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The silent leitmotif

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Mark Kermode | 15:05 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

At a time of year when many a self-respecting film critic is sipping prosecco after a hard day's swanning from glamorous screening room to glamorous screening room at the glamorous film festival held in the deliciously chilly atmosphere of glamorous post-holiday season Venice, I shall be in Shetland, as always, co-curating the annual Screenplay Festival. And this year the Dodge Brothers are coming with me and we shall be lending our strings and a washboard to a silent movie, the 1921 William S Hart Western, White Oak.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I saw Dracula and the Kronos Quatet in the Hackney Empire. Some of the effects of the film were dated, and produced laughter rather then horror and the music didn't seem to fit with what I was seeing. I was very aware of it, perhaps because the musicians were actually present and this was a novelty. The film wasn't silent I've just remembered so it doesn't count. Oh well

  • Comment number 2.

    Mark, you may want to have a read of Rick Altman's book 'Silent Film Sound', in which he refutes the claim that 'silent films were never silent'.

  • Comment number 3.

    You may sneer but I think Venice has a great line up this year. Anyway.

    The film which I would have loved to have been attendance in where there was live music accompanyment was not a silent film but for the 20th anniversary of E.T. Where a premiere of the film had John Williams score, conducted by the maestro himself with the Symphony Orchestra. Which would have been truly magical.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'd love to see The General with a good live soundtrack some day. It's one of the best films ever, but the version on has a terrible soundtrack with inappropriate classical pieces shoved over the top rendering it almost unwatchable. The tracks change mid-scene and switch wildly from dramatic marches to soft ballads in total contrast to what's actually happening.

    The version I have on DVD does a similarly uninspired job with Scott Joplin ragtime. It works better, though, and you can appreciate the film a bit more, but to see it in a cinema with acompaniment would be a real treat.

  • Comment number 5.

    Don't forget about the new Metropolis footage that was discovered earlier this year.

    I LOVE Fritz Lang's films. I've recently gotten into the habit of recommending and lending out movies to my more trusted co-workers and I actually just handed my Kino release of Metropolis over to my boss about two hours ago to take home. He watches some old movies so I think he'll like it, but I've got my fingers crossed all the same.

    I've never had the opportunity to see a film with live accompaniment before. It sounds like a potentially amazing experience, but let's be honest: I would probably take the trip to Venice first. When else would I ever have the opportunity to go?

  • Comment number 6.

    Dear Dr. K,

    "You're absolutely right sir!" (Delivered like Malcolm McDowell)

    Yes my favourite was a showing of The General at the BFI Southbank that had a very versatile score with a piano. The Piano's sounds seemed very much about instinct and less about rehearsal and I got the feeling the Pianist was riffing off the images instinctually.

    He used sudden keys to point to 'thuds' and 'bangs' (to which there are plenty in The General) but this didn't become the piece, he kept you engaged emotionally with leitmotifs for each characters and melodies that suited the rapidly changing backdrops and environments.

    I really wish more credit was given to these guys and it should be something that newer music artists should be encouraged to bring back at music festivals.

    Now I know we've touched on this subject before but here's a few examples I'd love to see:

    The Rolling Stones for Scorsese's Mean Streets

    The Prodigy for Cronenberg's The Brood

    Seasick Steve for Siegel's Dirty Harry

    Bob Dylan for Kiarostami's Close Up

    Kasabian for Tarkovsky's Stalker

    The Dodge Brothers for Bay's Transformers (why not)

    Any other requests?

  • Comment number 7.

    I really enjoyed WALL-E up until the arrival of the (noisy and unfunny) humans. A whole film devoted to WALL-E his cockroach sidekick and EVE would have suited me fine. The inclusion of the Louis Armstrong version of La Vie en rose was sublime.

