that you enjoy this screen capture from 'Salt for Svanetia.'

This weekend I hop across the pond to London, where I'll make my U.K. debut as a silent film accompanist.

I'd say "European" debut, but I'm not quite sure if Britain is still included in that category.

Well, Europe or not—the show is Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennington Bioscope, a venue within London's Cinema Museum where silent films are regularly screened.

Screenings are free and open to the public, but one apparently needs an invitation to attend. For more info, visit www.kenningtonbioscope.com.

And the film I'm accompanying is...'Salt for Svanetia' (1930), a Soviet propaganda film about how a remote mountain village benefits from the wonders of Stalinist socialism!

People laugh when I describe this film, but it's actually an important film in terms of how it uses the then-new medium of cinema to communicate a powerful message.

From 'Salt for Svanetia.'

I'm not sure how much of my usual fan base will make it to London this week, but the Kennington Bioscope screenings are well known in the vintage film community.

No less a figure than Kevin Brownlow often participates in the programming. And now...me!

But I must thank Amran Vance and everyone in London's silent film scene for the invitation to sit in at the Bioscope, which has its own roster of regular accompanists.

In fact, someone else (not sure who) will handle the first half of the evening, which is highlighted by a cut-down three-reel version of 'Tales of 1001 Nights' (1921), a British adaptation of the Scheherazade story.

The edition survives only in the obsolete 9.5mm film gauge, and that's what we'll be seeing.

For me, the only worry is that the screening is in the evening of my first day in London, so I have to be smart about managing the inevitable jet lag after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight.

But if jet lag ultimately claims me before the opening titles of 'Salt for Svanetia,' it's comforting to know there's no shortage of accompaniment talent at the Bioscope.

Speaking of air travel and accompaniment: the same thing happens on the way back to Boston on Sunday, Feb. 12.

We're supposed to arrive mid-afternoon. And that evening at 7 p.m., I'm scheduled to accompany Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) in a Valentine's Day screening at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass. More info about that screening in the press release posted below.

Playing on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., Somerville, Mass.

So after we land and (I hope) clear customs and immigration, I'll stay in Boston (instead of heading to N.H.), where I'll have dinner at my favorite Peruvian restaurant, Macchu Chicken in Union Square. And then I'll head over for the Buster show at the Aeronaut, where my keyboard and sound gear (and suit jacket, too!) are already packed away in a storage area.

I actually went down last night to drop my stuff at the Aeronaut, which was in the midst of a big Super Bowl party. At the time I came through, the Pats were down 21-0 and everyone was looking kinda glum. Would have loved to see the place about two hours later!

I drove down to Somerville following a really nifty screening of '7th Heaven' (1927) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

I say 'nifty' no only because the music came together quite effectively, I thought, but also because of some sheet music!

Last fall, a woman approached me after screening in Wilton and gave me sheet music she'd found for 'Diane,' a tune by Ernö Rapée (that's him on the right) released when '7th Heaven' was playing in theaters.

Diane was the name of Janet Gaynor's character in the film, and also this woman's name. (I can't recall if she had been named in connection with the character, but I think that's the case.)

At the time, Diane asked if it was possible to program '7th Heaven' at the Town Hall Theatre, and for me to use the sheet music in accompanying it.

Why? Because, I recall, her parents often spoke of the film when she was a girl. That was a long time ago, and her parents were now long gone, and she'd never had a chance to see it.

Charles Farrell as Chico and Janet Gaynor as Janet in '7th Heaven.'

Well, we aim to please! I put '7th Heaven' on the schedule as our "pre-Valentine's day tear-jerker." I also Rapée's sheet music on my piano, where I started getting it in my head and under my fingers.

So yesterday, in introducing the film to the Super Bowl-reduced audience, I mentioned all this, but didn't see the woman who had given me the music.

That is, until she raised her hand, which was right under my nose: turns out she was sitting in the front, directly behind me!

As I mentioned, I thought the screening went well overall. So did she, evidently—afterwards, she came up and gave me a big, prolonged hug!

Speaking of prolonged hugs, here's the press release for our Valentine's Day screening of Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Mass. See you there. And XO!

* * *

Buster and his co-stars in 'Seven Chances.'

MONDAY, FEB. 6, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Sunday, Feb. 12 at Aeronaut Brewery


Valentine's Day celebration features classic silent film romantic farce with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—When words aren't enough, why not let a silent movie do the talking?

