Saturday, December 30, 2006
Played for Peter Pan (1924) at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY (Long Island) today at noon. The show was well-attended, lots of families as well as classic film fans. I return to the CAC on Thurs Feb 22 for Keaton's Our Hospitality (1924). A nice theater, with a great cafe and really wonderful community support. It's been around for about 30 years, started by Vic Skolnick and Charlotte Sky, and still run by them and their son Dylan. Print was in 35mm from Kino; I brought a tray of silent era glass slide repro's from Silent Cinema's collection. Piano is a Kawai upright, which was in good shape. It's always nice to play an upright and not be thinking about what regulating work the action needs during the show...
Played for two shows of Thomas Ince films at MoMA yesterday (12/29) in the new Celeste Bartos Theater, in the museum's new education wing. Brought my own keyboard (Kurzweil PC2) as there is no instrument in that theater. Will be doing so for a program on Sat Jan 13 at 2pm in the series Watch This!: Films for Tweens. Worked with Liz Margulies of MoMA's Ford Family Programs on picking the films for the three tweens shows (1/13, 2/3 and 3/17). The January show will be CC's The Cure, Keaton's One Week, and Lloyd's Safety Last. The theater's really nice, intimate, sort of a smaller edition of Titus 2 (it seats about 100).
Did some recording earlier in the month for Kino. All shorts which will be extras on a DVD of baseball features coming out in 2007. Scored the shorts on both piano and Miditzer. That'll be two Kino releases with scores by me next year (the other release being a Houdini set, with my digital orchestral score for Haldane of the Secret Service).
Hopefully, 2007 will also see the release of the infamous Charley Chase set from Milestone, and a DVD from Unknown Video of a score I did on Miditzer for What Happened to Rosa with Mabel Normand. Have got a project in the hopper with Reelclassic as well.
It's been a great year -- played more shows and found more new venues than last year, plus the success of the Arbuckle retrospective at MoMA, which I co-organized. Looking forward to more fun in the world of silent film exhibition in the new year!
Saturday, November 25, 2006
The day before and the day after I played at Grace Church...Thursday at Grace Church in Jersey City and Sat at Grace Church in White Plains. NJ was DVD projection of Langdon's The Strong Man, and White Plains (for their Downtown Music series) was 16mm projection by Bruce Lawton, who programmed and introduced four Roach shorts: The Finishing Touch, Pass the Gravy, Limousine Love, and Saturday's Lesson. The odd thing about this show, as was the case when Bruce and I did King of Kings there in March, was that Bruce was set up in the organ loft, right behind me. It's the only time I've played a show...from the booth. Since I was facing away from the screen I used my wireless video baby monitor set-up.
Am now finishing up revisions on my orchestral score for Chaplin's The Adventurer to send off to the Boise Philharmonic; their youth symphony will perform it in Feb '07. Also have a few scores to record for a new Kino DVD set.
Shows coming up: "The Immigrant" and "The Crowd" (twice each) for AMMI education groups, the Silent Clowns "Keaton Stunts" show. More things for 2007 being booked each week, so stay tuned...
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Sat Oct 28, NYC – Bruce Lawton and I did a program of "spooky silents" for the Turtle Bay Music School. Bruce programmed The Red Spectre (an early Pathé trick film), Felix the Cat in Sure-Locked Holmes, a Tyler Brooke-Jimmy Finlayson two-reeler, and L&H in Habeus Corpus. Program went well, the room was packed with kids and parents; the program was part of the TBMS's day-long open house events. We'd done a program for them in Oct of 2005, a bunch of music-themed shorts (since it's a music school) -- Langdon in Fiddlesticks, L&H in You're Darn Tootin', and a couple of others I'm not remembering right now. That's Bruce and his projectors on the right.
Mon Oct 30, Great Barrington, MA – Simon's Rock College. Did a show of Nosferatu at Simon's Rock for Larry Burke and the college's student film society in their relatively new film building/theater. Used the Miditzer for this one, and oh man did it sound great. Biggest sound system I've used it with so far. First time I used Miditzer in a theater where, when I hit one of the pedals, I felt the bass. After warming up for a while, a teacher came in and asked if we could turn it down a little. That's when I knew we had the right sound. Show went really well, and the students loved the film. A couple of seniors – senior citizens, I mean – came up to me afterward and told me how thrilled they were to hear the theatre organ sound, and how it brought back memories of going to the movies in the 30's.
