EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2013

Silent by scary

'Nosferatu' to be screened at Rogers Center in spirit of Halloween


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Get into the Halloween spirit with the classic 1922 silent horror film, “Nosferatu,” the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” at the Rogers Center in North Andover next week. The evening won’t be all about silence however, as the program will be accompanied live by musician Jeff Rapsis.

Directed by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, “Nosferatu” remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. It was among the first movies to use visual design to contribute to an overall sense of terror. 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 Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screenings.

“The original ‘Nosferatu’ is a film that seems to get creepier as more time goes by,” said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and ranks as one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists. “It’s a great way to celebrate Halloween and the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places.”

In “Nosferatu,” German actor Max Schreck portrays the title character, a mysterious count from Transylvania who travels to the German city of Bremen to take up residence. A rise in deaths from the plague is attributed to the count’s arrival. Only when a young woman reads “The Book of Vampires” does it become clear how to rid the town of this frightening menace.

Director F.W. Murnau told the story with odd camera angles, weird lighting and special effects that include deliberately speeded-up sequences.

The silent film series at the Rogers Center aims to recapture the magic of early Hollywood by presenting silent films as they were intended to be shown: in restored prints, in a theater on a big screen, with live music and with an audience.

“If you can put together those elements, it’s surprising how much power these films still have,” said Rapsis, who improvises live music for silent film screenings throughout New England and beyond. “You realize why these films caused people to first fall in love with the movies.”

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra, creating a traditional “movie score” sound.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Stoker’s novel, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain rights to the novel. For instance, “vampire” became “Nosferatu” and “Count Dracula” became “Count Orlok.” After the film was released, Stoker’s widow filed a copyright infringement lawsuit and won; all known prints and negatives were destroyed under the terms of settlement.

However, intact copies of the the film would surface later, allowing “Nosferatu” to be restored and screened today as audiences originally saw it. The image of actor Max Schreck as the vampire has become so universal that it showed up in a recent episode of “Sponge Bob Squarepants.”

Although “Nosferatu” is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too much for very young children to enjoy.

If You Go * What: "Nosferatu," the 1922 original silent film version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," with live music by Jeff Rapsis. * When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30. * Where: The Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover. * How: Admission is free and the public is welcome. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.