That's the idea behind a Valentine's Day silent film program on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville.

'Seven Chances' (1925), a classic Buster Keaton romantic comedy, will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The program includes a Keaton comedy short preceding 'Seven Chances,' one of Keaton's classic full-length feature comedies.

Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at www.eventbrite.com; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

Keaton never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But his comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

In 'Seven Chances,' adapted from a stage play, the story finds Buster about to inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—which is that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot go awry, but then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who chase Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of the now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999) starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

The screening is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to give local artists and audiences a chance to connect in the brewery's performance space.

"We envision our pre-Valentine's Day event as a throwback to the days when people celebrated by getting together as a community," said Christine Platzek of Aeronaut, a craft brewery that opened in 2014.

Just as beer aficionados appreciate a good hand-crafted brew, movie-goers are rediscovering the joys of silent cinema presented as it was intended: on a big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put all the original elements together, the films of early Hollywood still come to life," said Rapsis, a silent film accompanist who performs frequently at the Aeronaut. "These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

Buster Keaton stands today as one of the silent screen's great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'Seven Chances.'

"We felt a vintage silent film program with live music would be a great way to create Valentine's Day memories," Platzek said. "We encourage everyone to join us, whether you're on a date or on your own. We'll all end up laughing together!"

'Seven Chances' (1925) starring Buster Keaton will be shown on Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available online at www.eventbrite.com; search on "Aeronaut Brewery." For more info about Aeronaut Brewing, visit www.aeronautbrewing.com. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Below are the links to the Facebook page and EventBrite page:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/buster-keaton-silent-film-screen-w-live-music-tickets-31412761415
https://www.facebook.com/events/1205402839513571/

Friday, February 3, 2017

This weekend: pot luck and Raymond Griffith
in Campton NH, then '7th Heaven' in Wilton NH

Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson in 'Paths to Paradise' (1925), screening this Saturday in Campton, N.H.

Just another weekend here in wintery New Hampshire. The New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl (no news there) and I'm doing music for silent film screenings in the hamlets of Campton, N.H. and Wilton, N.H.

First up; an annual pot-luck-supper-and-silent-movie combo at the Historical Society of Campton, N.H., a picturesque small town in the foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains.

I'll haul myself up there late Saturday afternoon and set up everything in the small hall. Then it's supper at 5 p.m. followed by movies at whatever time everyone finishes cleaning their plates.

This has become one of my favorite annual gigs mostly because the people are great, but also because the hall really is small, which means everyone has to pack in.

And this creates an energy that leads to explosive audience reactions and a remarkable shared experience, which is one of the great and enduring glories of silent film.

This year's program is a little daring in that it features Raymond Griffith, a star that most people today have never heard of.

But I think the good folks of Campton, after several years of silent film programs, are ready for something out of the ordinary.

We'll see! The screening is open to the public and more info is available in the press release pasted in below.

Then Sunday, Feb. 5 brings the SUPER BOWL, but also a screening of the Frank Borzage-directed drama '7th Heaven' (1927) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Janet Gaynor whips up some revenge in '7th Heaven' (1927).

In Wilton, we usually run silent film with live music at the end of each month.

But this February, I'm in Topeka at the Kansas Silent Film Festival that weekend. And the weekend before that, I'm in Sioux City, Iowa at the Sioux City International Film Festival. And the weekend after the last weekend, I'm in Cleveland at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Sheesh!

So we rescheduled Wilton for the first weekend in February, and programmed the romantic drama '7th Heaven,' thus turning it into a "Super Bowl Widows" event as well as a pre-Valentine's Day screening.

Well, whatever your reason for attending, '7th Heaven' is worth a look. Not only is it one of the late silent era's big romantic dramas, but it helped Janet Gaynor win Best Actress in the very first Academy Awards. (I say "helped" because at the time the awards was given in recognition of all films a performer made in a given year.)

Showtime in Wilton is Sunday, Feb. 5 at 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, with donations accepted. One tip: bring lots of tissues and hankies!

And here's a secret: whatever your reason for attending, we'll be done in time for you to see the kick-off of the Super Bowl LI!

Okay, here's the press release for the Raymond Griffith screening:

* * *

Original promotional art for 'the Silk Hat' comedian, Raymond Griffith, in 'Paths to Paradise.'