Weds Nov 1 and Fri Nov 3 - Astoria, NY – did another couple of Immigrant shows at AMMI. One show was a big group of 5th graders. Best age group for that picture.
Fri Nov 3 – Walter Reade Theater, NYC – ahhh...at long last, the Mabel Normand show at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This showing of the newly discovered and restored (by the AFI) lost Normand feature Head Over Heels (1920/22) was a year-and-a-half in the making. Had first pitched this to FilmLinc before Slaptsicon 2005 when the film was having it's "re-premiere". We had a great turnout and FilmLinc folk were pleased. A number of the recent "Golden Silents" programs had not done well, and so we were happy with the turnout. Steve Massa did the film intro and I accompanied on Miditzer. Another opportunity for NYC classic film fans to hear the theatre organ sound, and it was a big hit. Program itself was good, and well-rounded; Steve and I filled out the show (HOH is only around 55 mins) with the newly preserved (again, the AFI) Mabel's Dramatic Career (1913), which had 3-4 mins more ftg than the version we've all seen, plus F&M's Simple Life (1915) and Should Men Walk Home? (1927) co-starring Creighton Hale, the latter two titles being good 16mm's from Bruce Lawton's collection. It was interesting seeing Mabel in the F&M short in the context of a Mabel program, where you're watching her more closely, after watching this a few times in the context of an Arbuckle series.
Mon Nov 6 – NYC – Silent Clowns program at the Museum of the City of NY, presenting Louise Brooks' 1926 Love 'em and Leave 'em, to celebrate the Louise Brooks centennial (Nov 14th). Small but enthusiastic crowd.
Tues Nov 7 – AMMI, Astoria, NY – back at AMMI for another Immigrant. This time the audience was all music teachers, K-12, all from the same school district. Inadvertently wound up taking over the discussion as all questions were directed to me. Plugged the fact that I go to schools, and that I had written orchestral scores for two Chaplin shorts and two Keaton shorts which, while appropriate for a regular orchestra, could easily be accomplished by a decent high school orchestra.
Thurs Nov 9 – Goethe House, NYC – presented and played for a pair of Vitagraph shorts at the Gala for the 60th anniversary of the New York Film & Video Council. Had attended an event they'd held at Kodak in the spring where there was a lecture on the history of the magic lantern, and then over the summer the NYFVC president (and his wife) turned up at a show I did at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington. Wanted to show something related to indie NY filmmaking, and immediately thought of the Vitagraph shorts A Vitagraph Romance and the hilarious Goodness Gracious: or Movies As They Shouldn't Be. Got the prints in 16mm from MoMA's Circulating Film Collection. As it turned out one of the people being honored that night was Bill Sloan who, in the 1950's started the Donnell Library's Film Collection and then moved to MoMA and started their Circulating Library. The films went over really well, and GG killed.
Fri Nov 10 - MoMA, NYC - played for a program of John Bunny shorts, part of a series showcasing Vitagraph product organized by Charles Silver (who gave me my first paying job as an accompanist in 1981, playing for a class he was teaching at Bridgeport Univ.). Picked running speeds for the shorts (they'd not been assigned any) and after the show, consulted with comrades Steve Massa and Rob Arkus who were there to revise any that seemed not quite right. Had actually been asked to play for the opening night of the V series on 11/9 but had already been booked for the NYFVC event and, ironically was showing the same films.
Sun Nov 12 – Silent Clowns, NYC – our annual "Forgotten Clowns" show programmed by Steve Massa, using films from the collection of Dave Stevenson. A great program, although not as well-attended as usual. We're not getting listed in TimeOut NY this fall for some reason, and we're usually always listed; the TONY listings always bring us 15-25 walk-ups (or more). Grrr...
Coming up next: more Vitagraphs at MoMA, shows at two different Grace Churches, and Sherlock Jr. at the dedication of Wesleyan's new theater.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
October 22 - NYC - accompanied Phantom of the Opera on the mighty Miditzer theatre organ. Print was actually a composite of a few prints in 16mm (we can only do 16mm at the SCFS but Bruce (Lawton) makes 16mm look good. Miditzer set-up was pretty straightforward and quick, as always, with the laptop running into XLR inputs (panned L and R for stereo) in the stage. The instrument, while not as ornate or impressive-looking as the rented Allen, sounds way more like a real Wurli. [Allen's more recent organs do sound like the real thing, but those models generally are not the ones available for rentals. I've played their 2-manual C19 for a few shows, and it sounds great.] Not exactly a huge throng (we got squeezed out of being listed...it's all a matter of space in a mag like TimeOut), but the people who came had a great time and really liked the theatre organ sound. Wish I could use the Miditzer for more shows.
