Saturday, October 22, 2016

Too much Phantom still a good thing:
Three screenings, three Sundays in a row

In the silent film world, can there possibly be too much 'Phantom of the Opera?'

Every Halloween, it seems we're on the verge of finding out.

Example: I know of at least a half-dozen screenings with live music in New England in the next week.

And though I try to limit myself to keep 'Phantom' from becoming too familiar, even I have three 'Phantoms' on the schedule this month.

Well, despite concerns about over-exposure, the silent 'Phantom' starring Lon Chaney shows no signs of fading.

Maybe the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical fuels continued interest. Maybe it's author Gaston Leroux's story, powerful in any form. Both certainly play a part, I'm sure.

It could even be a local TV program here in New England called 'The Phantom Gourmet.'

But I believe a lot of credit should go to the film itself. It's really, really good. And those of us who've seen it many times tend to lose sight of that, I think.

So theater programmers will continue to run 'Phantom' for the same reason music directors continue to lead Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: it's one of the classics.

Lon Chaney menaces Mary Philbin.

And we shouldn't lose sight of the value of experiencing it as intended—in a theater with an audience, and with live music.

Nor should we forget what a roller coaster ride 'Phantom' is for someone who's never seen it. If we stop showing it, we'll stop giving newcomers the chance for that "first-time" experience.

Having said all that, I found myself open to the idea of trying something different for this weekend's screening of 'Phantom' at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass.

The folks there are running a costume contest in conjunction with the show, which is Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. (More details about the screening are in the press release below.)

But they also asked me if it was possible to do some kind of audience participation during the film—something in the manner of Rocky Horror, perhaps.

I thought about it, and felt the best way to go was to deputize the audience to help create elements of the accompaniment.

Consider: one of the highlights of the 1924 silent film version of 'Peter Pan' is when the audience is asked to clap to save Tinkerbell. People inevitably rise to the occasion, and it's always great fun.

Why not apply that same dynamic to 'Phantom of the Opera?' So that's what we'll try tomorrow night in what we're calling the first-ever "Collaborative Phantom."

Specifically, the audience will be asked to help out in two ways:




For the APPLAUD part: the silent 'Phantom' has several scenes in the Paris Opera where the audience is seen applauding something on stage.

Whenever the audience is seen reacting on screen, our own audience will be asked to clap, cheer, and generally ovate. (Is that a word?) Extra credit if anyone yells 'Brava!'

For the SCREAM part: two moments occur where our audience will be asked to basically scream bloody murder.

The first time comes fairly early in the film, when the Opera House chandelier falls. The second is the Phantom' unmasking.

If nothing else, I hope the chance to scream creates a sense of what experiencing 'Phantom' must have been like for its original audiences.

Nowadays we've watched movies our entire lives, and we've seen everything. But early movie-goers were genuinely shocked by Lon Chaney's ghoulish appearance.

We can't forget the haunting gallery of truly frightening images that Hollywood has given us since Chaney played the 'Phantom.'

But I think staging a "Collaborative Phantom" in which the audience actively contributes to the soundtrack instead of just passively watching the film, is a worthy project.

I also think there's a good chance this might loosen up the audience we get so that everyone feels free to really react in any way they feel like.

One of the great glories of silent film (and one of its unsung achievements, I think) is the audience experience it can produce.

I hope you'll join us tomorrow night at the Aeronaut, and that you'll be a part of that experience! Details in the press release below.

And if you can't make it this weekend, I'm doing it one mo' time this season—on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

More info on that to come next week.

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A poster for the original 1925 release of 'Phantom of the Opera.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Aeronaut Brewing Co. on Sunday, Oct. 23

Just in time for Halloween: Pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a spooky silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the first screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass.

Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

The program is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. 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 try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screenings.

"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and frequently accompanies films in the Boston area. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

Original 'Phantom of the Opera' promotional art.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.

The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.

Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.

Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).

The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

Another one.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Mummy (1932).

The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person and seating is limited; for tickets and information, visit or and seach on "Aeronaut Brewery."

• The full link on Eventbrite is below:

• The event is also on Facebook at this address:

For more info on the music, visit

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mid-autumn mini-tour: silent film music
in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts

From today: Good color coming in this year across the road from our house.

Spooky silent film shows in three states this weekend. I'll be haunting old movie theaters and even older town halls with creepy cinema and live (but deadly) music.

And it's peak foliage right now in northern New England: a little late due to lack of rain this summer, but coming in nicely nonetheless.

I had to drive through rural Brookline and Hollis, N.H. on Thursday, and even on a cloudy day the colors are amazing.

So it's a great weekend to go bombing around the New England countryside on a mini-tour that takes me to an evening show in Brandon, Vt. on Saturday; a Sunday afternoon show in Charlestown, N.H., and then an evening performance down in Boston at the Somerville Theatre.

Because of the distance involved, I get to stay overnight in Rutland, Vt. I tell ya, this showbiz thing is just endless glam.

In Brandon, it's 'Chiller Theatre,' so dubbed because when we started showing films as late as October, the Town Hall did not have central heating.

It now does, but they've kept the name. The film is 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), the amazing Paul Leni film starring Conrad Veidt in the title role.

Original promotional art for 'The Man Who Laughs.'