  • Comment number 8.

    i had the pleasure of seeing cecil b. demille's silent epic 'the king of kings' with a two and a half hour organ improvisation from david briggs at bristol cathedral. hard going with wooden seats, but quite an experience!

    the 2-strip technicolour, exotic animals, distressing crucifixion scenes and the drowning sounds of the organ kept me in a state of wonderment.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've never seen a silent film with live accompaniment, although I'd jump at the chance. A few years ago, however, I was sharing a house with many, many people and, due to an unfortunate period of insomnia, I'd often find myself awake in the early hours whilst people slept around me. I got into the habit of watching films and programs with the sound off and music in my headphones. Two pairings that stick in my mind were 2001: A Space Odyssey with Brian Eno's ambient music, and the best-bits-compilation taken from the BBC's Blue Planet, called Deep Blue, with Johnny Cash's last few records playing very quietly. Both were oddly moving experiences, and Cash's music, so full of human character, juxtaposed with the almost alien world of the sea filled me with a deep sadness that I've never forgotten.

  • Comment number 10.

    Similar to the comment of Will Chadwick #7, i never got to see but would have loved to have gone to a screening of the lord of the rings films at the royal albert hall with live orchestral accompaniment (on different dates for each film rather than an all day/nighter at places like the BFI imax and Empire leister square a few weeks before). I think it was the london philharmonic orchestra rather than the royal or bbc orchestras, and i think that would have been a great expirence. Did anyone go to/know anyone who may have gone to that? if so let me know how it went and how well it worked etc.

  • Comment number 11.

    I haven't seen it live but a silent movie (and score) I really recommend is Anthony Asquith's 'Cottage on Dartmoor'. It is tense and moving and beautifully shot, and the new BFI dvd soundtrack is a great piece of music in itself.
    On a different note, one of my very early student films was (undeservedly I thought) honoured to be screened with a live band accompaniment. Naturally the music improved it no end, and I am in awe of anyone who can compose a fitting score for a silent film.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jings, this is a very subject-specific blog posting - I doubt you are going to get many replies!

    Weirdly enough, I find myself with something relevant to post. A few years ago, there appeared to be a spate of these 'alternative film soundtrack' gigs happening in my city (Glasgow). 2001: A Space Odyssey seemed to be a popular subject, although a local band, Aether Flux, did a cracking alternative live score for the "Elephants on Parade" scene from "Dumbo".

    More formally, I remember attending a showing of 50's SF-Horror It Came From Outer Space (in 3D!) accompanied by arch avant-punks Pere Ubu at the Arches.

    I didn't know their music that well at the time but the brooding menace of the (mostly) instrumental performance was a good fit for the dark (albeit schlocky) images on the screen. Mind you, when the lights came up at the end whilst the music was still playing, Dave Thomas appeared to storm off stage in a huff! :-)

  • Comment number 13.

    I live near an 80-year old cinema that is being restored to its former glory. The have restored the old organ and for some times of the year they show classic films with organ entertainment preceding the film and if there is a silent feature or short, the organist will accompany the film.

    The audio on this youtube clip doesn't really capture the magnificent sound but gives an idea of what it is like. I've seen Buster Keaton's The General and some of his shorts accompanied but I also was at this showing of Harold Lloyd's Safety Last.

  • Comment number 14.

    Earlier this year I saw "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" soundtracked by the moody progressive group Minima. The band's mood nicely complimented Caligari's expressionist images and their repetitive beats were truly hypnotic, although I'm still not too sure I understand a lot of the film!

  • Comment number 15.

    A few people have already mentioned The General - which I've seen twice now with live music, and was great both times - but my personal favourite experience was seeing Sherlock Jn. with live organ accompaniment around 15 years ago.

    As my first silent cinema experience at about the age of ten, I can still remember the sense of magic I felt sat in the Liverpool Philharmonic, watching in awe as the screen rose from the stage, before the image spluttered into life and the music kicked in, whisking me away on a cinematic adventure that has still rarely been beaten.

  • Comment number 16.