MONDAY, JAN. 23, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Forgotten comic genius returns to silver screen on Saturday, Feb. 4 at Campton Historical Society

Raymond Griffith, the silent era's 'Silk Hat' comedian, stars in 'Paths to Paradise' (1925), shown with live music

CAMPTON, N.H.—He was a silent film actor who really couldn't talk, thanks to a childhood vocal injury.

He was Raymond Griffith, the 'Silk Hat' comedian, whose popularity in the 1920s rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

See for yourself on Saturday, Feb. 4, when the Campton Historical Society screens 'Paths to Paradise' (1925), one of Griffith's best surviving titles.

The program also includes a short silent comedy, 'Big Business' (1929), starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

The evening begins with a pot luck supper at 5 p.m. The film program, which is free and open to the public, will start at about 6:15 p.m.

In screening 'Paths to Paradise,' the Campton Historical Society hopes to provide a window into a lost era of entertainment.

Most of his starring feature films have since disappeared, causing Griffith to be virtually unknown today.

But the elegantly dressed comic, who as a youngster attended St. Anselm Prep School in Goffstown, N.H., was among the most popular movie actors of the 1920s.

"Griffith's character was that of a quick-thinking gentleman, usually dressed in a top hat and a cape, who enjoyed outwitting con artists and crooks at their own game," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will improvise music for the program.

"It turns out he was very different from Chaplin or Keaton, and so were his films—they seem a bit more cynical and so perhaps more modern. But we've shown them before and they hold up well with a live audience today."

'Paths to Paradise' (1925) stars Griffith as a con man who competes with a feisty female jewel thief to steal a heavily guarded diamond necklace. The film is highlighted by a wild car chase filmed on location in the California desert.

Unfortunately, all existing prints of 'Paths to Paradise' are missing the final 10 minutes. But the film ends at a point that completes the plot and provides a satisfying finish.

"The majority of silent films have disappeared completely, and those that do survive are often missing pieces," Rapsis said. "Many, including 'Paths to Paradise,' have come down to us like the Venus de Milo—the arms are missing, but it's still a work of art worth appreciating."

'Paths to Paradise' was prodcued by Paramount Pictures, where Griffith was under contract in the 1920s as one of the studio's leading stars.

Born in Boston in 1895, Griffith injured his vocal cords at an early age, rendering him unable to speak above the level of a hoarse whisper.

After appearing in circuses and attending at least one year (1905-06) at St. Anselm Preparatory School in Goffstown, N.H., he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy prior to World War I and in 1915 wound up in Hollywood, where the movie business was already booming.

Early on, Griffith worked at Mack Sennett's Keystone studio, where he developed a reputation as an excellent actor and a superb comedy writer and director. He eventually gravitated to behind-the-camera duties, serving as Sennett's right-hand man for a time.

He eventually moved to the then-new Paramount studios in the early 1920s, where he began to appear again in on-camera roles.

Griffith's mastery of character parts made him immediately popular, prompting Paramount to star him in his own movies starting in 1924. Ironically, his ability to speak caused him to develop pantomime abilities just to get through life—excellent training for sielnt film.

In the next few years, Griffith completed a dozen feature films, most of which today are lost due to neglect or improper storage.

Following the arrival of sound pictures in 1929, Griffith's lack of a speaking voice forced a return to behind-the-camera work, with one notable exception: he played a non-talking role as a dying French soldier in Lewis Milestone's World War I classic 'All Quiet on the Western Front,' (1930) which won that year's Academy Award for Best Picture.

As a producer, Griffith's work included the classic family film 'Heidi' (1937) and 'The Mark of Zorro' (1940). He retired in 1940, and died in 1957 at age 62 after choking at a Los Angeles restaurant.

"Though he's not as well known today as Charlie Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Raymond Griffith was doing some really good work during the peak of his career," Rapsis said. "It's great that the public will get a chance to appreciate Griffith films at the Campton Historical Society."

The program at the Campton Historical Society aims to recreate the silent film experience as early movie audiences knew it: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"When you put the silent film experience back together, it's amazing how the movies jump to life," Rapsis said. "You can really get a sense of why people got so excited about movies when they were new."