It's our final screening of the season in Brandon, where turnout has been strong all year. We've had some good publicity in local press, so here's hoping for a really big crowd for our last hurrah.

More details of the screening are in the press release posted below.

Sunday afternoon takes me to Charlestown, N.H., where the local historical society is screening a Lon Chaney double feature: 'The Unknown' (1927) followed by 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

Showtime is 2 p.m. at the "Old Town Hall," a building whose many functions over the years have included a stint as the town movie theatre.

I always enjoy visiting Charlestown, as I covered the town for a time as a reporter for the Eagle-Times daily newspaper, based up the Connecticut River in Claremont, N.H.

To me, it was a sort of Granite State version of Lake Wobegon. The local grocery store was (and still is) actually named Ralph's, just as in Garrison Keillor's fictional town.

And the place was (and yes, still is) filled with memorable characters.

North Charlestown in home to the St. Pierre clan, an enormous family that runs a huge sand and gravel business. I got to know some of the brothers well enough to be invited to the annual family picnic, where one of the traditions was for everyone to gather on a flatbed and then have it hauled onto the truck scale to get the collective family weight!

When I'm done in Charlestown, then I bomb down to the big city, Boston, where I'm accompanying Chaney again in 'The Unknown,' but this time it's a 35mm print.

The 8 p.m. screening is the finale of the theater's annual multi-day "Terrorthon" festival. It's always a highlight to accompany films at this grand old theater, which has been showing movies since 1914 and where they still take the trouble to show vintage film on actual film.

More details about the Sunday screenings can be found by clicking the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link at the top right of this page.

A lull follows Sunday, but things pick up again next weekend and then I have screenings virtually every day through Halloween. Be prepared to get scared!

And of course, if the usual run-up to Halloween isn't scary enough, just turn on the news! Boo!

* * *

Conrad Veidt and Olga Baclanova in 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) to screen with live music on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Brandon Town Hall

Creepy silent film melodrama starring Conrad Veidt inspired appearance of Batman's nemesis 'The Joker'

BRANDON, Vt.—'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), a silent drama featuring a disfigured man forced to wear an insane grin all his life, will be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall.

The film will be accompanied live by silent film musician Jeff Rapsis.

The screening is free and open to the public. Donations are accepted to help support the town hall's ongoing renovation and restoration. The screening is sponsored by Omya, Inc.

'The Man Who Laughs,' directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veidt, was a popular 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).

'The Man Who Laughs' will be be screened with live music on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Route 7, in Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; free will donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall. For more information, visit For more about the music, visit

Friday, October 14, 2016

For whom the dingy bell tolls: 'Cat and Canary'
tonight at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.

Nailed! Character actor Tully Marshall in 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

Last night, after a well-received screening of the Fritz Lang epic 'Woman in the Moon,' I was leaving the Flying Monkey Moviehouse when one of the staff guys there, Jessie, called me back.

"I almost forgot," he said, opening the box office. He retrieved a "dingy bell" that I had left behind the last time I was there, doing music for Harold Lloyd's 'The Freshman.'

And isn't it odd that tonight, I DO need that dingy bell?

Specifically: I'm doing music for 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. Early in the film, we're treated to images of the insides of a clock as it chimes the midnight hour.

And I know what would have happened later today. Getting my stuff ready for the show, I would have gone crazy looking for my dingy bell, not knowing that I had left it in Plymouth, N.H. a month before.

Instead, I was reunited with my dingy bell just last night, and just in time for tonight's screening.

And yes, I know a dingy bell's official name is a "bellhop bell." But I prefer "dingy bell" if for no other reason it's the name of Mickey Rooney's character in 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.' (1963).

Hope you can join us for a pre-Halloween showing of one of the most visually interesting silent films in the catalog—a visual feast of strange camera angles, strange settings, and strange faces filling up the screen.

And it's all pretty spooky, too. More info in the press release below. Hope to see you there!

And this weekend brings a mini-roadtrip to venues in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Boston.

On Saturday night, I'm accompanying 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) as our season-ending "Chiller Theatre" program at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt.

And Sunday brings a double-header.

It starts with an afternoon program of Lon Chaney pics 'The Unknown' (1927) and 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) in Charlestown, N.H.—a town where I once worked as a reporter!

This will be followed by a mad dash to the Somerville Theatre (just outside Boston, Mass.) to do music for 'The Unknown' again.

Although in the case of the Somerville, 'The Unknown' will be in the form of a 35mm print as part of the theater's annual "Terrorthon" festival.

Showtimes and other details for each screening are listed in the "Upcoming Silent Film Screenings" link you'd find at the top right.

I'll be updating from the road, too. But for now, here's the complete press release for this evening's screening of director Paul Leni's great thriller, 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927). Enjoy!

* * *

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Cat and Canary' (1927) to play Red River with live music on Friday, Oct. 14

Just in time for Halloween: Creepy haunted house silent film thriller to be shown after sundown

CONCORD, N.H.—'The Cat and the Canary' (1927), a haunted house thriller from Hollywood’s silent film era, will be screened with live music on Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.

Live music for the movie will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

'The Cat and the Canary' stands as the original movie thriller—the first picture to feature the reading of a will in a haunted mansion complete with clutching hands, a masked killer, disappearing bodies, and secret passageways.

