A technologically groundbreaking film celebrates its centennial

Epsilon Spires presents 'The Phantom Carriage' with live pipe organ score

BRATTLEBORO — Celebrate New Year's Day at Epsilon Spires with a screening of The Phantom Carriage on the 100th anniversary of the film's release, with a live score performed by on the 1906 Estey pipe organ.

Composer Jeff Rapsis, who is also a newspaper publisher and executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, has been playing live music to silent films since 2007. His style is largely improvisatory, incorporating compositional elements from the present as well as the past.

“I create music that you probably wouldn't have heard in the 1920s, but is more like a modern movie score,” he told The Boston Globe in a 2013 interview. “I think that helps bridge the gap between a film that's two, three, four generations old and what people expect when they go to a movie today, especially if they're new to silent film.”

The Phantom Carriage is based on the 1912 novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! by Selma Lagerlöf, who in 1909 became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The story follows David, a drunken rogue (played by the film's director, Victor Sjöström) as he is shown the error of his ways by a ghost doomed to collect the souls of the dead because he was the last person to die on New Year's Eve.

The ethereal special effects used in The Phantom Carriage were groundbreaking at the time, using multiple layers of double-exposed images to allow ghosts to appear in front of and behind other elements in the frame. These effects were all achieved in-camera during an era when film had to be hand-cranked at a precise speed during each take to render convincing movement.

Beyond the technical feats that distinguish The Phantom Carriage as one of the most significant films of early cinema, it has been influential in the works of directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick.

Bergman has said he watched The Phantom Carriage once a year from the age of 15, and he cast Sjöström in the leading role of Wild Strawberries, widely considered to be one of the director's best films.

The opportunity to see classics of early cinema as they were originally presented to audiences is still thrilling to Rapsis, who considers himself a lifelong fan of silent films.

“You get the film on the screen the way it's supposed to look, in a big theater with a big audience - and they come to life in ways that surprise even me after all these years of doing it,” he told the Globe. “This is why people first fell in love with the movies.”

This event begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 1. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at

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