A film that helped create Hollywood's love affair with the American West will continue this season's silent film programming, part of the Tambakos Film Series at the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College.
'The Winning of Barbara Worth' (1926), a silent drama starring Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, and Vilma Banky, will be shown on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.
Admission is free and the screening is open to the public. Live music will be provided by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New England-based performer who specializes in creating music for silent film presentations.
Directed by Henry King, 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' chronicles the epic story of pioneer settlers who dreamed of irrigating California's parched Imperial Valley in the early 20th century. Filmed on location in Nevada's Black Rock desert, the movie is noted for its extensive use of vast open spaces and wild scenery.
The story centers on a rivalry for the affections of Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), adopted daughter of a powerful rancher. A local cowboy (Gary Cooper) finds himself competing with a newly arrived engineer (Ronald Colman), who has come to the rural valley to work on plans to harness the Colorado River for irrigation.
Will the local ranch hand prevail over the city slicker engineer? Can citizens of the parched region prevail over nature and transform their lands into an agricultural paradise? Will rumors of shortcuts taken in constructing a massive dam lead to disaster?
All these questions combine to create a film that showed Hollywood and movie-goers the power of a drama set in the rural American west.
The film is also noted for its camerawork by Greg Toland, who would later go on to do principal photography for 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.
For 'The Winning of Barbara Worth,' Rapsis will improvise a score from original musical material that he composes beforehand, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound and texture of a full orchestra.
"What I try to do," Rapsis said, "is create music that bridges the gap between a film that might be 80 or 90 years old, and the musical expectations of today's audiences."
'The Winning of Barbara Worth' continues another season of silent films presented with live music at the Rogers. The series provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in good-looking prints, with live music, and with an audience.
“These films are still exciting experiences if you can show them as they were designed to be screened,” said Rapsis, 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.”
For each film, Rapsis improvises a music score using original themes he creates beforehand. None of the 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.
"If you haven't seen a silent film the way it was intended to be shown, then you're missing a unique experience," Rapsis said. "At their best, silent films can be surprisingly sophisticated. They still retain a tremendous ability to cast a spell, engage an audience, tap into elemental emotions, and provoke strong reactions."
If you go:
What: The 2016-17 Tambakos Film Series focuses on silent films with live musical accompaniment, Hollywood classics and foreign masterworks.
Next show: Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.; runs most Wednesday nights.
Where: Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, 315 North Turnpike St., North Andover, Mass.
For more information, call the Rogers box office at (978) 837-5355 or visit www.merrimack.edu/rogers.
Admission is free.
What else: The next masterpiece in the silent film series is "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), Danish director Carl Dreyer's intense recreation of the trial of Joan of Arc. 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' will screen on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
Between now and then, on Feb. 1 the crime thriller ‘The Grandmaster’ will be shown, followed by 'A Clockwork Orange,' 'Taxi Driver,' and 'Jules et Jim.'