Silent film starlet Laura LaPlante leads the cast as a young heiress who must spend the night in the creepy old mansion, which is filled with relatives who all have motives to frighten her out of her wits. Meanwhile, a dangerous escaped lunatic is loose on the grounds. Can she and the others make it through the night?

Created for Universal Pictures by German filmmaker Paul Leni and based on a hit stage play, 'The Cat and the Canary' proved popular enough to inspire several remakes, including one starring Bob Hope. It was also the forbearer of all the great Universal horror classics of the 1930s and '40s.

The Red River screening will use a fully restored print that shows the film as audiences would have originally experienced it. 'The Cat and the Canary' will be accompanied by live music by New Hampshire composer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in silent film scoring.

Rapsis will improvise the score on the spot during the screening.

"Silent film is all about the audience experience, and this one is a perfect Halloween crowd-pleaser," Rapsis said. "It has something for everyone—spooky scenes, some good comedy, and it's all fine for the whole family."

Martha Mattox and Laura Laplante in 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

Critics praise the original 'Cat and the Canary' for its wild visual design and cutting edge cinematography.

Film reviewer Michael Phillips singled out the film for using "a fluidly moving camera and elaborate, expressionist sets and lighting to achieve some of the most memorable shots in silent film, from the amazing tracking shots down the curtain-lined main hallway to the dramatic zooms and pans that accompany the film's shocks."

Leonard Maltin called the original 'Cat and the Canary' a "delightful silent classic, the forerunner of all "old dark house" mysteries."

Red River Theatres, an independent cinema, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to screening a diverse program of first-run independent films, cult favorites, classics, local and regional film projects, and foreign films.

The member-supported theater’s mission is to present film and the discussion of film as a way to entertain, broaden horizons and deepen appreciation of life for New Hampshire audiences of all ages.

'Cat and the Canary' will be shown on Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H. in the Jaclyn Simchik Screening Room. Admission is $10 per person; for more info, call (603) 224-4600 or visit For more about the music, visit

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Silent space travel epic 'Woman in the Moon'
on Thursday, 10/13 at Flying Monkey

Say cheese: the cast of 'Woman in the Moon' exploring the lunar surface in search of gold—and maybe something more valuable.

Yes, movies aren't made without soundtracks anymore. And yes, about three-quarters of films from the silent era have completely disappeared.

But still, I'm amazed at how the field continues to produce surprises, even today.

Despite the limitations of being an obsolete medium missing a good part of its body of work, I keep discovering great stuff I've never heard of or knew about.

A great example of this is 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), which I'll be accompanying tomorrow night (Thursday, March 13) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H. (Details in the press release below.)

Like almost everyone else, I was a long-time fan of 'Metropolis' (1927), director Fritz Lang's futuristic class warfare epic. It's one of the most well-known silent films, and rightly so.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find out that Lang had afterwards produced an equally ambitious film, 'Woman in the Moon' (1929)—a movie that most people have never heard of.

That included me, until about five years ago, when I finally got around to paying attention to it.

The first time viewing it, I was thrilled! To me, it was like discovering a whole new 'Metropolis.'

Even better—here was a story about adventures in outer space told through silent film at the peak of its expressive power and technical development.

Director Lang (right) shooting 'Woman in the Moon.'

In short, it blew my mind! A 80-year-old space adventure that took silent film story-telling all the way to the surface of the moon—wow!

I was also excited because my style of scoring, I think, is a good fit for Lang's way of directing a picture in the silent era. We're both suckers for the big gesture.

So I developed some material for 'Woman in the Moon,' and now it's now one of my favorite films to present and accompany.

One of the highlights of this adventure so far, I think, was doing music for 'Woman in the Moon' at the Harvard Film Archive a few years back. They screened a beautiful 35mm print as part of a Fritz Lang retrospective, and it really all came together that night.

For me, 'Woman in the Moon' continues to stand as an important symbol of the vast unknown riches that silent film can offer.

So for all those reasons, I hope you'll join me tomorrow night at the Flying Monkey for Lang's final, and unjustly overlooked, silent epic: 'Woman in the Moon.'

* * *

An original German poster for 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent sci-fi adventure film on Thursday, 10/13
at Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H.

'Woman in the Moon,' Fritz Lang's pioneer space drama about mankind's first lunar voyage, to be screened with live musical accompaniment

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened this month at the Flying Monkey.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be screened with live music on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The screening is open to the public. Admission is $10 per person.

The rarely seen full-length version of 'Woman in the Moon' follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find large deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisers, anticipated many of the techniques used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later. For example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in actual space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi soap opera elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a female scientist and her two male crewmates; a plucky young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfire and treachery on the lunar surface.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

"This is a great and at-times bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the Flying Monkey's monthly silent film screenings.

"It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller," Rapsis said. "And as a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to be, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H., will improvise live musical accompaniment during the screening, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

The space-faring cast of 'Woman in the Moon' prepares for the lunar landing.

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."

Director Fritz Lang, responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Bad timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

The moon, as imagined in a German silent film studio.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an adviser on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle starting in the 1930s. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its detailed depiction of state-of-the-art rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find. For many years, the film was available only in cut-down 16mm versions that ran as short as one hour.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

"Although 'Woman in the Moon' is available for home viewing, this is a motion picture that should be experienced as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said. "There's nothing like it."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Halloween: The busiest time of the year
for spooks and silent film accompanists

Conrad Veidt and Olga Baklanova in 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928).