Raymond Griffith's 'Paths to Paradise' (1925) will be shown with live music on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 6:15 p.m. at the Campton Historical Society, Campton Town Hall, Route 175, Campton, N.H. The progrm is free and open to the public, and will be preceded by a pot luck supper starting at 5 p.m. For more details, visit www.camptonhistorical.org.

— 30 —

Monday, January 30, 2017

Coming on Tuesday. Jan. 31: Buster Keaton
in 'Seven Chances' at Phillips Exeter Academy

Original promotional art for 'Seven Chances' (1925).

Next up: an old favorite, but in a new venue.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I'm doing music for Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Showtime is 7 p.m. The free program, part of a concert series run by the school's Music Department, takes place in Phillips Church on the campus, which is in downtown Exeter.

As a product of the New Hampshire public school system, it's quite a coup to perform at Phillips Exeter, whose alumni include Mark Zuckerberg (at left), Dan Brown, Gore Vidal, John Irving, and Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States and the only one from New Hampshire.

Prior to the upcoming concert, my only connection to Phillips Exeter was when a girlfriend in college enrolled in a summer program there.

So one Friday I played hooky from my summer job at a machine shop and rode my bike all the way from Nashua to Exeter just to drop by for a visit.

I was okay going out, and we had a nice time. But I didn't fare too well on the way home, as temperatures reached the mid-90s on a cloudless afternoon.

I got as far as the Dairy Queen that used to be on Route 28 in Salem, where I made the mistake of thinking a coffee frappe would get me home.

Instead, it made me ill! I got home before dark, but with a nice case of heatstroke and dehydration, which kept me in bed for the entire weekend.

Ah, love!

My inclusion in the Phillips Exeter concert series came about from a series of silent film screenings we staged last year at Exeter's venerable Old Town Hall.

In the audience at one show was Peter Schultz, chairman of the Academy's music department. We got to talking afterwards, and the result was an invitation to do a screening at Phillips Exeter Academy.

In a case like this, where it's potentially a new audience for the silent film experience, Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) is one of the go-to films: I often refer to it (and to all of Keaton, really) as one of the "gateway drugs" of silent film.

So if you're in the area, I hope you'll 'go to' the screening Tuesday night. More info in the press release below.

* * *

Buster and brides in 'Seven Chances.'

TUESDAY, JAN. 24, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Buster Keaton comedy 'Seven Chances' (1925) on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Phillips Exeter Academy


Silent film presentation features classic race-to-the-finish romantic farce with live music

EXETER, N.H.—He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname of "the Great Stone Face." But Buster Keaton's comedies rocked Hollywood's silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s.

Acclaimed for their originality and clever visual gags, Keaton's films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of 'Seven Chances' (1925), one of Keaton's landmark feature films, on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Phillips Church at Phillips Exeter Academy.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

The screening is part of the Phillips Exeter Academy Music Department's ongoing Concert Series.

Adapted from a stage play, the story finds Buster learning that he'll inherit $7 million if he's married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday—that very day!

Buster's hurried attempts to tie the knot on his own go awry, but then a newspaper story changes the game, creating an avalanche of would-be brides who relentlessly pursue Buster as he searches for his one true love before the deadline.

'Seven Chances' was the first screen adaptation of the now-familiar story, since used in movies ranging from the Three Stooges in 'Brideless Groom' (1947) to Gary Sinyor's 'The Bachelor' (1999), a romantic comedy starring Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellwinger.

The program will open with a short Keaton comedy as a warm-up to the main feature.


Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands today as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Some critics regard Keaton as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that "in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies."

As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family's knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age.

A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no post-production special effects, Keaton's acrobatic talents enabled him to perform all his own stunts, including some spectacular examples in 'Seven Chances.'

In reviving Keaton's 'Seven Chances,' organizers of the Music Department's concert series aim to show silent film as it was meant 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 film. "Recreate those conditions, and classics of early Hollywood such as 'Seven Chances' leap back to life in ways that audiences still find entertaining."

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.

Buster Keaton's 'Seven Chances' (1925) will be screened on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at Phillips Church, at the corner of Tan Lane and Front Street, Phillips Exeter Academy. Admission is free and the screening is open the public.

For more information about the Music Department's concert series, call (603) 777-3586. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Friday, January 27, 2017

'Way Down East' on Sunday, Jan. 29
at Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre

An original poster for 'Way Down East' (1920).

