Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peg O' My Heart (1922) with Laurette Taylor

Played for Peg O' My Heart at MoMA last night, and will play for its repeat on Thursday. Print is MoMA's, acquired from Filmoteca EspaƱola, Madrid. Titles were all in English, possibly made by the archive as part of their preservation work, as they looked newer than the film. The film is basically complete, with a number of jumps where I'm assuming footage is missing due to nitrate decomp. Laurette Taylor has a great deal of pancake make-up and has a follow spot on her face at all times, probably to help cover her age (she was 38, playing a teenager).

I played the infamous standard Peg O' My Heart, but just during the opening titles as the feel of the song doesn't match the film at all -- the film is very Irish (can only imagine what John Ford might have done with it, besides giving J. Warren Kerrigan a character part). MoMA's Ron Magliozzi, an expert on film-related sheet music (among other things) confirmed my hunch that the song was not part of the film. Following the stage play in 1912 which was a big hit, the song was written and published in 1913 and introduced in the Ziegfeld Follies; another edition of the sheet music was published in 1922 to promote the film.

Have now booked an additional 9 DW Griffith shows at MoMA concurrent with the Desmet series (July 1-10), making July's performance total a whopping 26.

See you at the silents!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) - MoMA 6/2

The 6pm show of The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), plus the 1975 Sunday, Too Far Away was introduced by Paolo Cherchi Usai, of the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia, the archive that restored these films. Paolo told of the efforts to preserve and find the pieces of the Kelly film, the first narrative feature (or one of the first). While pieces had turned up over the previous decades -- a few minutes here and a few minutes there -- nothing else had popped up until about a year ago. Another few minutes of footage turned up in a garbage can in Melbourne, were turned over to the archive and preserved, and they now had 17 minutes (at 18 fps) of the film. These were shown, with gaps between segments separated by black film. Picture quality of the surviving material was very good. Story was very simple, and footage showed multiple robberies by Ned Kelly and his gang in long single takes. There were a few original titles and some color tints, and the final section showed the capture of Kelly, who was wearing a man-in-the-iron-mask type helmet (also reminded me of Ralph Kramden as the man from Mars). Hopefully more and more pieces of this historic feature will materialize.

Played this one on piano.

Cabiria (1914) - MoMA, June 2

Cabiria, in a new preservation by Cineteca di Bologna, MoMA et al was screened with live theatre organ accompaniment by me. While the running time listed in the catalog was 180 mins, the picture ran closer to 2 hrs 20 mins at our show; same for the press screening I played for (NY Times) on piano the previous week. Am guessing the 3 hr running time is based on projecting the films at 16 fps. We ran it at 21 fps, I believe, which is about what the transfer rate was on the DVD from Kino. Speed looked fine. Major upgrades from what I saw on the Kino disc, which I used to preview the film, were color tints and some additional short pieces of footage which were of poorer quality but filled out gaps in certain shots. Effort was definitely made to make the added footage line up in registration with the footage it was filling out.

Even though the film was from 1914, before the days of theatre organs, I felt that this picture really needed a bigger sound than a solo piano. Crowd reaction to film, and to the organ sound, was enthusiastic.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

news: MoMA to add theatre organ to its silent film accompaniments

Well, it's happened. MoMA purchased all the necxessary hardware - keyboard, stand, organ pedals - for the Miditzer VTO (virtual theatre organ) this week. What this means is that when I am asked to play for a silent film at MoMA and want to use a theatre organ instead of piano...I can. For the last couple of years I've being doing this, but only when there was a 2 or 3 week block of shows, because it would mean my schlepping my own equipment down to MoMA and back. This way the equipment will already be there, and I just need to show up with my laptop.

This Friday and Saturday (today) I accompanied Hitchcock's Blackmail and the Italian 1914 epic Cabiria with the Miditzer, and the response has been fantastic. I'm not saying this to toot my own (post-)horn, but out of excitement that silent film fans in NYC are finally getting to hear a theatre organ for accompaniment on a regular basis, something that ceased in the late 1980s. I hope this helps lead to an interest in bringing a real theatre organ back to NYC and to regular use (like at the Beacon Theater on B'way and 74th).

Tomorrow am playing at the annual street fair in Mamaroneck, where DW Griffith had studios and where I grew up. The town's original 1926 movie theater is in the middle of the fair, and while it was cut up and plattered several years ago, its owners (Clearview Cinemas) give over one of the four screens each year on the day of the fest and I show silent comedy shorts. I got tour of the theater the first year we did this, in 2004, by Joe Masher who was at the time the regional manager for Clearview, and also involved with the Theater Historical Society. The Mamaroneck Playhouse's original orchestra pit, dressing rooms, manager's office et al are still intact.

Only a couple shows this week, and then almost daily from June 10 to 19...