Last night I attended a rehearsal of the N.H. Philharmonic, a local orchestra which later this season will play through a score I've composed.

More on that as it develops. But for now, the prospect of a world premiere was scary enough to remind me that we're entering the busiest time of the year for silent film musicians: Halloween.

Yes, the remainder of this month is crowded with silent film screenings all over New England, and all designed to put people in a mood macabre.

And it's fitting. One of the lasting images of silent film is Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera, playing subterranean pipe organ.

(And yes, I'm doing 'Phantom' a couple times this cycle, plus a lot of other titles. The full schedule is below.)

It's not just me. Other area accompanists such as Peter Krasinski have heavy schedules of Halloween fare.

So silent film fans, prepare for a scary smorgasbord of spooky silents ("Alliteration, the newsman's poetry!") in locations ranging from rural towns to the big city—in our case, Boston.

You'll notice 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) is programmed several times. It's this year's example of a worthy movie I believe has been overlooked. And so it's the one "in the rotation," meaning it's the film I play to avoid wearing out known classics such as 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom.'

Original promotional material for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928).

Also, two screenings mark the start of new silent film series in the Boston area that I'll be accompanying.

At the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass. a screening of the rarely seen Chaney film 'The Unholy Three' (1925) will launch what's intended to be a monthly program of silent film screenings with live music.

The Capitol is sister theater to the Somerville Theatre in nearby Somerville, Mass., where I also accompany a monthly silent film series. The difference is that the Somerville is committed to showing 35mm prints; the Capitol is where we'll run worthy titles for which 35mm prints simply isn't available.

And at the Regent Theatre, also in Arlington, Mass., I'm pleased to report that last spring's screening of Mary Pickford's early feature 'Rags' (1916) was successful enough for this 100-year-old venue to add periodic silent film screenings to its regular schedule.

First up is on Friday, Oct. 28, when we'll run 'Nosferatu' (1921), a great Halloween film and one which I think gets even creepier as the years go by.

The Regent intends to include silent film with live music on a regular basis for this season, and I hope we'll be able to build a good audience there.

Okay, here's the spooked-up calendar through the end of the month.

And remember: in silent film, no one can hear you scream!

• Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, 6 p.m.: "The Leopard Woman" (1920); Carpenter Memorial Auditorium, Manchester Public Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H.; (603) 624-6550; Manchester Public Library. Battle-of-wits jungle drama about an British explorer and a female spy from a rival goverment ordered to foil his mission. The fun begins when rather than killing the explorer, she falls in love with him—and then he goes blind! Monthly series of rarely screened silent films presented with live music in 1913 auditorium. Admission free, donations encouraged.

• Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: "Woman in the Moon" (1929); The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; The final silent film of director Fritz Lang ('Metropolis') is an amazing epic about mankind's first-ever lunar voyage, complete with espionage, romance, stowaways, and spectacular visual design. Part of a monthly silent film series at a newly restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

Actor Tully Marshall is about to meet his end in 'The Cat and the Canary' (1927).

• Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, 7 p.m.: "The Cat and the Canary" (1927) directed by Paul Leni, starring Laura LaPlante; Red River Theatres, 11 South Main St., Concord, N.H.; (603) 224-4600; Can a group of strangers survive the night in a haunted house to learn the secret of a madman's will? Find out in the original Gothic thriller from silent film director Paul Leni. Just in time for Halloween, a movie filled with deep shadows, dark secrets, and a surprisingly timeless mix of humor and horror that will keep you guessing. Remember: in silent film, no one can hear you scream! See if if you dare! Silent film with live music at this popular venue for independent and arthouse cinema in New Hampshire's state capital. Admission $10 per person.

• Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, 7 p.m.: "The Man Who Laughs" (1928) starring Conrad Veidt; Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, Main Street/Route 7, Brandon, Vt.; Silent film adaptation of Victor Hugo's historical novel about a man cursed with a permanent carnival-freak-like grin on his face. The make-up job for actor Conrad Veidt inspired the look of Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker. Directed by Paul Leni, who pioneered the visual style used in Universal horror classics such as 1931's 'Dracula' and 'Frankenstein.' See it if you dare! Preceded by spooky comedy short subjects. Join us for a series of silent films and live music in a wonderfully restored town hall in Brandon Vt. that features great acoustics. Admission free, donations accepted, with proceeds to help continuing preservation work.

• Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, 2 p.m.: "Lon Chaney Double Feature", Charlestown Old Town Hall, 19 Summer St., Charlestown, N.H. Just in time for Halloween: two movies starring Chaney, 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) and 'The Unknown' (1927), make up a creepy double feature presented by the Charlestown Historical Society. 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) ranks as one of the most revived films of the silent era. With Chaney in the lead role, the original movie adaptation of the story of a deformed musician living beneath the Paris Opera House remains an audience favorite. 'The Unknown' (1927) features Chaney as "Alonzo the Armless," a circus knife-thrower with a dark past who uses his feet to perform his act. The film co-stars a very young Joan Crawford. Admission is free and the public is welcome; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support Historical Society activities.

• Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, 8 p.m.: "The Unknown" (1927) starring Lon Chaney; Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.; Celebrate Halloween with a twisted circus drama starring Lon Chaney as 'Alonzo the Armless' and a very young Joan Crawford as the woman he loves but cannot have. Directed by Tod Browning, who would go on to create the cult classic 'Freaks' (1932). Part of a planned multi-day "TerrorThon" at the Somerville Theatre, a 100-year-old moviehouse committed to keeping alive the experience of 35mm film on the big screen. Featuring outstandingly exacting work of legendary projectionist David Kornfeld. For more info, call the theater box office at (617) 625-5700. Admission is either single ticket or through multi-day pass. Check with theater for details.

Original poster art for the original screen adaptation of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.' (1921).

•Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, 1 p.m. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1921) starring John Barrymore; Whitingham Free Public Library, 2948 Route 100, Jacksonville, Vt.; (802) 368-7506. Just in time for Halloween! John Barrymore plays both title roles in the original silent film adaptation of the classic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. A performance that helped establish Barrymore as one of the silent era's top stars. Free and open to the public.

• Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, 8 p.m. "Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin; Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St., Somerville, Mass. Admission $10 per person, limited seating. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Just in time for Halloween! Part of the Aeronaut Brewery's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance. Limited seating so reserve early; for more details on tickets, visit Aeronaut Brewing online.

• Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, 6:30 p.m.: "The Man Who Laughs" (1928) starring Conrad Veidt; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; Silent film adaptation of Victor Hugo's historical novel about a man cursed with a permanent carnival-freak-like grin on his face. The make-up job for actor Conrad Veidt inspired the look of Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker. Directed by Paul Leni, who pioneered the visual style used in Universal horror classics such as 1931's 'Dracula' and 'Frankenstein.' See it if you dare! Preceded by spooky comedy short subjects. Part of a monthly silent film series at a newly restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.

• Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, 7 p.m.: "The Man Who Laughs" (1928) starring Conrad Veidt; Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass. (978) 837-5355. Creepy and unnerving adaptation of Victor Hugo's historical novel about a man cursed with a permanent carnival-freak-like grin on his face. The make-up job for actor Conrad Veidt inspired the look of Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker. Great Halloween film, set the stage for Universal horror classics such as 'Frankenstein' and 'Dracula.' Silent film with live music on the campus of Merrimack College. Free admission. For more information, visit the Rogers Center online.

• Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, 8 p.m.: "The Unholy Three" (1925) starring Lon Chaney, directed by Tod Browning; The Capitol Theatre, 204 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, Mass.; (603) 536-2551; In this hypnotic mix of creepiness and crime, the man of a thousand faces (Chaney) plays a ventriloquist who dons a granny disguise to team with a strongman and a little person in a bizarre robbery scheme that ends in murder. The film is the first collaboration between Chaney and director Browning, who would helm seven more Chaney movies before making sound era horror history with 'Dracula' (1931) and 'Freaks' (1932). A great way to get into the Halloween spirit. See it if you dare!

• Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, 7:30 p.m. "Nosferatu" (1921); Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington, Mass; (781) 646-4849, Admission $12 in advance, $15 at door. Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is not only the best ever done, but has actually become creepier with the passage of time. See for yourself, if you dare. Silent film with live music in a theater that's been operating for more than a century!

• Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, 8 p.m.: "The Man Who Laughs" (1928) starring Conrad Veidt; Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine; (207) 646-3123; Silent film adaptation of Victor Hugo's historical novel about a man cursed with a permanent carnival-freak-like grin on his face. The make-up job for actor Conrad Veidt inspired the look of Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker. Directed by Paul Leni, who pioneered the visual style used in Universal horror classics such as 1931's 'Dracula' and 'Frankenstein.' See it if you dare! Preceded by spooky comedy short subjects. See great silent films with live music in a summer-only theater opened in 1923 and barely changed since. Admission $10 per person.

• Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, 4:30 p.m.: "Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. Just in time for Halloween! Part of a series of silent films with live music at a theater where movies have been shown since 1912! Admission free, donations of $5 per person encouraged.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Today: Music for 'Zorro' in 35mm at the
Somerville—but how much of this is Batman?

An original poster for 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

Today at 2 p.m., I'll be accompanying a screening of 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.

It's a terrific movie, highlighted by the visible on-screen joy of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. discovering the swashbuckling formula that would carry him through epic adventures for the rest of the silent era.

And the film is actual film, in the form of a great 35mm print from the Museum of Modern Art. It's a rainy Sunday, so hope you can join us!

For all the details, check out the press release I've pasted in below.

But there's one aspect of 'Zorro' that I would like to know more about. Perhaps you can help.

Do you know the back story of 'Batman'?

I know it includes a Bruce Wayne as a very young boy vowing to become a crime-fighter after witnessing the murder of his parents outside a Gotham City movie theater.

And somewhere along the line, I read where the movie the family was attending that night was 'The Mask of Zorro.'

It made sense because that's how Wayne would have gotten the idea for the masked fighter of crime, and so many other Batman elements that are similar to Zorro.

It also made sense in terms of the timing: Bruce Wayne was born in 1915, which would make him just old enough to be present at 'Zorro,' and also to fuse the trauma of the murder with what he saw in the movie.