Other shows that've happened in the last 10 days, were a couple education programs at AMMI of CC's The Immigrant, and the opening program of MoMA's "Friday Night at the Movies", a weekly series for high school students. The kids get free pizza and a movie, plus a 'student' pass to get into MoMA for a year.
Coming up in the next coupla weeks...spooky silent comedy shorts at the Turtle Bay Music School (Bruce and I have been hired to do a 1-hour show as part of their day-long open house), a Nosferatu show (on Miditzer) at Simon's Rock College (Great Barrington, MA), a few more AMMI Immigrant programs, and a show (on Miditzer) of the recently discovered and preserved "lost" Mabel Normand feature Head Over Heels at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Am in the midst of composing/recording a score for Haldane of the Secret Service (1923), starring Harry Houdini (also prod/dir). It's a straight detective melodrama, and not a pair of 'cuffs in the whole 6 reels. Am using a chamber orch sound (strings, with occasional solos by reed or horn) with my Kurz+pedals, so it's taking longer than a solo piano score. This seemed the right choice to support the picture, as its drama is all in the titles, plus the film was transferred too slow (IMHO), looks like about 18 or 19 fps. Also, was just contacted by Kino for another project; more on that in a future posting.
Silent Clowns got off to a start on its 10th season last Sunday. A great show, the highlight of which for me was Steve Massa's excellent live recreation of Winsor McKay's Gertie the Dinosaur vaudeville act. We may get to perform it for a vaudeville night in NJ in Dec; stay tuned...
Here you see me and Phil Carli (that's Dr. Philip C. Carli, to you) in front of the Lions Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, OH. We were the accompanists for the Fall Cinesation this year (9/27-10/1). Phil's been playing for them for years, and this was my first year. A great fest, almost all films screened were brand new (some wet from the lab!) restorations by GEH and LOC.
Just before going, I had a double-header of university shows. Pratt College in the morning, playing (piano) for DeMille's The Cheat in a nice tinted 16mm print. Course is taught by Elena Rossi Snook, head archivist at the Donnell Media Center; print also came from there. That save evening, I played (organ) for Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu on DVD at Vassar College for their cinema studies classes. Was supposed to do this show on Miditzer, but their new state-of-the-art theater couldn't accomodate running audio from my laptop into their house sound system. Luckily, the NYTOS chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society had just purchased a 3-manual Allen, and the instrument resides in Poughkeepsie (where Vassar is). Also a board member of NYTOS works at Vassar, so *poof* we had a physical theatre organ for the show. Did not sound as authentic as the Miditzer, but we had the ornate-piece-of-furniture aspect going for us, and a dozen or so students came up and asked questions about the instrument after the show. Am still not impressed with video projection; blowing up a DVD image still looks like a 16mm dupe.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
9/17 - BROOKLYN, NY - Did my talk on silent film comedian's adapting their performance work to motion pictures at the NY Clown Theater Festival. Program was well-attended and enthusiastic. Showed Hamilton, Keaton, Langdon and Lupino Lane. Showed, as a more contemporary example, the Kovacs Nairobi Trio; had also hoped to include the Pierre Etaix Happy Anniversary but ran out of time.
9/18, 21 & 22 - MoMA - NYC - accompanied the Negri films Madame DuBarry and Woman of the World. Prints were 35mm, from MoMA's collection, and were good. We ran DuBarry at 24fps because it had to fit the schedule and it actually looks alright at that speed, although ideally 22 or 21 would be the way to go. Woman seemed a tad slow (Chester C's business didn't get the laughs it should have); not sure what speed we were running at but it looked like 22-ish. Will request 24 at the repeat Monday if I can. But--
Biggest MoMA news is that MoMA had Steinway completely rebuild the action of the piano in the Titus 2 theater (the one with the chrome legs), something I had been asking about for quite some time; the instrument is a delight to play now.
