Literature and early silent film had portrayed war as brave and honorable, almost romantic. Until Rex Ingram’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” showed audiences another perspective.
In honor of those who’ve served in the military, The Colonial Theatre’s SHOWROOM on Commercial Street in Keene is hosting a screening of the 1921 silent film—one of the largest-grossing of the era— on Veterans Day, November 11.
The two-and-a-half-hour multi-generational family saga is based on the 1916 Spanish novel of the same name by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.
The film stars Rudolph Valento, then a little-known actor. It turned him into a superstar, and it inspired a tango craze.
It tells the story of an extended Argentine family with mixed ethnic background: one side is German, while the other is French. The family gets drawn into World War I in far-off Europe, with members ending up on opposing sides. With brothers pitted against one another on the battlefield, the destruction of war changes lives forever.
More than $1 million was spent in making it and more than 12,000 people were involved. The film was hugely successful at the box office, grossing nearly $5 million during its initial run, an enormous sum at the time.
In 1995, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
It’s also among the first U.S. feature films to make full use of the unlimited visual power of the new motion picture medium, according to New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist, Jeff Rapsis, who will create music for the screening and perform it that evening.
“It was still early in the movies where people making movies hadn’t figured out all the possibilities of cinema,” he said. “It shows you the four horsemen starting their ride through the skies bringing pestilence, death and grief. (Ingram) was able to weave that into this film—otherwise a family saga—these wild fantasy sequences with snorting horses, fog and the grim reaper.”
Rapsis has traveled for about 20 years to performances (primarily in New England) with a digital keyboard that serves as his one-man orchestra for an average of 110 shows a year.
Rapsis will improvise live musical accompaniment during the show, using his keyboard to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other musical textures.
“There’s no official score—it’s different in every theater,” he said. “It’s about creating original music that helps films grab an audience 100 years later.”
He does use a traditional orchestral palette in his silent film scoring.
“The film itself is what it’s all about,” he said. “The music should support the movie. The biggest compliment I get from audiences is that they forgot I was performing the music live. It casts a spell so the experience of seeing the film is absorbing in a way the music contributes to it.”
“The Four Horsemen” was notable as one of the first major Hollywood productions to include World War I in its storyline, and in that it did not glorify the recent conflict or look past the tragedy that it brought.
“This film can show you a little of what that experience was like—it was a large part of humanity,” said Rapsis. “It allows us to honor the service of the people who came before us.”
The film was designed for the big screen with musical accompaniment, an entertainment phenomenon that hasn’t been experienced nearly as much since the start of the pandemic and the rise of movie streaming platforms.
“It can still reach across the decades—it can still pop in a way that can’t be done at home,” he said. “It’s designed to bring people together, and it’s a good way to do so today.”
“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” will be screened with live music on Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre’s SHOWROOM, 20 Commercial Street, Keene. Tickets are $13.50-$15 and must be purchased online at www.thecolonial.org; veterans admitted free. Veterans may walk up with ID at the door or reserve by calling the box office at 352-2033. Due to limited seating, only the attending veteran can be accommodated at no charge. Proof of vaccination or negative results of a COVID-19 PCR test administered within 72 hours are required for admittance to events at SHOWROOM. Also, masks are required to be worn at all times while at the venue. For more information, visit www.thecolonial.org. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com