    Oh what a treat that would be to watch a silent movie with live music playing at the same time, sadly in the provinces we get little opportunity and I'd need to travel to get that experience. However several slient movies have made a lasting impression, the Raoul Walsh offering The Thief of Bagdad, and Metropolis that was just so way ahead of it's time. Also The Wind starring the wonderful Lillian Gish is so memorable for a multitude of reasons. If I'm totally honest,though Chaplin is held up as one of the big hitters of the silent era, The Gold Rush is the major stand out, some of his other classics didn't quite hit the mark for me personally. I've always found Keaton far more entertaining.

  • Comment number 17.

    I went to a silent film festival in Rotorua, New Zealand, where I saw The General with a live piano accompaniment by Gerhard Gruber. It was astoundingly brilliant and having never seen a Buster Keaton film before I was blown away. The accompaniment really brought it to life and having the pianist present in the room seemed to break the 'fourth wall' leaving the audience much more able to enjoy the spectacle together. The General was a real highlight.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've only seen one silent with live accompaniment, that was actually last years halloween in newcastle at the tyneside cinema. And i can't remember the band who played along but the film was vampyr by carl theodore dreyer (Of course, film buffs might argue that it was not technically silent film because it was one of the first to feature sound actually!!)
    But anyway i thought it was a great film and a had a fairly eerie tone to it which i liked alot!
    But i watched it with a friend who afterwards; we both were comparing opinions on the live band at the time, said that the live band were good but then went on to say something which made my think alot about both horrors/slient film and consequently about live accompaniments!
    He said "The music was good, but i tend to find in the moments of slience in a horror film, i found the most scariest" (And this band pretty much played a constant song/motif throughout the picture btw).
    This got me thinking firstly, did i really watch this slient horror film (made in the 1932) to be scared? (At the time, i was under the assumption that the scariness factor would be zero since it was made so long ago!!!) Should i have been scared?
    Secondly, can you truly say that you have seen the director's film (or what he/she intended it to be) when there is a live band performing? Well, if you think about it when a director produces a film it should be easy to imagine that the director not only thinks about characters/setting/plot etc. but also considers the soundtrack.
    Thirdly, What if the band performs poorly? or not to what you expect? (as my mate did) It could ruin the film experience which would be a shame, i personally do think that a film's soundtrack is the one of the most important part of a film! I believe it is the only thing in a film that can actually break the fourth wall and reach out personally to an audience . (After all, the visual picture is projected onto a screen whilst the sound of a film is immersive, naturally!!)
    But i really enjoyed the experience, it was the first time a film felt like an event rather than the usual saturday night at the pictures!!!
    Keep up the good vids Mark!!

  • Comment number 19.

    The closest I came was watching Battleship Potemkin on a drunken night at university. Having worked our way through 2001: A Space Odyssey and Monty Python and the Holy Grail earlier in the evening, we watched the sailors storm the steps to the soundtrack of rowdy football fans who were just filtering out of the pubs. Quite an immersive experience, even though we were rather drunk at the time.

    What are your thoughts on the new print of Metropolis? I'm going to see it at the Tyneside in Newcastle later this month, would like to know what to expect

  • Comment number 20.

    What about remaining faithful to the original intentions of the film-makers and composers that made that film? I'm all in favour of recreating the original scores, where they can be found.

    I find soundtracks by modern artists to films where the original soundtrack has been lost an interesting experiment.
    But letting anyone have a go at accompanying a film shorn of it's soundtrack; a bit too, well 'art college'.

    Recreate The Devils and its score, presumably live on stage with a musical accompaniment? I think that's a terrible idea.

    I have seen The Devils - it is one of Russell's best - (it has the usual ifs-and-buts that many of Russell's films have) and also has really great performances by Reed and Redgrave.

    I know isn't currently available (censorship by omission - and I am as angry about it as you are Dr K, and I have no idea why it is held to be so 'cinema non grata' after all these years? [compared to Clockwork Orange it is mild]); but - a stage re-recreation set to the original score just cheapens it, to my mind.
    Continue to fight for the original The Devils to be seen, as Russell wanted to be.