But I've just gone to look for more specifics about this, and couldn't find anything online. Well, except for this page from "Batman 459"

Maybe it's just because there's so much material out there about Batman, this part of the story has just been buried under the avalanche of pop culture.

It seems that whatever the Batman backstory was, it was filled in much later.

And if Bruce Wayne was inspired by Zorro, there's some confusion over whether the 'Zorro' connection is between the silent version or with the 1940 remake starring Tyrone Power.

So if anyone knows anything about this backstory, such as when it appeared or even if it's true or not true, that would be great!

For a long time now, I've pointed to the 'Zorro' and 'Batman' connection as a great example about how the DNA of early cinema is part of today's visually oriented culture.

Well, if I'm going keep making the case in this way, it's about time I knew what I was talking about, right?

So if any Batman experts are out there, let me know what the real story is. Send me a note at

For now, I hope you'll be able to join us for Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 'Zorro,' who I still think of as the original Batman.

Here's the press release with all the details!

* * *

Douglas Fairbanks stars in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920).

For more info, contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Original 'Zorro' to screen in 35mm at Somerville Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 2

Prepare to buckle your swash: Silent adventure epic starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to be shown on the big screen with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—It was the original swashbuckling blockbuster—the film that first brought 'Zorro' to the big screen, and also turned actor Douglas Fairbanks into Hollywood's first-ever action hero.

'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) will once again fill the silver screen, accompanied by live music on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville.

The film will be screened using a 35mm print. General admission to the program is $15 per person/$12 student and seniors.

The screening, the latest in the Somerville's "Silents, Please!" series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films. Admission is free and open to the public.

'The Mark of Zorro,' a major hit when first released, tells the story of young Don Diego Vega, the son of a wealthy ranch owner in Spanish California of the early 19th century.

Witnessing the mistreatment of the poor by rich landowners and the oppressive colonial government, Don Diego assumes the identity of "Señor Zorro," a masked figure of great cunning and skill, and vows to bring justice to the region.

The film stars Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who until 'Zorro' had focused on playing traditional all-American leading roles in romantic comedies.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. discovers the joys of historical swashbuckling in 'Zorro.'

The success of 'Zorro' launched Fairbanks on a series of historical adventure films that went on to rank among the most popular spectacles of the silent era, including 'The Three Musketeers' (1921) and 'Robin Hood' (1922).

The original 'Zorro' film was so popular it inspired one of Hollywood's first big-budget sequels, 'Don Q, Son of Zorro' (1925), also starring Fairbanks.

Fairbanks, one of the silent screen's most popular leading men, was the inspiration of the character George Valentin in 'The Artist,' the recent Oscar-winning Best Picture.

Critics have praised 'The Mark of Zorro' for its tight story, fast pace, and exciting action sequences, which include many stunts performed by Fairbanks himself. Steven D. Greydanus of the Decent Films Guide wrote that the silent Zorro "...contains some of the most jaw-dropping stunts I’ve ever seen this side of Jackie Chan."

Film writer Leonard Maltin described 'Zorro' as a "silent classic with Fairbanks as the masked hero...perhaps Doug's best film...nonstop fun!"

This genre-defining swashbuckler was the first movie version of the Zorro legend. The story has since been remade and adapted many times, most recently in 1998 as 'The Mask of Zorro' starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

'The Mark of Zorro' was the first film released by the newly formed United Artists studio, formed in 1920 by Fairbanks with fellow silent film superstars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and director D.W. Griffith.

The silent version of 'Zorro' also played a key role in the formation of the DC Comics Batman character; in the original 1939 story, a young Bruce Wayne sees 'Zorro' on the same night that his parents are later murdered, which leads him to adopt Zorro's mask and cape as a basis for his own transformation into 'Batman.'

The screening will be accompanied by improvisation-based musical score created live by New Hampshire silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Rapsis achieves a traditional "movie score" sound for silent film screenings by using a digital synthesizer to reproduce the texture of the full orchestra.

'The Mark of Zorro' will be screened in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Oct 2 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. Admission is $15 adults, $12 students/seniors; general admission seating. For more information, call (617) 625-5700 or visit For more info on the music, visit

Monday, September 19, 2016

Being mistaken for a priest, plus Harold Lloyd's 'The Freshman' on 9/22 in Plymouth, N.H.

Harold Lloyd in 'The Freshman' (1925) on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. But first, a brain dump from the accompanist.

Random scenes from doing live music for five silent film screenings in five days in four different states.

• Last Wednesday, I was mistaken for a Catholic priest. Because I often wear a black shirt for accompanying a film, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.

What was really surprising was that this happened in the men's room of the Rogers Center for the Performing Arts at Merrimack College, where I accompanied 'The Lost World' (1925).

"Father, I want to talk to you," said an elderly gentleman as we both went to wash hands.

Before I could explain I wasn't a man of the cloth (if anything, a man of the paper towel at the moment), he had confessed that he hadn't received his college diploma, but instead went on a trek to the North Pole.

"Sounds like you made a great decision," I said, thus making it his turn to be surprised.

• Reading Jan Swafford's biography of Johannes Brahms, I was surprised that the composer's fatal liver illness had a curious side effect: towards the very end of his life, Brahms actually turned a shade of green.