Up next: 'Way Down East' (1920), the classic D.W. Griffith melodrama that finds Lillian Gish as an unwed mother cast out of her rural community, only to wind up on an ice floe rushing toward a giant waterfall and certain doom!

Phew! Just writing that one sentence leaves me breathless!

Showtime is Sunday, Jan. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. More about this great flick in the press release below.

Now, a few notes from the present.

Wednesday night saw an enthusiastic crowd on hand for 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926) at the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

We don't get many students at the Rogers screenings, but attendance has been steadily building among film buffs in the area. I think we had maybe 75 people.

And Wednesday night's audience seemed especially willing to boo the 'Jefferson Worth' character, a contractor who imperils a pioneer settlement by failing to reinforce a dam.

And for some reason, the score fell together quite effectively. More than once, I felt I came up with just the right music for important moments. Nice!

I'm not sure what things sometimes just work out, but it may be the law of averages.

Do something often enough (and I accompany about 100 live screenings a year), some will inevitably come up short, but others will surpass all expectations.

Or, to quote Groucho Marx: "They can't all be gems, folks."

In general, though, I think doing a lot of films has helped me develop my own musical language and voice that I'm now starting to use in written-down compositions.

The best example of this was my 'Kilimanjaro Suite,' a 30-minute long score for orchestra that was premiered last Sunday by the N.H. Philharmonic under music director Mark Latham.

Mark Latham, at left, and me on stage after the performance of my 'Kilimajaro Suite' for orchestra.

Although this had nothing to do with silent film, I don't think I could have done it without all the accompaniment I've been doing in recent years.

(I still need to post a write-up of the whole 'Kilimanjaro Suite' experience. Coming soon to a blog near you!)

Before this Sunday's screening of 'Way Down East,' I haul myself out to Schagticoke, N.Y. (north of Albany, in the 518 area code) for one of my favorite annual gigs.

It's a once-a-year mid-winter community pot luck supper and silent film night at Liberty Ridge Farm hosted by owners Bob and Cynthia Gifford.

Taking place in the farm's function room, the event brings together about 100 people who now seem like old friends.

This all started when Cynthia's parents were the winning bidders of my services ("Silent Film Screening with Live Music) at a charity auction about eight years ago.

They asked if I wouldn't mind driving out to New York. I said "No problem," and the rest is history."

We usually show comedies, but this year we're taking a different approach with a "Halloween in January" approach.

We'll open the program with Buster Keaton's 'Haunted House' (1921), and then the main attraction is 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927). Boo!

Tully Marshall gets a grip in 'Cat and the Canary' (1927).

And in-between is one of the best pot luck suppers served north of the Mason-Dixon line, or any other line you can name.

Interested? Anyone's welcome to attend, as long as you bring a dish for the pot luck or make a donation to the big glass jar to help defray expenses.

(More details in the 'Upcoming Screenings' page at upper right.)

Okay, about 'Way Down East.' I did music for this some years ago at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, and it was one of the most memorable screenings ever.

Why? Because I had prepared for the film, and didn't think it would go over too well—other than the undeniably exciting ending with Gish on those ice floes, it was too old and creaky. How could anyone take this seriously?

But Griffith, a former stage director, knew in his bones how to get a crowd excited. And so it was quite surprising to me to find the audience reacting strongly to 'Way Down East' right from the beginning.

This engagement continued throughout the picture. And when it came time for Gish to wind up on the ice floes, the place just went crazty!

So in seeing this film as it was intended—with live music and a live audience—you can still get a sense of why 'Way Down East' was one of the top-grossing films of the silent era.

You can also see what a different it makes when the original conditions of early cinema are in place: a lot of people, a big screen, live music. You get a real sense of why people fell for the movies, and fell hard. There's nothing like it!

See for yourself when we run 'Way Down East' (1920) on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. Details in the press release below:

* * *

The classic shot of Lillian Gish on the ice floes.

FRIDAY, JAN. 20, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Silent film classic 'Way Down East' at Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 29


D.W. Griffith blockbuster starring Lillian Gish, filmed partly in New England, to be screened with live music

WILTON, N.H. — The iconic image of actress Lillian Gish trapped on an ice floe and headed straight for a waterfall will once again fill the big screen when 'Way Down East' (1920) is revived on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H.

Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses.

The movie, a blockbuster melodrama directed by cinematic pioneer D.W. Griffith, is set in old-time rural New England, and was partly filmed on location in New Hampshire and Vermont. It stars Gish in an acclaimed performance as a wronged woman trying to make her way in an unforgiving world. Can she find love and redemption, or will she ride to her doom on the raging river's ice floes?

'Way Down East' will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

In 'Way Down East,' Gish stars as a poor New England country girl who travels to Boston to visit her rich relatives in the hopes of getting financial help. While there, she's dazzled by upper class society and romanced by a rich womanizer (Lowell Sherman) who takes advantage of her innocence by tricking her into bed with a fake marriage ceremony.

Convinced she's found the husband of her dreams, Gish returns home to the country, only to be abandoned. She informs her faux husband she's pregnant; he orders her to get an abortion. Instead, Gish goes into exile to have the baby, finds herself persecuted for giving birth out of wedlock, and flees even further into the country to seek refuge. The film was noteworthy in its time for addressing such topics as abortion and women's rights.

Modern critics hail 'Way Down East' for Gish's performance, which continues to mesmerize audiences nearly a century after the film's release. "Gish provides an abject lesson in screen acting and brings home the importance and effectiveness of seeing a film in a theater with a crowd," wrote Paul Brenner on www.filmcritic.com in 2007. "If you are not moved at the scene of Gish baptizing her dead baby, then you should check the obituaries of your local paper to see if you are listed."

The film also stars silent era heartthrob Richard Barthelmess. In the film's climax, Barthelmess must dash to rescue Gish from being carried away on the ice floes.

Lillian Gish on location.

Much of the acclaimed ice floe sequence was filmed in March 1920 on location on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire and the White River in Vermont, as the winter pack ice was breaking up. No process shots or post-production special effects were available to filmmakers at the time, so Griffith and his crew had no choice but to stage and shoot it all on a real river, with the players out on the ice. To get the floes to break up and float down the river, Griffith's crew dynamited pack ice upstream.

Gish later said that she suffered frostbite by following director Griffith's command to always keep one hand in the water during the shooting.

Despite such hardships, 'Way Down East' cemented Gish's reputation as one of the silent era's major stars. Gish would continue to work in films and, later, television, until the 1980s. She died in 1993 at age 99.

Accompanist Jeff Rapsis specializes in creating music that bridges the gap between an older film and the expectations of today's audiences. Using a digital synthesizer that recreates the texture of a full orchestra, he improvises scores in real time as a movie unfolds, so that the music for no two screenings is the same.

"It's kind of a high wire act, but it helps create an emotional energy that's part of the silent film experience," Rapsis said. "It's easier to be in tune with the emotional line of the movie and the audience's reaction when I'm able to follow what's on screen, rather than be buried in sheet music," he said.

Because silent films were designed to be shown to large audiences in theaters with live music, the best way to experience them is to recreate the conditions in which they were first shown, Rapsis said.

D.W. Griffith directs a scene from 'Way Down East' (1920).

"Films such as 'Way Down East' were created to be shown on the big screen to large audiences as a communal experience," Rapsis said. "With an audience and live music, silent films come to life in the way their makers intended. Not only are they entertaining, but they give today's audiences a chance to understand what caused people to first fall in love with the movies."

'Way Down East' was based on a popular stage drama, for which director Griffith paid the then-astounding sum of $175,000 to turn into a movie. The picture proved to a be a huge moneymaker, taking in $4.5 million, making it the fourth-highest grossing movie of the silent film era. 'Way Down East' would be the last of Griffith's great blockbusters; tastes changed as the 1920s rolled on and Griffith's Victorian style fell out of favor. Receipts from 'Way Down East' kept Griffith's studio afloat during a subsequent series of box office flops.

"This picture was a monster hit when it was released," Rapsis said, "and it still holds up well today. As a melodrama, it's a great film for an audience to cheer on the good folks and boo and hiss the bad guys. But there's an additional level of interest now because the film captured a way of life that's long since disappeared."

'Way Down East' will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Next: 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926)
on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Rogers Center


Next up on the accompaniment calendar: a movie that I can't believe I didn't know about for such a long time.

It's 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926) and despite the clunky title, it's a real winner, with something for everyone.

