Oct. 5: Catch the epic 1927 silent film ‘Wings’ at the Rex Theatre set to live music

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A vintage poster promoting ‘Wings’ (1927), the silent World War I drama that won Best Picture at the first-ever Academy Awards.

MANCHESTER, NH — It won ‘Best Picture’ at the very first Academy Awards, with spectacular midair flying sequences and a dramatic story that still mesmerizes audiences today.

‘Wings’ (1927), a drama about U.S. pilots in the skies over Europe during World War I, will be shown on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

The screening, part of the Rex Theatre’s “Movies for a Cause” program, will benefit the non-profit Aviation Museum of NH and the Rex Theatre.

Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person, general admission.

The screening will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.

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Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Clara Bow, and Richard Arlen in a scene from ‘Wings’ (1927), the silent World War I drama that won Best Picture at the first-ever Academy Awards.

The show will allow audiences to experience ‘Wings’ the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.

‘Wings,’ a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. ‘Wings’ stunned audiences with aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and a dramatic love-triangle plot.

‘Wings’ stars Clara Bow, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, and Richard Arlen. The rarely-seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, ‘Wings’ was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography, and technical innovations.

‘Wings’ is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy ‘Wings’ as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.

Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was underway in Europe a century ago.

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Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Clara Bow in a scene from ‘Wings’ (1927), the silent World War I drama that won Best Picture at the first-ever Academy Awards.

” ‘Wings’ is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured,” accompanist Jeff Rapsis said.

“It’s a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one’s country a century ago.”

Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for ‘Wings’ on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theatre organ and orchestral textures.

“Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience,” Rapsis said. “At the time, most films weren’t released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film’s impact. That’s what I try to recreate,” Rapsis said.

Rapsis is executive director of the Aviation Museum of N.H., which is co-sponsoring the screening.
‘Wings’ will be followed on Wednesday, Oct. 6 with “The McConnell Story” (1955), a Warner Bros. dramatization of the life and career of N.H. native Joseph C. McConnell, a U.S. Air Force pilot who became the top American ace during the Korean War.
‘Wings’ runs about 2½ hours. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.

Wings’ (1927) starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen will be shown with live music on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, N.H.

Tickets $12 adults, general admission. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.palacetheatre.org or call (603) 668-5588. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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