Interesting and somewhat sad, too. But also the cause of this smart remark: "I'd have thought that if any composer was going to turn green, it would be Giuseppe Verdi."

• Another line that just came out of me at the Western New York Film Expo, held earlier this month: "It's fitting that we're running silent film in Buffalo, famous for its wings, because I'll be completely winging the score for this next movie."

• A turnout of 145 people made last Saturday night's screening of Chaplin's 'The Kid' the most-attended show in six seasons of silent film at the Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall and Community Center.

And it almost didn't happen because the old DVD-R disc on which I have Chaplin's original cut of the film would not cooperate with the town hall's fancy new Blu-Ray player.

After we fiddled with it for what seemed like ages, I resigned myself to going out to the car to get a substitute film. (I always carry spares in case this happens.)

So imagine my surprise (and relief) when I came back in the building and the opening title to 'The Kid' was up there filling the big screen.

"How did you do it?" I asked Dennis Marsden, who manages the town hall's events and its ongoing restoration.

"I just kept pressing buttons until finally I saw 'The Kid' up there on the screen."

• The Chaplin screening was one of those magical evenings where audience response is strong right out of the gate.

First up was the First National sort 'A Dog's Life' (1918), and people were laughing just at the sight of Chaplin, asleep next to a drafty fence.

The very first gag—Chaplin plugging a knothole to keep out the chill—produced a belly laugh. And it went on from there.

So with comedies, when everything's clicking, there are times when you hardly have to play at all.

That happened in the lunch counter scene, where Chaplin matches wits with half-brother Syd over stack of griddle cakes.

For this, I played only the slightest wisp of a melody in 3/4 time, and then went totally silent each time Syd turned to catch Charlie stealing food.

I've done this scene before, and it never seems to get the laughs it deserves.

So in Brandon, I went completely silent. And a funny thing happened to the reaction: after a moment of silence, with both Charlie and Syd holding their poses, the laughter came.

It just took that pause to give the audience a chance to react, and to help bring out the comedy.

Sometimes less really is more.

Led into temptation: a scene from Father Sergius.

• I had the pleasure of returning to the Harvard Film Archive on Sunday, Sept. 18 to do music for two rarely screened Russian silent features: 'The Queen of Spades' (1917) and 'Father Sergis' (1918).

What a pleasure to do music in such a first-class venue. And by that, I mean just music: no projection worries, no publicity chores, no light cuing issues, and so on. For what I do, it's a needed glimpse of a better world. Heck, they even had a native Russian speaker on hand to project translated intertitles on screen!

I was unfamiliar with both films, and had only a chance to quickly preview 'Spades' just before the screening. But both dramas lent themselves to the material I chose to work with and my general style of accompaniment.

For 'Spades,' I used a strings-only texture, and was able to stitch together a compelling score (I thought) out of a pair of motives that transformed themselves and evolved as the story progressed.

Most effective, I thought, was a fantasy sequence in which an elderly woman dreams of herself as a young woman being courted by a dashingly handsome man, only to waken (and returned to old age) when a young man actually does arrive.

For that, I was able to use the simple motifs, but add in strange harmonies and use other techniques such as keeping the rhythm but changing the intervals of the melody. It built up to a nice climax.

With 'Father Sergius,' all I knew was that the Czar was in it, and also that the title character would be tempted by lust and at one point would cut off his finger. For contrast and to up the musical ante, I switch to a full orchestra texture, complete with timpani and cymbal crashes when needed.

For the Czar, I figured I could use the old Russian Imperial Anthem, well-known outside Russia mostly because of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Using a familiar tune is always a question in music for silent film, because you don't want to take an audience out of a film's spell and start having them play 'Name That Tune.'

But in this case, it worked as a way to project the power and authority of the Czar.

Because 'Father Sergius' is set among the Russian aristocracy, a silent film accompanist should expect some kind of gala ball. And sure enough, there it was, right at the start—and with on-screen references to certain specific dances, no less. Before I knew it, I was running through one fake mazurka after another!

And what about that finger slicing? (This has special significance to anyone at the keyboard.) Well, I had no idea how I would handle it, but it helped to know it was coming.

What I felt the music would need to do, ideally, is express three things at once: the on-screen female temptation, the rising feelings of uncontrollable lust in Father Sergius, and also the inevitability of the ongoing collision.

So it was a kind of musical "ménage à trois"—okay, not the best imagery for the on-screen temptation of a Russian Orthodox clergyman.

To my surprise, it all came together in a way that really worked, I felt.

For the on-screen temptation, I used Dominant 7th chords in the mid-range of the keyboard, holding them for a bit and then sliding one half-step either up or down, and then cut.

This would be followed by a simple but ominous "thud" from deep in the bass, representing the clergyman's lust.

For the left hand, the thumb played a steadily repeating single note, while the pinkie held down the same note an octave above to help hold it all together. Hey, presto: inevitability!

So I kept this going, gradually cycling through all 12 notes in the chromatic scale, and being very careful to resist my own temptation to increase the volume (or the tempo) too fast too soon.

And for variety and to make it fit in with the rest of the score, I actually worked in snatches of the other melodies with the right hand.

And it worked!

Something like this doesn't always come together. And you can't plan it in advance because that robs it of the magic and flexibility of spontaneity.

But when it does, there's nothing like it.