And you can see for yourself when the film is screened on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public. A lot more info about the film and the screening is in the press release I've pasted in below.

Why am I so up on 'The Winning of Barbara Worth'?

Consider:

• It has stars whose names are still recognized today, including Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman. (And, to a lesser extent, Vilma Banky.)

• It was filmed in Nevada's remote Black Rock Desert, which gave director Henry King incredible vistas and unsurpassed location shooting.

• Although it's a high-stakes drama, it's filled with warm comic touches that are so typical of director King's style, and which greatly enrich the film.

• It's a Western, but not about injuns and bandits. Instead, it's a story about agriculture and water and the settling of the American West.

I know that last point doesn't sound too compelling, but it makes all difference.

The story of 'Winning' takes place amid the first attempts to irrigate California's arid Imperial Valley—the vast area west of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Pioneering settlers recognized the valley could be an agricultural paradise if only water could be brought to it.

So in the late 19th century, grand plans were made to reroute the nearby Colorado River so it would flow into and through the valley.

However, in 1905, the Colorado famously overflowed the dikes and canals under construction and an out-of-control deluge caused extensive flooding and the inadvertent creation of the land-locked Salton Sea, which we still have with us today.

The river was eventually controlled, and today the Imperial Valley is indeed is one of the most productive growing regions in the world.

In 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' this series of events provides the setting for human drama that takes place among the heroic efforts to transform the valley.

Unlike so many films from long ago, this one rings true even today, I think. The cast, the setting, the story—all combine to show the narrative power of silent film at the peak of the form.

And for some reason, it's not as well known as it should be, even among film fans. I only discovered it a few years ago, when working with Kevin Brownlow on a presentation about the American West in silent cinema.

It could be the title, which is a mouthful and doesn't do much to convey the scale and scope of this production.

Well, whatever the reason, here's your chance to catch up with one of the silent era's under-appreciated gems.

See you at the screening! For more info, check out the press release below.

* * *

Vilma Banky and Gary Cooper in 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926).

THURSDAY, JAN. 12, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

Rip-roaring epic silent Western with live music at Rogers Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Jan. 25


'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), ground-breaking outdoor drama starring Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman, to be screened at Merrimack College

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—A film that helped create Hollywood's love affair with the American West will continue this season's silent film programming, part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a silent drama starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, and Vilma Banky, will be shown on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

Admission is free and the screening is open to the public. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.

Directed by Henry King, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' chronicles the epic story of pioneer settlers who dreamed of irrigating California's parched Imperial Valley in the early 20th century. Filmed on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert, the movie is noted for its extensive use of vast open spaces and wild scenery.

The story centers on a rivalry for the affections of Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), adopted daughter of a powerful rancher. A local cowboy (Gary Cooper) finds himself competing with a newly arrived engineer (Ronald Colman), who has come to the rural valley to work on plans to harness the Colorado River for irrigation.

Will the local ranch hand prevail over the city slicker engineer? Can citizens of the parched region prevail over nature and transform their lands into an agricultural paradise? Will rumors of shortcuts taken in constructing a massive dam lead to disaster?

All these questions combine to create a film that showed Hollywood and movie-goers the power of a drama set in the rural American west.

The film is also noted for its camerawork by Greg Toland, who would later go on to do principal photography for 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.

For 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he composes beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.

"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."

'The Winning of Barbara Worth' continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Rogers. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, accompanist for the screenings.

“There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes he creates beforehand. None of the the music is written down; instead, the score evolves in real time based on audience reaction and the overall mood as the movie is screened.

"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 can be surprisingly sophisticated. They still retain a tremendous ability to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."

The 2016-17 Tambakos Film Series, which runs most Wednesday nights during the semester, focuses on Silent Films with live musical accompaniment, Hollywood classics and foreign masterworks. It continues on February 1st with crime thriller ‘The Grandmaster’ followed by A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, and Jules et Jim. The next masterpiece in the Silent film Series is "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928). Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc. 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will screen on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

All films are screened at the Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.

For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355 or visit www.merrimack.edu/rogers.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last warning—er, notice: N.H. Philharmonic
to play my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' Sunday, 1/22

The N.H. Philharmonic rehearsing under Mark Latham on Sunday, Jan. 22.

I'm thrilled to say that this weekend, I'm not performing anywhere!

