Sunday, September 24, 2006

Circus clowns, Pola Negri and Sag Harbor

Spent the week giving a talk to clowns, playing for MoMA's Pola Negri series, and "christened" a new venue out in Sag Harbor (L.I.).

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

more fall shows booked, plus DVD score news for Kino and RCDVD

Have only been back in town for a few days, and already a number of things are percolating:
  • 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.
There's other stuff going on, but too early to post anything here.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tromsø - Saturday/Sunday Sept 9 & 10

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

Tromso - Friday Sept 8

Today at 10am I played for THE COOK to a group of around 100 fifth graders...who screamed with laughter and just loved the whole experience. Tonight were screenings of Terge Vigen (star/dir Victor Sjostrom) in a new print with tints and original intertitles, and Haxan (a/k/a Witchcraft Through the Ages) in a stunning restoration, also with tints. I had played for TV at MoMA a few years ago when they had a Sjostrom series, and this new edition with tinting was very effective, and the image quality was a major upgrade from earlier editions. Am surprised Haxan isn't shown more as a Halloween film. Both programs tonight were accompanied by Matti Bye (pron. BEE-yeh) and the Panoptikon Orchestra, from Sweden.

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 & 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

Tromso, Norway - Thurs Sept 7

This morning I played to a near-full house of teenagers -- a Buster Keaton program., at 9am no less. The kids, who had never seen a silent film before, loved it.

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

August - Hamilton NY, Manchester VT, Waitsfield VT

HAMILTON, NY - August 13 - Played for Harold Lloyd's GIRL SHY on at the historic Hamilton Theater (near Colgate). Print was a beautiful 35mm from Sony, the edition restored by the UCLA Film & TV archive. Accompanied the film on the Mighty Miditzer virtual theatre organ. Sound was awesone. For all 3 August shows, I brought my keyboard stand (the "W" type from Quik-Lok) and midi pedals plus laptop and hoped to use keyboard owned by each theater. At the Hamilton, this worked, was a Yamaha PSR-DGxx 76-key model. Found the manual online and programmed a split that worked like my own DGX-320.

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.