    "That magical mix of images and music is at the very heart of cinema, that melodrama..."

    I think there are certainly occasions where the mix of images and music does produce an alchemy all of its own.
    An example that springs to mind are the early collaborations between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. (Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann also spring to mind.)

    For the first Dollars' movies Morricone wrote the score first, then Leone shot and cut to the music.
    'Once Upon A Time in the West' could exist as a standalone silent movie (it is for much of the time), but it was hugely enhanced by Morricone's music.

    Morricone's score may outlive people's experience (memory) of it being a movie soundtrack and become remembered as an orchestral classic in it's own right.
    e.g. Just listen:

  • Comment number 21.

    I haven't seen it live, but I was absolutely blown away by Michael Nyman's score for The Man With the Movie Camera. It really moved me whilst watching it on DVD, and if I ever saw it live, I imagine it would reduce me to tears.

    I'm gonna agree with Simon Trott re: Philip Glass' Dracula score. Individual tracks work quite well on their own, but when put up against a film that uses silence so effectively, the addition of music -- no matter how effective -- takes away all the magic.

  • Comment number 22.

    Metropolis live was a thumbs up. Most things from that era go down well live, sounding as though it were the only way we're meant to hear it (which I've attributed to the low bit rate levels on DVD's).

    Inception live would melt me so thin I'd be absorbed into the very seat I'd previously sat in.

    P.S. Be sure to talk about the "who's driving the boat" thing. I myself have yet to figure out what you're actually talking about.

  • Comment number 23.

    I would love to see a Tom Waits / Robert Wilson scoring of Caligari. It's been discussed I think, but won't happen now, which is a shame, as the three are a natural fit (particularly in light of The Black Rider).

    The Giorgio Moroder (murderer?) score for Metropolis in my opinion ruined it. By all means re-discover film that the Nazis burned, but don't colour saturate it, and don't put Pat bloody benetar over the top of it.

  • Comment number 24.

    I saw F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu accompanied by a live band about a year ago. It was an unpleasant experience due to the piercing feedback coming from the guitarist's amp, it lasted the entire film, surely the person manning the PA system could have done something about it. Add to that the band's score wasn't very good. I have had innumerable better screenings at home with the DVD, maybe someday I will host my own screening of it, accompanied by me playing along with it on the banjo...

  • Comment number 25.

    I don't think I've ever seen a silent film at the cinema, let alone one with live musical accompaniment. In fact I was talking about this with my friend the other day about why Harbour Lights Picturehouse doesn't show silent films with a guy in the corner playing piano along to the images. I can imagine it being a very popular idea.

  • Comment number 26.

    I once went to see The General a buster Keaton film with a live piano score and it is what started my love of silent film. The film itself has some brilliant visual gags but it was the live piano's ability to "play along" with the humour that really made the film for me. From that day on I haven't looked back and silent film with live music is the way to go.

  • Comment number 27.

    this friday im off to see the newly restored version of Metropolis accompanied by the Metropolis Ensemble with Helmut Imig conductor, woo hoo!

  • Comment number 28.

    I saw Dziga Vertov's 'Man with a Movie Camera' with a live orchestra last year and it was incredible. The sounds swept the film off its feet and made it an entirely immersive and compelling experience.

    I've also seen some shorts by George Albert Smith and James Williamson accompanied by live music. Their films from Hove Gardens hold so much cinematic history in Brighton and Hove, and it's lovely that people still appreciate the films from the silent era.

    I can't wait to see the new print of 'Metropolis'. I'd love to see a Lang film with live music.

  • Comment number 29.

    I don't think I've ever seen a silent film in a theater (or in a concert hall, or in an open square etc) without a live score.

    The first one I've seen was "Nosferatu", in 2002. The band was a classical trio and their performance was ok, but it didn't feel different than watching a silent movie with a regular score.

    One of the best was "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", by a guy called DJ Dubase, whose electronically manipulated soundtrack was a perfect fit for Wiene's expressionist film, culminating with "Tainted Love" (the Soft Cell version) over the finale.

