Monday, February 17, 2014
Remembrance of silent film screenings past:
Road report roundup of shows in three states
Before February completely slips away, let me quickly jot down a few notes about a remarkable run of screenings, if only to serve as an aid to my increasingly faulty memory.
So many people to thank for their encouragement and support! I can't possibly name you all here but I'm grateful for everything that goes into making these screenings happen.
Okay, here's a rap sheet, with brief thoughts about each. I hope these sketches will serve the same function as the "petite madeleines" did for Marcel Proust in 'Remembrance of Things Past,' in case I ever need to relive them in my dotage, which is closer than I expect.
• Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014: Mary Pickford program at Red River Theatres, Concord, N.H. Hosted by Christel Schmidt, author and editor of 'Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies,' a remarkable anthology of writings and images. Music for 'Their First Misunderstanding' (1911), the recently restored Pickford film found in a N.H. barn, and then 'Sparrows' (1926). Off night for me, possibly because of stress of organizing the program and just general rust after a month away in India. Audience of about 50; Christel was thrilled to sell some books! For me, worth it to bring Christel here for the films, and to just hang out some.
• Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014: 'Way Down East' (1921) in 35mm at Somerville Theatre. Day 2 of a three-day weekend of silents kicking off the Somerville's Centennial Celebration. Somehow nailed a solid intro to the Griffith film by focusing on how he never got enough credit for knowing how an audience would react, something he mastered while working in the theater. Worth examining that in more detail someday. Audience about 100; print ran a little fast at 24fps, but as always, Griffith's narrative swept us along like Lillian Gish on those ice floes. Strong audience reaction, including lusty booing for Lowell Sherman's "Men are supposed to sow their wild oats" character. Strong musical material throughout, and it all came together; the highlight of the Somerville's triple-header, I thought.
• Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014: 'Wings' (1927) in 35mm, matinee at Somerville Theatre. Final day of three-day weekend of silent film; matinee to avoid Super Bowl later. Print, newly struck from Paramount's recent restoration, had big problems, requiring heroic efforts from Kornfeld in the booth to make it work on-screen. This kinda distracted me and so took longer than usual to get into the zone, and found the war scenes definitely got away from me. Still, some very powerful moments for the audience of about 75, especially the post-crash embrace near the end and then Buddy Rogers giving back the toy bear. Wow! Audible sobbing from behind me. My post-applause wisecrack: "Anybody got some Kleenex?"
Only casualty of the big weekend: sprained both pinkies due to heavy use of repeated notes in 'Wings.' Before and after 'Wings,' sat for interview on 16mm film in the theater, and just could not put together two coherent thoughts in a row. Rule: no more of these either directly before or after a show. My head's never there and just doesn't work for me. Nice write-up of the whole Somerville weekend from Jay Seaver.)
• Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014: 'The Mysterious Lady' (1928) at Manchester (N.H.) City Library. Nice turnout for pre-Valentine's Day screening of smoky Garbo flick about how romance and espionage don't mix. Saw this months ago but didn't preview as "training" for cold playing at Cinefest in Syracuse next month. I did remember that music played a big role, as Conrad Nagel goes undercover as a "Serbian pianist" and plays music from an opera at a key point in the plot. Confounded by rapid intercutting between Gustav von Seyffertitz's death and shots of dancing at wild party; wish I'd prepared the 'Trepak' dance from Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker' for maximum contrast.
• Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014: 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928) at Campton (N.H.) Historical Society up in the snowbound foothills of the White Mountain. Potluck supper preceded screening of Keaton "Junior" double feature in converted town hall crammed with historical artifacts, including a pair of antique upright pianos. (Wisecrack: "In case the synth dies, we have not one but two back-ups!") One of those screenings where everything clicked: full house roared right from the start and never let up. Afterwards, people complained of laughing so much that their mouths hurt. Pure magic! So glad my colleague Dan Szczesny was on hand to witness. Also glad to hear from Christel Schmidt just before, who sounded like she would like to be there, too, so sent her this photo:
• Monday, Feb. 10, 2014: Dziga Vertov's 'Man with a Movie Camera' (1929) for film history course at Southern New Hampshire University taught by friend and collaborator Bill Millios. Pulled out all my Philip Glass moves for this great ride, basing entire score on a major 7th chord with sharped fourth. For this one, Bill had booked the auditorium in Webster Hall, which houses the college's business school. Started extremely quiet, so was surprised when an instructor came in and asked us to "turn it down" because we were disturbing his class. (My thought: "He thinks this is loud?)
Bill mollified the guy, or so we thought, until about a half-hour later when another guy comes in and tells us to stop. It's the dean of the business school; turns out we've been escalated. I tell him I'm in the middle of a performance and won't talk to him; Bill takes him outside and gets told that "academics have to take priority." Screening continues but Bill is apparently banned for life from Webster Hall. Wow! Glad I found out about this later or I would have stopped the screening and given this guy a piece of my mind. As it was, told students after the film that they ought to take a lesson from this: their lives would be filled with encounters with philistines and cretins, and they should always stand their ground and fight back.
That's the quote of the year so far, anyway: "Academics have to take priority." This from a college administrator who ought to have some acquaintance of cinema as the defining art form of the 20th century! But I digress.
• Thursday, Feb. 13 and Friday, Feb. 14, 2014:One screening of 'Sunrise' snowed out, while another goes forward. Latest big winter mess caused show scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13 at Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. had to be moved to Thursday, March 6. But 'Sunrise' happened on schedule on Feb. 14 (Valentine's Day: you can't stop romance) at Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H., where about 30 people attended. "Any first dates tonight?" I asked. (Answer: Nope.) Limited music preparation but held together. Used all string settings; intended to switch to full orchestra for storm sequence on lake but for some reason blanked on how to call up the setting, so storm turned out to be stringy after all.
• Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014: Hauled myself down to Stratford, Conn. (three hours one way) for screening of 'Peter Pan' (1924) at local library. Postponed from before Christmas due to snow; two months later, snow again, but we went forward. Screening took place in library's stately original building; small turnout (weather?) but enthusiastic response. From the sound of the applause when audience is asked to save Tinker Bell by clapping, you would have thought 200 people were present! A great community for silent film, though, with many people eager to do more screenings around town. I may get to know Interstate 91 very well.
P.S. I just noticed that Proust (on that stamp) was only one year older than I am now when he died. Another reminder that time is marching on.