Seacost Online: Making Silent Films Speak

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Seacost Online: Making Silent Films Speak

PostThu Jul 30, 2015 9:12 pm

http://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20150730/ENTERTAINMENTLIFE/150739990/101036/ENTERTAINMENT

Other Lives: Making silent films speak

Jeff Rapsis plays live music to accompany silent film screenings in his downtime. Michael Lohmeier photo

By Michael Lohmeier

Posted Jul. 30, 2015 at 2:01 AM

Context is everything.

Before silent films became silent, they were simply movies. They were state-of-theart technological entertainment wonders. Audiences looked up to movies ... literally. They were projected on huge screens in actual theatres, not those shoe boxes at the mall. They had massive silver screens (white, actually) that were the home to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and more.

A live piano or organ player would create an aural environment that magnified and clarified the story being told.

In the world we live in, it's accepted to view a movie on a screen smaller than a playing card ... all alone. That's part of what makes a "silent" film experience so different from a modern one. Going to a silent movie was designed to be a communal experience that could only happen in a theater as part of an audience, and each audience experience was different than the next, just as each performance of a play is unique to that performance.

If these ideas have you sighing with longing for a taste of the silent film experience as it was meant to be, you're in luck. Jeff Rapsis, co-owner of The Hippo, a free weekly publication distributed statewide, spends much of his leisure time accompanying silent films on his digital synthesizer.

Film and music were twin loves for him as a boy. "Like a low-grade infection," he says.

Rapsis took piano lessons in school, and a teacher showed silent films to students during study periods.

"I was captivated by that," he says.

In the early days at the Hippo, Rapsis was the music writer and started to mingle with musicians again. In 2005, an opportunity appeared to write music for "Dangerous Crosswinds," a film by regional filmmaker Bill Millios of Back Lot Films. After that, he started accompanying films live.

"It was like chocolate and peanut butter, two things I loved. Put them together and they're even better," he says.

Rapsis doesn't try to imitate the period music that might have been played with the films generations ago. Instead, he improvises a contemporary sound that helps bridge the gap for modern audiences that may never have seen a silent film.

"I don't want it to be a museum piece," he says.

He compares silent films to opera in the sense that often they portray universal truths and big emotions.

Speaking of the alchemy of film, music and an audience coming together, Rapsis says, "When it all works, there is nothing like it. It can be powerful like no other art form can be."

For a schedule of upcoming silent film screenings accompanied by Rapsis, visit [url]silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com[/url].

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