Rather, I'll be in the audience while some other very talented musicians play a concert that includes music that I composed.

It's the 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra, and the concert is Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H.

There's a whole page about this concert and the music already posted, and I encourage you to check it out!

I also encourage you to attend: tickets are available at the box office or online at www.nhphil.org.

And I hope you'll come not because there's music by me on the program, but mostly because the Philharmonic should be encouraged to take risks like this.

What risks? Well, agreeing to play a new work by an unknown local composer. In the rarefied world of so-called "classical" music, this is an extremely rare thing.

And yes, risky. Who is this guy who thinks he can write stuff for a bassoonist to play, plus 60 other musicians—including a second bassoon player!

Music director Mark Latham.

But music director Mark Latham and the Philharmonic musicians are living up to their mission to serve as a "living laboratory" of live concert music played by local people—and sometimes even written by local people!

And truth be told, I've been studying and preparing for this opportunity for most of my life, really.

It's just that it's not every day that a symphony orchestra comes along and asks you to dance, so to speak.

In my case, when I came back from Kilimanjaro, Mark encouraged me to create music about my journey even when I wasn't sure what it would be about.

The issue was that prior to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I had heard and read many stories about how such an adventure is a life-changing experience.

All the time we were trekking around the mountain, I was certainly thrilled to be there. But I was still always waiting for that big lump-in-the-throat moment.

On our trek: is that a lump in my throat? Or did I swallow a rock?

The short version is that the moment never came. And for awhile I thought there was something wrong with me.

Was I too tired? Too old? Was I past my emotional expiration date? Was I no longer able to feel things?

But I later realized that perhaps Kilimanjaro was telling me something after all.

By virtue of its silence, maybe it was saying that my life didn't really need to be changed all that much.

That sounded too self-congratulatory, so I still wasn't satisfied. My life is nice, but vast improvements could be made, for my sake and for the sake of others around me. :)

Then it dawned on me—yes, like the sun rising on that summit morning—that Kilimanjaro's message to me was more general:
If my life needed changing, the mountain wasn't about to do it for me. I had to make it happen myself.
That felt right. And as soon as I realized that, the music started to take shape.

Unfortunately for Mark and the Philharmonic, it morphed from a modest musical travelogue into a full four-movement symphony all-but-in-name.

(I kept the original "Kilimanjaro Suite" title to avoid sounding too pretentious.)

To Mark's credit, he let the composing process play out, insisting that I bring all the movements to completion so the orchestra could at least run through them.

Thus we have this Sunday's premiere of the full score—the most ambitious artistic project I've undertaken since the "April Fool's" edition of the Goffstown News in 1996.

How weird to see my stuff on the same stand as music from 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

And the process of composing this work and preparing it for performance has been immensely satisfying in many ways.

For one thing, it was really rewarding to conceive of something I thought was worth saying, and then to find a way to express it.

Also, it was satisfying to draw upon all the arcane knowledge I've accumulated over the years about the orchestra, the instruments, and how a score is put together.

It's an unusual field—an archaic craft, really, not unlike glass-blowing or candle-making, except on a larger scale. So it's nice to get to make a few bottles, so to speak.

But most of all, it was gratifying to draw from the personal musical language I've developed for film scoring and use it in a concert work.

For almost 10 years, I've been improvising live musical scores to full-length silent movies, averaging about 100 screenings a year.

It's given me the time and the space to figure out some things on my own—things that I don't know if I could have discovered through a traditional teacher/student relationship.

And with the Kilimanjaro music, I can see how it's now time to make use of that language in other ways.

So now I have projects I plan to work on: scores to write, pieces to put down on paper so others can play and hear them.

My ultimate goal: an opera about the notorious Pam Smart case.

This is something I've wanted to do for some time—and for many years didn't think would ever happen. Compose new music for orchestra? I thought that train had left the station long ago, both for me and for the culture in general.

New music for a symphony orchestra that could connect with audience in the 21st century? Talk about a hopeless cause!

But though the kindness and support of so many people, I've learned that even if you've missed one train, others are likely to come after it.

And so here's an irony. After composing a whole symphony about how Mount Kilimanjaro didn't change my life, it may have done so after all.

Well, we'll find out Sunday!

P.S. It won't be announced at the concert, but go backstage afterwards to join us for a slice of Kilimanjaro-shaped cake!