The films may be silent. But the experience of seeing them is anything but. That’s because live music is always part of the show at the Manchester City Library’s ongoing silent film series. And so is audience reaction.
Each month, the library runs a classic film from the time before movies came with synchronized sound and dialogue. Instead, filmmakers told their stories visually, with live music creating a unique atmosphere when the movie was shown in a theater.
“These are the films that caused people to first fall in love with the movies,” says Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates and performs live music for the library’s series.
For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes created beforehand. None of 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.
“Doing the music live is a bit of a high-wire act,” Rapsis says. “But I find it’s the best way to create music that reflects what’s happening on screen and helps an audience connect and stay with a film.”
The schedule for the rest of 2016, just released, includes a ground-breaking drama from acclaimed German director F.W. Murnau, a rarely-screened Lon Chaney feature, and action flicks featuring firemen, the U.S. Coast Guard, and a woman who transforms herself into a leopard.
Admission is free and open to the public. All films begin at 6 p.m. in the library auditorium.
Tuesday, Aug. 9: “Desert Nights” (1929) starring John Gilbert, Ernest Torrence. A thieving couple victimize a diamond mine and kidnap its manager, but he gains the upper hand (and falls in love with the woman) when they flee into the hostile desert. Superstar Gilbert’s final silent film, climaxed by an immense sandstorm.
Tuesday, Sept. 6: “The Last Laugh” (1924) starring Emil Jannings, directed by F.W. Murnau. Engrossing character study of what happens when the head doorman at a posh Berlin hotel is ordered to give up his uniform due to encroaching old age. German film full of iconic images that stretched the expressive power of cinema.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: “The Leopard Woman” (1920). Battle-of-wits jungle drama about an British explorer and a female spy from a rival government 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!
Tuesday, Nov. 1: “The Third Alarm” (1922) and “The Coast Patrol” (1925). Fire and water mix in a double bill of classic low-budget melodramas, one about a firefighter forced to retire when the department switches from horses to motorized vehicles, and another about smugglers who threaten a lighthouse keeper’s peaceful post.
Tuesday, Dec. 6: “Mockery” (1927) starring Lon Chaney. During the Russian Revolution, a mentally challenged peasant saves a beautiful countess from invading Cossacks, then obsesses over her. Often overlooked Chaney drama with heavy helping of class warfare.
For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.
New Hampshire musician Jeff Rapsis provides live music for the Manchester’s City Library’s monthly silent series. Next up is ‘Desert Nights’ (1929), a story of forbidden love, a diamond mine, and an enormous sandstorm, to be screened on Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. at Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester, N.H. The program is free and open to the public.