So thanks for to the Harvard Film Archive and Prof. Daria Khitrova of the Slavic Language Department for programming these unusual titles. A good time was had by all, except perhaps Father Sergius.

Looking ahead: it can't be football season without a screening of Harold Lloyd's classic gridiron comedy 'The Freshman' (1925).

Get your fix this Thursday, Sept. 22 when we screen the picture (courtesy the Harold Lloyd Trust) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center in Plymouth, N.H.

Kickoff time is 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 per person.

Worth putting this one on your list because there's nothing like a Harold Lloyd film screened as originally intended: in a theater, with live music, and (most importantly) with a large audience.

This means you! More info in the press release below. Hope to see you there as Harold tackles college life, romance, and...well, you know.

* * *

Contact: Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film classic 'The Freshman' on Thursday, Sept. 22 at Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H.

Celebrate football season with Harold Lloyd's comic masterpiece about college life, with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—What happens when a first-year student's dreams of college collide with the realities of campus life?

The result is Harold Lloyd in 'The Freshman' (1925), one of the most popular comedies of the silent film era. Filled with classic scenes and a great story, 'The Freshman' endures as one of Lloyd's most crowd-pleasing movies.

See for yourself with a screening of 'The Freshman' (1925) on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The program will be shown with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist. General admission is $10 per person.

The program is the latest in the Flying Monkey's popular silent film series, which offers audiences a chance to experience silent film as it was intended: on the big screen, with live music, and in a theater with an audience.

"Put the whole experience back together, and you can see why people first fell in love with the movies," Rapsis said.

'The Freshman,' the most successful film of Lloyd's career, was an enormous box office smash. Its release sparked a craze for college films that lasted well beyond the 1920s, and even a popular hit song, the collegiate fox trot "Freshie."

The story follows Lloyd, small town newbie, to Tate College, where he hopes to achieve fame as Big Man on Campus. Instead, his quest to win popularity becomes a humiliating college-wide joke, with Harold getting tricked by upperclassmen into hosting the school's annual "Fall Frolic" at his own expense.

Harold and co-star Jobyna Ralston.

Realizing he's an outcast, Lloyd decides he can make his mark on the college football team, where he holds the lowly position of waterboy and serves as tackling dummy. On the day of the Big Game, can the bespectacled "freshie" somehow save the day and bring gridiron glory to dear old Tate?

For football fans, the film's climactic game sequence was shot on the field at the actual Rose Bowl in 1924. The crowd scenes were shot at halftime at California Memorial Stadium during the November 1924 "Big Game" between UC Berkeley and Stanford University. Other exterior scenes were filmed near the USC campus in Los Angeles.

Beyond its comic appeal, 'The Freshman' today has acquired an additional layer of interest in its depiction of college life in the 1920s—a time of raccoon coats, ukeleles, and many other long-gone fads and fashions.

"It was long before television, the Internet, cellphones, or Facebook," said Rapsis. "To us today, it looks like college on another planet, which I think adds to the appeal of a film like 'The Freshman.' But at its core, 'The Freshman' is still a great story about people, and that's why it remains such an entertaining experience today, especially when shown as Lloyd intended it."

In 1990, 'The Freshman' was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," named in only the second year of voting and one of the first 50 films to receive such an honor.

Lloyd, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is recognized as one of the silent screen's three great clowns. Lloyd's character, a young go-getter ready to struggle to win the day, proved hugely popular in the 1920s. While Chaplin and Keaton were always critical favorites, Lloyd's films reigned as the top-grossing comedies throughout the period.

However, Lloyd's public image faded after his retirement in the 1930s, when he turned his energies to charitable causes such as the Shriners. He retained control over his films, refusing to release them for television and only rarely allowing them to be screened at revivals, fearing modern audiences wouldn't know how to respond to his work or to silent films in general. He died in 1971.

In recent years, Lloyd's family has taken steps to restore Harold's reputation and public image. They've released his work on DVD, and arranged for more frequent screenings of his films in the environment for which they were made: in theaters with live music and a large audience.

Despite the passage of time, audiences continue to respond just as strongly as when the films were new, with features such as 'The Freshman' embraced as timeless achievements from the golden era of silent film comedy.

Critics review 'The Freshman':

"Regarded as the quintessential Harold Lloyd vehicle.”
—TV Guide

"Gag for gag, Lloyd was the funniest screen comic of his time. Passionately recommended. "
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Upcoming programs in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Thursday, Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m.: 'Woman in the Moon' (1929). The final silent film of director Fritz Lang ('Metropolis') is an amazing sci-fi epic about mankind's first-ever lunar voyage, complete with espionage, romance, stowaways, and spectacular visual design.

• Thursday, Nov. 10, 6:30 p.m.: 'Her Sister From Paris' (1925). The scene: Europe. The cast: Rich people. Get swept off your feet by not one but two privileged ladies, both played by amazing actress Constance Talmadge, who was Buster Keaton's sister-in-law.

• Thursday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.: 'The Kiss' (1929) starring Greta Garbo. Take a break from holiday shopping with this steamy romance and courtroom thriller. Will Garbo resort to murder, risking everything for love? Garbo's last silent role and the final silent film released by MGM.

Head back to school with Harold Lloyd's 'The Freshman' (1925), to be shown on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission $10 per person. For more info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.