BRATTLEBORO — A screening of "The Last Command," a groundbreaking 1928 silent drama, will take place with a live score at Epsilon Spires.
The rarely screened film won the first “Best Actor” Academy Award for the performance of Emil Jannings as a former Czarist general who is cast by a political adversary to play himself in a Hollywood film about the Russian Revolution. The event will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 19.
New Hampshire organist Jeff Rapsis will create a live musical score as the movie is shown, improvising on the venue's original Estey pipe organ, built in Brattleboro and installed in the building in 1906.
"Making up the music on the spot is kind of a high wire act," Rapsis said. "But there's nothing like the energy and excitement that comes with improvised live performance, especially when accompanying a silent film."
Rapsis first appeared at Epsilon Spires on New Year’s Day of 2022, accompanying a screening of the Swedish silent film masterpiece The Phantom Carriage.
“Jeff did an absolutely riveting live score for The Phantom Carriage, and inspired by our adventurous approach to programming, he suggested that we work together to screen another incredible, yet underseen, cinematic gem,” said Jamie Mohr, director of Epsilon Spires.
Epsilon Spires, a multimedia art space founded in 2019, is housed in a Victorian-era church in downtown Brattleboro that the organization bought and renovated, transforming the former church into a resplendent and spacious performance venue that has been ideal for social distancing during the pandemic.
"The Last Command," directed by Josef von Sternberg, explores shifting power dynamics and motivations during the Russian Revolution while offering a parallel critique of the Hollywood machine. The film follows the sweeping story of a powerful general in Czarist Russia forced to flee his homeland during the Bolshevik Revolution. He emigrates to America, where he is reduced to living in poverty.
Finding work as an extra at a Hollywood studio, the former general lands the part of a commanding officer in a movie about the Revolution, causing flashbacks to his traumatic experiences. The psychological conflict leads to a spectacular climax and a towering performance that earned the “Best Actor” Oscar for Jannings.
“This ‘film within a film’ is extremely meta and very surprising in what interlocking complexities emerge,” said Mohr, adding that “Jannings’ unforgettable portrayal of a man losing his grip on reality is one for the history books.”
Tickets for the event are $15 and can be purchased at the door or by visiting epsilonspires.org.