Celebrate Valentine’s Day Sunday with Valentino

  • Rudolph Valentino & Vilma Banky 1925 - The Eagle. Scanned by jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans website: http://www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

Published: 2/8/2019 2:30:53 PM


To celebrate Valentine’s Day, one of Rudolph Valentino’s most acclaimed films will be screened with live music on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

He was the cinema’s first sex symbol, causing hordes of female moviegoers to flock to his pictures throughout the 1920s. He starred in films designed to show off his Latin looks, his smoldering eyes, and his dancer’s body. And his untimely death in 1926 prompted mob scenes at his funeral.

To this day Valentino remains an icon for on-screen passion long after he caused a sensation in the 1920s.

‘The Eagle’ (1925), a racy story set in Czarist Russia, proved one of his most popular features and marked a peak in his brief career.

Based on the novel Dubrovsky by Alexander Pushkin, ‘The Eagle’ casts Valentino as a lieutenant and expert horseman in the Russian army who catches the eye of Czarina Catherine II. After he rejects her advances and flees, she puts out a warrant for his arrest, dead or alive. When he learns that his father has been persecuted and killed in his hometown, he dons a black mask and becomes an outlaw, finding unexpected romance along the way.

The screening of ‘The Eagle’ will be accompanied by live music by local composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per person to defray expenses.

An Italian immigrant who arrived penniless at Ellis Island in 1913, Valentino rose to superstar status in a series of silent pictures that inflamed the passions of female movie-goers from coast to coast and around the world.

But he was more than a pretty face—during his career, critics praised Valentino as a versatile actor capable of playing a variety of roles; his achievements included popularizing the Argentinian tango in the 1921 drama ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’

‘The Eagle’ was Valentino’s next-to-last film, released the year before his unexpected death at age 31 from complications from peritonitis. Valentino’s death in August 1926 occurred at the height of his career, inspiring mourning across the globe and a day-long mob scene at the actor’s New York City funeral.

But Valentino’s brief stardom was defined by roles that brought a new level of exotic sexuality to the movies, causing a sensation at the time. In theaters, women openly swooned over Valentino’s on-screen image, especially in pictures such as ‘The Eagle,’ which featured foreign locales and elaborate costumes.

At its peak, Valentino’s popularity was so immense that it inspired a backlash among many male movie-goers, who decried Valentino’s elegant image and mannerisms as effeminate.

Valentino’s sudden death fueled his status as a legendary romantic icon of the cinema. For years, a mysterious woman dressed in black would visit his grave at the Hollywood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving only a single red rose.

Valentino was aware of his effect on audiences, saying that “Women are not in love with me, but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas upon which the women paint their dreams.”

‘The Eagle’ is the latest in the Town Hall Theatre’s series of monthly silent film screenings with live music. The series aims to recreate the lost magic of early cinema by bringing together the elements needed for silent film to be seen at its best: superior films in best available prints; projection on the big screen; live musical accompaniment; and an audience.

“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Jeff Rapsis, the accompanist for the screenings. “There’s a reason people first fell in love with the movies, and we hope to recreate that spirit. At their best, silent films were communal experiences in which the presence of a large audience intensifies everyone’s reactions.”

Live music is a key element of each silent film screening, Rapsis said. Silent movies were never shown in silence but were accompanied by live music made right in each theater. Most films were not released with official scores, so it was up to local musicians to provide the soundtrack, which could vary greatly from theater to theater.

“Because there’s no set soundtrack for most silent films, musicians are free to create new music as they see fit, even today,” Rapsis said. “In bringing a film to life, I try to create original ‘movie score’ music that sounds like what you might expect in a theater today, which helps bridge the gap between today’s audiences and silent films that are in some cases nearly 100 years old.”

For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes he creates 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.

‘The Eagle’ will be shown on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton. Admission is free; a donation of $5 per person is suggested to help defray expenses. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456. For more information about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Upcoming features in the Town Hall Theater’s silent film series include:

• Sunday, March 24, 2019, 4:30 p.m.: “Seven Chances” (1925) starring Buster Keaton. In this 1925 farce, Buster is about to be saved from bankruptcy by an unexpected inheritance of $7 million—but only if he gets married by 7 p.m. that very day. One of Keaton’s best comedies, climaxed by one of the great chase scenes in all film, silent or otherwise.


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