Monday, July 25, 2011

The perils of multiple soundtracks

Had something happen at a screening in Ogunquit, Maine yesterday (Sunday, July 24) that showed the perils of live performance. We'd just finished 'Tol'able David' (1921) and were now into the first part of 'Hell's Hinges' (1916), which opens in a church, or a mission, really, and I was playing organ music. Each time I'd stop to start a new phrase, I heard what sounded like an ice cream truck in the distance. Strange. Then I realized what was going on: the film's piano soundtrack was playing softly through the house speakers. 'Tol'able David' had no soundtrack, so no one noticed that the DVD player's sound was on until 'Hell's Hinges' was popped in.

So I was sitting there, playing church music and wondering what to do, when loud pop music starts playing. It was coming from the sushi place underneath us, where the staff was cranking some tunes while doing evening prep. Sheesh! Not just two competing soundtracks, but three! Never had that before. Figuring it couldn't get any sillier, I kept playing, wondering what Charles Ives would have made of the cacophony.

Finally, at a scene change, I stopped playing, stood up, and called back to the projectionist to cut the sound, which he did. In the meantime, he had run down to the sushi place to ask them to tone it down, so it all got straightened out pretty fast. Luckily, it was only at the beginning of the film, not at some key moment, so 'Hell's Hinges' was able to reestablish its momentum.

Another variable with live screenings is the weather. Bad weather is good, and good weather is bad. The really hot weather we've had for the past week in this part of the world (+100 degrees) has been tough on silent film attendance, especially because neither of the two venues I played this past weekend have air conditioning. So we had about 40 people at Brandon Town Hall in Brandon, Vt. (down significantly from screenings earlier this season) and a grand total of 11 people at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

Looking forward to this weekend's screening of Buster Keaton in 'Our Hospitality' (1923) at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, July 31 at 4:30 p.m., and then a 35mm Keaton program featuring a great print of 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' (1928) on Sunday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, just outside Boston, Mass.

The projectionist there, David Kornfeld, sends out advance notes about the quality of archival prints that the theater is scheduled to run, and he's already got the Keaton prints. Here's an excerpt so you'll have some idea what to expect. (He also had something nice to say about the accompaniment, which is very flattering!)

KEATON FILMS. The last of this series (though there may be others soon --- fingers crossed) accompanied by Jeff Rapsis. Two shorts & a feature, all 1.33 (again). Yay.
COPS. Print from 1969, back when they knew how to print B&W. Excellent density, looks great on the bench, BUT: emulsion scratches (which may show), lots of repairs, and a goodly number of splices. One of Keaton's most famous shorts: well worth watching.
THE HIGH SIGN. Print from 1971. No scratches on this, but some splices and repairs. Density is quite good. A little contrasty, but they may be from the source material.
STEAMBOAT BILL JR. The last feature Keaton made independently, before his disastrous move to MGM, and it contains some of the most amazing stunt work of his career, including what is likely the most dangerous gag of his life. This is on 3M stock, something most of you wont know about, but 3M produced some of the most silver-rich B&W stock Ive ever seen, & this one is no exception: incredible density, will blow your sneakers off. No scratches, but some repairs & splices in reels 4 & 2, fewer in reels 1 & 3.
You should definitely make it a point to see these: again: they rarely show, rarely get shown on film, are rarely projected correctly, and rarely have music as good as Jeff's.
Running on 7 August, @ 7pm. Be here!

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