Local films, festivals, and faces

Silent films abound in Greater Boston

Douglas Fairbanks (left) will appear on the big screen at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday in the 1924 silent film “The Thief of Bagdad.”
Jeff Rapsis
Jeff Rapsis will provide musical accompaniment to the 1924 silent film “The Thief of Bagdad” at the Somerville Theatre on Sunday.

Silent films with live musical accompaniment seem to be all over the local scene these days. If you missed the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra playing with Buster Keaton’s 1923 comedy “Our Hospitality” at the Coolidge Corner Theatre last week, or organist Peter Krasinski accompanying Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent biblical epic “The King of Kings” in Cambridge at the end of April, mark your calendars for two upcoming events that will feature some of the best in silent film accompaniment.

New Hampshire’s Jeff Rapsis is considered one of the nation’s top silent film musicians. He performs at an average of 80 screenings each year, mostly in New England, but he hasn’t played the Boston area until now. He’ll accompany “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), an epic fantasy starring Douglas Fairbanks, at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. The screening launches the Somerville’s “Silents Please” series of cinema classics, all on 35mm prints, with Rapsis improvising the music while the film is running, using a digital synthesizer that allows him to re-create the movie score sound of a full orchestra.

Rapsis plays frequently in his home state. On May 24 at 7 p.m., he’ll provide live accompaniment for Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin” (1925) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H. He also participates in a monthly silent film series at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Next up, on May 26 at 4:30 p.m., is “Tell It to the Marines” (1926) starring Lon Chaney.

Jeff Rapsis
1924’s "The Thief of Bagdad.”


Upcoming titles in the Somerville Theatre series include Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” (1921) on June 16; MGM’s original silent version of “Ben Hur” (1925) on July 14; and Buster Keaton’s Civil War comedy “The General” (1926) on Aug. 4.

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Of course the granddaddy of all silent film accompaniment is Boston’s own Alloy Orchestra, which formed here in 1990 and is credited with reviving some of the great masterpieces of the silent era, starting with the orchestra’s original score for “Metropolis” in 1991. Known for using found objects for percussion, as well as state-of-the-art electronics, the orchestra — Terry Donahue (junk, accordion, musical saw, vocals); Ken Winokur (director, junk percussion, and clarinet); and Roger Miller (keyboards) — has written scores for 28 feature film presentations and performed at prestigious festivals around the world.

The Alloy Orchestra will perform the Boston premiere of its live score for the silent “From Morning to Midnight” (1920), directed by Karl-Henz Martin and considered a unique visual German expressionist masterwork. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents the event on May 25 at 7 and 9 p.m., in the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater at the ICA. If you have never heard of “From Morning to Midnight,” there’s a good reason. The film was never distributed in Europe or the United States, but did have a limited distribution in Japan. The only existing print was discovered in Japan in 1959. The Munich Filmmuseum recently restored the film with its original intertitles.

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Preserving Albania Very few Albanian films have ever been seen in the US, but the Albanian Cinema Project, a coalition of filmmakers, archivists, and film producers, is working to restore and preserve the Albanian film archive. The ACP, partnering with the Massachusetts Albanian American Society, will screen its first restoration of an Albanian film, “The Second November” (1982), at the Boston Public Library on May 18 at 2 p.m. It’s free, open to the public, and there will be a post-screening discussion.

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Coming attractions

The Regent Theatre in Arlington is one of a few select cinemas joining in a new distribution venture that will screen new films ahead of their local release date. Gathr Films will offer a membership program of up to four films per month. Cost ranges from $19 for one month to $49 for three months. As with film festivals, it’s a way to give filmgoers the chance to see movies before anyone else in their market, and it gives distributors the potential benefit of word of mouth, particularly via social media. Preview screenings at the Regent begin May 21 with “What Maisie Knew,” starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, and Steve Coogan.

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Run for a cause


A marathon story with a happy ending may be just the thing filmgoers and sports enthusiasts need this season. “Spirit of the Marathon II,” a documentary about the Rome Marathon, screens June 12 at 7 p.m. in select US theaters including the Regal Fenway and suburban cinemas. The event’s producers will donate a portion of the proceeds from screenings to the One Fund Boston. “Spirit of the Marathon II, ” shot during the 2012 Rome Marathon by marathon runners and filmmakers Jon Dunham, who directed, and producer Gwendolen Twist, focuses on seven individuals from around the globe training for and running the race through the historic streets of Rome. It’s a follow-up to the 2008 film that documented the Chicago Marathon. The sequel features interviews with marathon veterans Frank Shorter, Kathrine Switzer, and others. The one-night screening event will include behind-the-scenes interviews, deleted scenes, and memorable outtakes from filming of the documentary.

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Loren King can be reached at