    The same DJ Dubase did a great mix for Keaton's "Sherlock Jr." and also a very interesting take on the first Romanian feature film, "The War for Independence", a 75-minute long war "epic" made three years before "Birth of a Nation". However, after a while, DJ Dubase's scores become repetitive and his work on "The Lodger" or "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks" were only midly entertaining.

    Last year, I've seen Murnau's "Tabu" with the score composed by Violeta Dinescu and dedicated to the Trio Contraste. The Trio Contrast performed the piece themselves (with a guest sax player), so there were 4 players on stage, but they played some 15-20 instruments between them. I think this was the richest and most immersive experience of its kind (and also one of the best movies).

    Most other silents I've seen had either an electronic score or just a live piano. I wish I would've seen more rock or jazz bands do this kind of work (the only one for me so far was a French band doing "Nanook of the North" - also very entertaining).


  • Comment number 30.

    I recently watched "Film" by Samuel Beckett again, having finished watching I thought music I did for a Theatre piece in 2008 would fit perfectly, I didn´t edited or cut the music to fit, and it worked out lovely.

  • Comment number 31.

    That sounds great. I love Caligari.

    I think one of the most interesting on-going interpretations of a silent film is 'Man with a movie camera'
    When I first saw it, in college, it was the version with The Alloy Orchestra. Then I got the DVD which contained the In The Nursery soundtrack as a bonus. THEN I saw it with Michael Nyman's soundtrack and a few weeks ago, the band 3epkano played live with a screening of it in Dublin.

    So, for me, rather than finding a perfect combination of one soundtrack with a film, it's more interesting to see how different musicians interpret the same film and what effect that has on the experience of watching the film.

  • Comment number 32.

    A few years ago, I undertook a course at UEA in Norwich, studying Film Archiving and Film Studies. One of my modules was Early British Silent Cinema, run by Andrew Higson. We were treated to a special screening of a 1927 film, Shooting Stars, with Neil Brand as accompanist. It was terrific. You can keep your 3D, this is the way to offer cinema audiences a fresh experience, in addition to giving them a flavour of how films were received and perceived in the primordial days of cinema. About a year later, Paul Merton and Neil Brand were at the University of Warwick, and a Harold Lloyd film was screened in conjunction with Neil's score. Again, it was so rewarding. The reaction from the rest of the audience was infectious.

    More recently, my third enlivening silent film experience was at the Phoenix in Leicester, with the noble Doc's very own Dodge Brothers supporting Beggars of Life. Brilliant screening and great music. Alas, due to an uncooperative volcano, no Doc!

    I remember Spielberg stating in a Jaws 'making of' documentary that the film would have been half as successful if it hadn't have been for the Williams score. I think that the same is absolutely the case for countless other celluloid classics and cult favourites.

  • Comment number 33.

    Metropolis for me and the Laurel & Hardy films. The first 20 mins of There Will Be Blood as well :)

  • Comment number 34.

    This summer I saw The Passion of Joan of Arc with a score by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory and really enjoyed it. I think it worked well as the film's acting is more visual (close ups of characters expressions) than verbal (there were subtitles but they didn't add much depth). I'd really like to see the same done to other films, maybe Bicycle Thieves or The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

  • Comment number 35.

    I was lucky enough to catch Paul Merton's silent film talk at Huddersfield's Lawrence Batley Theatre last year. As well as being a genuinely fascinating talk, part of the program was showings of a full Laurel & Hardy movie (the name escapes me right now - on a day's leave the pair pick up a couple of girls and head out of town, causing a collosal traffic jam - anybody?) and selected scenes from Buster Keaton and Chaplin, all with accompaniment by Niell Brand. It was an absolutely wonderful show.

    One of my favourite silent films (though in a different category to those mentioned here) is Belleville Rendezvous, which I rewatched this week after catching The Illusionist at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. Studio Ghibli my eye!