9/23 - SAG HARBOR, NY - a gig on this date in another theater had been cancelled a few weeks ago (due to that venue's financial challenges) opened my calendar up for an unexpected booking at the Bay Street Theater for the same night. Bay Street had been interested in doing silents for a while at their classic film series, and this show of SBJ was a success. Stay tuned for future dates at this beautiful theater out in the Hamptons.
Coming next post -- NYTOS to the rescue at Vassar, the Fall Cinesation, and more...
Friday, September 15, 2006
- ReelclassicDVD's release of Paths to Paradise with Raymond Griffith (and my piano score) is now available
- I've been hired to record a score for a new release from Kino. What is it? Can't tell ya just yet, but it's a very interesting multi-disc project.
- Have booked a handful of education programs at AMMI (at which schoolchildren touring the museum are also shown The Immigrant with live piano accompaniment).
- A 9/23 show of Tramp Tramp Tramp in Bellport (Long Island) that fell through suddenly has been just as suddenly replaced with a show on that date at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater (also Long Island, but further out, near Hamptons); film is TBA but will probably be either SL or SBJ.
- An article I wrote for Theatre Organ magazine has been published; it's in the July/Aug issue that's just arrived in subscriber's mailboxes.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Photo at right was published in the Tromsø newspaper; we had a special screening of THE COOK for some kindergarten kids and press folk. So that's I look like during a show...sheesh!
Saturday's two shows (for me) were a Fy & By comedy from Denmark, Vester Vov-vov(1927). F&B were the L&H of Scandinavia and had a long-running string of hit films throughout the 1920's; also known as Pat und Patachon. Their films were shown on TV during the '50s and '60s, and there is a 7 vol box set of their movies available from Germany's Kinowelt label. The film was a gorgeous print with original tints (amber, blue) from the Danish Film Archive. It was explained during the intro that many of the F&B films had alliterative titles (like several of the Jerry Lewis films) that were plays on words. In this case, the film took place on the northern shores which are called Vesterhov (or wester waves), and "vov vov" is the Danish equivalent of "bow-wow". The balance of footage between the comedians and the main plot is just right. The supporting cast is made of top notch stars (the villain even resembles Vernon Dent!), and not the sort of 3rd or 4th tier contract players often tacked on to a comedy duo. The film played really well, and it was great to see.
The second program I played for was "Frosty Celluloid" which was about 3 hours (with an intermission) of travelogues and arctic Nanook-type actuality footage from Iceland, Finland and Norway. These were all films of an historic importance, in terms of preservation and being shown, but not nearly as entertaining as Fy & By. Each half of the program ended with a short, non-Scandinavian film. Part one ended with a beautiful color Edison Three American Beauties and part two ended with an unidentified trick film fragment which they referred to as Moondance (although that's not its real title). We all agreed it looked like a French Pathé. Perhaps Monsieur Bromberg...?
Sunday was a day of familiar material, and lots of fun. A matinee of THE COOK, GET OUT AND GET UNDER, RECKLESS ROMEO and THE PAWNSHOP. Unfortunately the Chaplin short had no intertitles and didn't play as well as it could have. The Lloyd short had tints and was titled "THE MASKED PRINCE" (because of the theater wrap-around story); I'm sure no one over there knows the song title anyway. There were several kids in the audience and, as expected, the Arbuckle shorts went over big time. That evening there were the Keaton features "S Jr." and "The General" which went over very well; it was many people's first exposure to BK, certainly in a theatrical setting. I helped introduce the films and answered some questions following.
Looking forward to next year's "Stumfilmdager in Tromsø"...!
Friday, September 08, 2006
The really big deal for me today, however, was that I got to see the only existing fragment of Fatty and the Broadway Stars (1915). It's a piece of film about 310 ft that turned up here in the Nationalbiblioteket earlier this year and wasn't in any condition for us to include in the MoMA series, but I got to look at what they've preserved so far. The film is tinted amber, with one intertitle (in Danish/Norwegian, but with the original Triangle-Keystone borders) tinted sort of a cyan. The footage is completely out of order, but after screening it a few times, it began to make some sense. I spotted many Keystone regulars in the cast, plus Sennett himself plays a role in the story. This footage has not been shown publicly, and the screening I was at was arranged for me, since I "happened to be in the neighborhood". Will post more details another time.
