Sunday, June 6, 2010

Report on 'The Big Parade' on June 1

We had a nice crowd on hand for this screening, which took place on Tuesday, June 1 at the Manchester Public Library's classy Carpenter Auditorium. The 5:30 p.m. start, plus it being the first work day after Memorial Day weekend, limited attendance, I think, but we had enough for the silent film experience to kick in. Though the film is about World War I, the screening was a fund-raiser to help repair the city's vandalized World War II monument. As my father and uncles all served in the "Big One," it's my way of honoring that sacrifice.

This is the kind of screening that I seem to do well on: a long film with a lot of varied drama and action. Once I get into "the zone," which usually takes 15 minutes or so, if everything else is right, then the music just flows out of me, and I'm hardly aware of time passing. In fact, I remember looking up at one point mid-way through the film, and seeing the auditorium clock in the dim shadows on the opposite wall reading 7:20 p.m., and being surprised that so much time had passed.

'The Big Parade' has a few big moments that came out well, I thought. The scene where John Gilbert attends a reading of patriotic speeches at Renee Adoré's home worked well by playing clumsy and deliberate renditions of "La Marseillaise" to accompany the long-winded speeches, and I was able to avoid making too much fuss about the fight that ensues in the wine cellar and then out in the street, as it's still all quite light-hearted compared to what's soon to come. (Same thing with the scene by the river that precedes it, with Gilbert and his buddies each taking their increasingly clumsy turns at flirting with Adoré.)

I was only half-pleased with big "troops being called up" scene in which the two lovers search for each other amid the chaos of the pull-out; something didn't click right from the start and it didn't build very well at all. But in the big scene that follows, the slow march through a forest filled with snipers, really fell together and built nicely, with a slowly churning chromatic bass stopping when the soldiers stopped, then starting up when the march resumed. The climactic battle scene, with Gilbert in the foxhole with his freshly dead companion, was a thrill to play for, in that director King Vidor really did cut it the way a good fireworks show is arranged, with a grand finale full of explosions prior to it all winding down. Got to use the "bass drum and cymbals" key quite a bit.

Lots of great discussions with the audience afterwards, ended only by the tyranny of the clock, as the library closed at 5:30 p.m. and we hadda be outta there. Alas, the grand total we raised for the WWII Memorial was the relatively paltry sum of $78, but that's better than nothing, and I want to thank Gene Mackie and Mike Lopez, both of whom work tirelessly for veterans in our area, for supporting this experiment.

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