Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday, March 16: Cinefest, Day 2

• Played for two features today. In the afternoon, I found 'Partners Three' (1918), a sorta-Western drama starring Enid Bennett, a tough film to do effective music for. One issue was the condition of the print: missing the main titles, and many of the intertitles were "flash" versions (single-frame placeholders) that either went by too quickly to read or were so degraded as to be illegible. Also, the story was hard for me to follow, which made for some tentative passages, and also led to moments where I'd commit to something only to find I was going in the wrong direction and have to switch course.

• Equally disjointed, it seemed to me, was the one surviving reel from 'Tillie's Tomato Surprise' (1915), a six-reel follow-up to the more well-known 'Tillie's Punctured Romance' (1914). I couldn't make any sense of this film as it unreeled - first there's a man in a kilt operating a meat grinder that produced live dogs, then a guy is flying through the air, and then who knows what? Not sure how much work should be done to uncover the rest of this film.

• An evening screening of 'The Dark Mirror' (1920), a surrealistic crime drama about a woman whose sense of reality becomes blurred by her dreams, was much more satisfying in terms of music. I had a few melodies ready for this and it all seemed to hold together. Good complete print, easy to watch and follow. Preceded by 'Food and Growth,' a strange silent educational film about rats.

• Fellow accompanists Phil Carli and Andrew Simpson tackled a bouquet of short slapstick comedies this afternoon, and I continue to be in awe of what they can do with this kind of film. Andrew comes up with bouncy stuff with spiky harmonies and has a gift for finding ways to punctuate big moments without breaking stride. And Phil is just phenomenal at underscoring comedy with music that just roars out of the keyboard at times. What a treat to be able to be in their presence, and an inspiration as well.

• I had a nice conversation in the hall today with David Shepard, the noted film restoration expert who once ran Blackhawk Films in Iowa. As a teenager in the late 1970s, this is the company that got all my pocket money in exchange for 8mm versions of classic silent films, which I'd run again and again. Ah, memories of a misspent youth. Well, not entirely misspent -- for example, I can give you a scene-by-scene description of 'Cops' (1922), 'One Week' (1920), and probably all the other Buster Keaton short comedies.

• I wouldn't take this as a comment on the vintage film community, but it's interesting that also booked into the conference center this weekend is the local "near-death experience" society.

• Personal notes: Ate breakfast this morning at the No Name Diner. It's called that because the restaurant wants to be known for its food, not its name. All patrons are entered into a raffle for $25; I'll make an announcement if I'm this week's lucky winner. Came back to hotel to get some work done, but realized I needed more sleep and so missed Phil's morning performance. Had dinner at Heid's, a roadside hot dog restaurant: a "sea dog" washed down with ginger beer.


  1. Jeff,
    You did a great job all weekend. I thought about how hard it must have been to play for the Tillie short. That was REALLY all over the place.
    A friend of mine from work came to The Palace on Saturday. She likes older films, but didn't think she would like silents. You helped change her mind with Get Your Man. In addition to enjoyiing the film and your music she was very impressed when she found that you frequently are seeing the film for the first time.
    Thanks for all your work this weekend! I hope you play for Cinefest again next year.

  2. Russ,

    Thanks so much for your kind words! It's great to know that our accompaniment helped bring these great (and some not-so-great) films back to life for the Cinefest audience. I really enjoyed making music there and yes, I look forward to returning next year if that's in the cards. All the best to you!

    Jeff R.