One of the fun "extras" (if you will) at the festival is that each show is opened with a preserved theatrical commercial, all of which so far have been for cigarettes or tobacco. Tonight's was animated.
Tomorrow morning I will look at a DVD of the Fy & By (Pat &amp; Patachon) film; apparently there are several DVD's of their films available from a German label and these had been ordered by the festival.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
At noon, a handful of kindergarteners were brought in to see a short, with press in attendance to interview them. Originally slated was THE PAWNSHOP, but I thought it might be too complicated for that age group and we switched to THE COOK. Which worked out great, as the kids turned out to be 3 and 4 years old. But they sat still and very attentive throughout the screening and had a good time. I saw the kid interviews (and footage of me playing) on the local TV channel later on in the afternoon.
Tonight was opening night (apningen) and the film was LAILA (1929), made in Norway and shown in a brand new restored print done by the Norwegian Film Institute. A beautiful score by local musician Herborg Rundberg that included same Sami folk melodies, very effective; she did a great job. What was unique about the print is that the restoration had been done digitally...including the speed correction, which meant that the print could be shown at 24fps even though the transfer had been done at 16fps (yes, that's right, a 1929 silent transferred at 16fps). What this will mean is that more cinemas can show the film, as a variable-speed projector would not be necessary. 16fps looked okay, although a little faster would've helped some of the dramatic scenes that looked a little slower than real-time.
Bottom line, though, is that LAILA is a beautiful film, and its cinematography and scenery are breathtaking. The acting and direction is quite good, and I hope this one gets shown elsewhere. I will be recommending this title to curators.
Well, off to bed. Tomorrow I play for another school group in the morning, and then a special silent comedy surprise rarity I can't mention here until it's happened.
Friday, September 01, 2006
This is a great theater, and it's really well run. Chuck Fox is an upbeat, organized and driven guy, and manages to hold community-draw events as well as the regular first-run fare. Theater is owned by Colgate. The Hamilton's projectionist Henry not only knew what full aperture silent was, but scrounged around the theater and found the right lenses and plates. This was my 4th show there - I play there every year in August - and we had a nearly full house. A lot of repeats and a lot of people who'd heard about last year's show of SAFETY LAST. Even had some local car collectors park their vintage '20s autos in front of the theater. Must upload photo of newly restored marquee for ya sometime...
WAITSFIELD, VT - August 18 - accompanied the Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at the Bundy Center for the Performing Arts. Used the Bundy's phenomenal grand piano, projected in 16mm by my wife and daughter. Used a pair of Elmo 16-CL's, which are fitted with 2-blade shutters for nice bright image. Second year at this venue, operated by Piero and Andrea Bonamico. They are an enthusiastic and entrepreneurial couple, who are also performers themselves. A straight shot up VT's Route 100 alongside the eastern border of the national forest, a beautiful drive. A great show, and really appreciative audience. Met yet another person whose relative played piano during the silent era. Wasn't able to get the Kurz 2500 programmed right for Mtz, was in over my head on this one. Piano worked out great, though, as their instrument is fantastic, both tuning and regulation.
MANCHESTER CTR, VT - August 20 - accompanied Keaton's THE GENERAL at the Village Picture Shows theater. Third year there, and we had a great crowd, around 80 people, an increase from last year. Again, projected by my better two-thirds on the bright CL's. Had re-created and re-shot the film's main and end titles myself. Created titles in photoshop, printed onto transparency film, placed on home-made lightbox and shot with a Canon Scoopic donated to Silent Cinema Pres., Inc. (my non-profit). Looked like they were from the original, wood-grain and all. Theater owner Shelly Gibson and her husband and their staff are a treat to work with/for; one of the few cinemas in VT that shows both first-run and indie films. Accompanied film on a borrowed Yamaha Clavinova. Probably one of the more uncomfortable "weighted-keys" digital piano actions I've used; felt like I was kneading dough. Had hoped to be able to use Miditzer with this, but this particular model does not allow keyboard split required for my Mtz setup. Still, the piano sound was great, quite authentic, and the audience really loved Buster and the film.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Welcome to the silent film music blog. I've been accompanying silent movies for over 25 years, and perform in NYC and travel for shows as well. I'll post here from time to time with tales of road shows, audience reactions, and news about theaters, restorations, and more.