Wednesday, March 28, 2007

avante garde films at NYU, my alma mater

Played for a film history (a/k/a "cinema studies") class at NYU, where it all started for me. Teacher was Antonia Lant, and I've played for her class once a year for the last few years. Hadn't played at NYU since '85 or '86, and then Antonia turned up at one of my Silent Clowns shows a few years ago. This year, the program was avante garde silents, as it was last year. A fun bunch of films -- and a nice break after comedies and Christ. Played for The Smiling Madame Beaudet, the first 10 mins of Berlin: Symphony of a City, Paris Qui D'ort and Un Chien Andelous. For the Buñuel I approximated his original score, playing a tango and the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, alternating between the two when it seemed appropriate (or not, in the spirit of Dada). The students had a lot of great questions and, as usual, none of them had ever heard of a theatre organ. One of them came up to me to introduce himself; he was a transfer from Simon's Rock College, and was the student who spearheaded the movement to have me come up and play for Nosferatu there last fall, but had switched to NYU before I got there. A nice connection.

Will be a guest on the Leonard Lopate radio program on WNYC FM on Friday. This is my 2nd appearance on the program, having been on last March to promote the Arbuckle retrospective at MoMA. This time I'm on, along with Kino's Jessica Rosner, to promote the new Reel Baseball DVD set, which JR produced. [Will post a link to the podcast for this next week.]

Will just have enough time to catch my breath before doing a show Sun April 1 at the Jacob Burns Film Center -- comedy shorts from the Hal Roach studios -- this time with Bruce Lawton
. Should be a fun program. We do one of these for the Burns every year and we always get a great turnout...often selling out before showtime.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

DeMille's "King of Kings", Keaton, and "Pandora's Box"

Photo at the right is the beautiful console of the organ at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, which I had the great fortune to play in accompaniment to DeMille's 1927 epic King of Kings on Fri March 23. The organ is a 4/83 Moller, and was restored in 2000. A magnificent instrument in a glorious space (8-second reverb!). The Paulisten horn stop was reserved for the big earthquake. I enjoyed using the Nave ranks in conjunction or counterpoint to the rest of the ranks -- a nice "3-D" surround effect. We had a big crowd, a couple hundred people, who really enjoyed the film and were really moved by it. There's nothing like running this picture in a church during lenten season with the score played on a big pipe organ for maximum emotional impact.

And where was I two days earlier? At the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY (Long Island) playing for the new 35mm print of G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks. They had a great turnout for this show -- especially for suburban Long Island on a weeknight. A real enthustastic crowd, as it always is at the CAC. Next up is Harold Lloyd's Safety Last on April 17 and then in May we'll do Ozu's I Was Born, But... which I remembered fondly from playing for it at MoMA in 2000.

Today at the Silent Clowns it was Buster Keaton's masterpiece The General. A lot of new faces in the audience, and a bunch of kids we'd not seen before as well as some of our under-12 stalwarts and their parents.

Will be on the radio again this Friday, to help promote Kino Video's Reel Baseball DVD set, and will post a link to the segment after it airs.

Have now figured out a way to make the Miditzer a little more portable. Will be using it for 4 William S. Hart films last weekend of April at AMMI/MOMI (the Museum of the Moving Image) where I have yet another Immigrant show on Friday. Am mulling over whether or not to bring it in to MoMA in 2 weeks when I am slated to play for Jubilo with Will Rogers. It's a Friday night show (which means a mix of cinephiles and "Target Free Fridays" patrons), and might be a nice opportunity give the audience a taste of the theatre organ.

Have also now gotten my marching orders for MoMA's annual film preservation fest To Save and Project. Will be using the Miditzer on several of these (basically the films made 1920 onward), and their Steinway grand for the others. Will be adding these dates to my performance schedule on later this week.

This Tuesday will find me behind my Yamaha digital keyboard at NYU (my alma mater) playing for a slew of avant garde silents at Antonia Lant's film history class. Thirteen shows in one month. *whew*

Thursday, March 15, 2007

on the radio in Owego

Did a live radio interview on WEBO yesterday morning around 8:15am to promote the Ti-Ahwaga showing of The General on Fri 3/16 (tom'w). The station (1330AM) is a sponsor of the film series, and will be re-running parts of the interview throughout the day or two leading up to the show. Here it is, for your listening pleasure:

Hope to have pics (as well as a report) after the show.

Monday, March 12, 2007

scoring Porter (Edwin S., that is)

Have just recorded three scores for an upcoming DVD release by Kino. The films, all shorts directed by Edwin S. Porter for the Thomas Edison Co., are to be extras for the main feature, a doc on Porter's work. So, here are three more Edison shorts you can add to your collection which are not on the 4-disc set Kino put out a year ago.

Two of the shorts were pretty straightforward, but Porter's Life of a Cowboy was a bit more of a challenge. The film is listed on IMDB as being one reel with a running time of 13 mins, but this edition was perhaps run slower and comes in at a little more than 16 mins. Don't get me wrong...I'm not usually a fan of slowing film down to 14 or 16 fps, but this short -- all long takes and wide shots -- needs it to work and for the action to register. I had to watch the film twice, before diving in, because it was hard to follow (on a TV set). This is one of those cases where the best thing to do to help the audience is to take a good look and see where the drama is occuring in the frame and play to that mood, so the audience will know where to look and will know what the story point is.

I've scanned the four post-its I jotted info down on; the numbers you see refer to timecode superimposed on the image (click on the image at the left to see this full-size). I recorded the film in several pieces, one segment for each filmed segment or shot (there's no intercutting or close or medium shots), much like a series of theatrical tableaus might be (I think these were referred to as "tab" shows during the days of vaudeville). Having the timecode numbers helped me know where to wrap up a piece or create a segue before the segment ended. I really had to watch the film carefully to see who were the good guys and who were the bad guys; there's a group of people who come into the saloon at the beginning who appear to be part of the story but leave after a few minutes and are never seen again. There are no titles (in this print) explaining who everyone is and who they are to each other, so the music and its moods have help telegraph that.

* * * * *

Have now booked another silent in Huntington -- Lloyd's Safety Last -- for April. Now need to get my head and music together for a show of DeMille's King of Kings at the church of St. Paul the Apostle in NYC (near Lincoln Ctr), which I'll accompany on the church's restored 4/82 Moller pipe organ next week.

If you've tried to post here and have been unsuccessful, send me an e-mail via my profile (or use so I know and can try to fix this.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Warning Shadows at MoMA, plus Immigrant x3

In the last week I've played three Immigrant shows for school groups at AMMI out in Astoria. Shows went well, and I got a refresher in how to play for this film at 21fps; hadn't played for it there in a while, as I usually request it at 24fps. It depends on who's in the booth. I've done it so many times I've found a way to play for it at the slower speed so it works a little better. The Immigrant, because Charlie (and just about everyone else in the film) is either standing or sitting throughout the film, plays better at 24; this isn't just my taste or being fussy, but my listening to the audience and hearing the laughs and how strong they are or not, 4 or 5 times a month for the last 3 years.

This afternoon (4:30) I played for Schatten (or Warning Shadows) at MoMA. Gorgeous 35mm print, this was the recent restoration. They have really only had one or two silents a month for a while now (I'll be playing for Jubilo with Will Rogers there in April), but this will pick up in May when their annual film preservation fest happens. Schatten was a nice change of pace; German expressionist films often are, and you can really go places musically that you don't usually get to. There are chords, transitions and harmonies you can't get away with in a more straight-ahead type of drama, and so it's fun to be able to use these.

Have been contacted by Kino about more scoring for DVD, a release set for sometime this year. More info when it's all signed off on and recorded. Reel Baseball from Kino comes out in April and has scores by me on Miditzer theatre organ on Felix Saves the Day (cartoon), Happy Days (Weiss Bros. kids short), and 17 mins of the Edison feature One Touch of Nature (1917) and on piano for Hearts and Diamonds with John Bunny, How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game and Casey at the Bat (both early Edison short shorts).

ReelclassicDVD's second Our Gang disc is ready for release, 5 shorts with Miditzer scores. This should be released sometime next week. I've gotten a copy of the disc and it looks and sounds pretty good.

Have now booked a show for April at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY -- will be doing Lloyd's Safety Last (1923) in 35mm there, after doing Pandora's Box for them on 3/21.

March is a busy month, with about a dozen shows, plus this DVD scoring I have to turn around. Best of all, the Silent Clowns series starts this Sunday. We should have a good crowd. See you there!