  • Comment number 36.

    I've never seen a silent film. Would I enjoy one? Would I be able to appreciate it or would it be so far removed from what I am used to that I just would not be able to get it? For me would it be similar to looking at a zoetrope? Will one day people younger than me think the same about black and white or 2D films?

  • Comment number 37.

    I haven't seen a full silent movie with live accompaniment. However, I have seena number of Chaplin's shorts with theatre organ accompaniment at one of Sydney's magnificent restored original cinemas. They are truly wonderful to watch with live accompaniment and of course, theatre organs have a full range of percussive sounds as well. Truly remarkable.

    The closest I've come for a modern movie, has been a concert at the Hollywood Bowl where full orchestra and choir, conducted by Howard Shore played excerpts from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and images were screened along with it. A fabulous evening.

    I think I'd love to see the film "Silent Movie" by Mel Brooks with live accompaniment. Very underrated in his oeuvre and only one word spoken in the entire movie by Marcel Marceau. You've just got love Mel Brook's sense of humour.

    All the best in Shetland, Dr K and don't forget to have a mass gathering say "hello to Jason Isaacs" ;-D.

  • Comment number 38.

    This may not be classed as a film (as it started life as a Video Installation in a gallery) but Adam Curtis's brilliant "It Felt Like a Kiss". It is basically the story of the sixties and seventies through archive footage edited to music of the day.

    It may not sound groundbreaking but Curtis has a way of editing his work so it says something quite profound. Go seek

  • Comment number 39.

    I saw the abstract and truly incredible The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari during a film festival somewhere around leeds, i forget exactly where it was, but despite my memory loss it was the single most tantalizing experience i have EVER had in a cinema. By a MILE. Accompanying the film were 2 bassists (one upright, one guitar) who tied their instruments to synthesizers and other electrical appliances and created the most skin crawlingly foreboding soundscapes i've heard since in a long time. I believe one (of many) reasons why i did enjoy the experience so much though was the exclusivity of the event. The perfect score made my stomach churn at every appropriate moment, breathing a fresh atmosphere into a film that deserves it more than any other silent film i have seen... and yet with that afterwards all i could think was that this incredible experience may probably never be had by anyone again.

  • Comment number 40.

    I should declare an interest as before retiring I was involved in the commissioning of many scores.

    I loved Neil Brand's score for BLACKMAIL, Stephen Horne's for COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR. Lesser know but really very good are the scores for a BFI DVD MAD LOVE - three films by the Early Russian director Evgeni Bauer
    TWILIGHT OF A WOMAN'S SOUL music by Laura Rossi AFTER DEATH by Nicholas Brown and DYING SWAN with a great score by Joby Talbot who takes a Michael Mann approach with music sweeping together scenes which in turn pack a huge emotional response. I recently saw PASSION OF JOAN D'ARC with a great score by the Estonian Bronius Kutavičius, one of the ‘holy minimalists’.

    To understand some of difficulties a silent film accompanist faces take a look at the BFI Mitchel and Kenyon DVD releases and see how the pianists guide the viewer through this documentary material - in particular the Sports films.

  • Comment number 41.


    Whilst not directly related I just wanted to say...
    I have just completed a survey for the BBC commentating on your site.With no other way to contact you I thought it was only fair that I let you know what I think, just in case you get involved in web content meeting.

    Essentially I LOVE IT and the caliber of the responses you receive are amazing.
    However with the discussion of GREAT Silent Movies in full flow I find it lacks the tools to enable people who are looking to explore non-blockbuster films.

    Please help us newbies get more involved in rewarding alternative cinema.
    FYI- I have booked my tickets to the Barbican, the wife is not overly impressed its our anniversary, but there is always next year. Thanks for the Heads Up I am sure its going to be worth it.

    Below is what i have said.
    "It does not hold enough information on films.It needs a top ten/twenty lists of stylised or movie genres which are not constrained to time periods to help the beginners learn more about cinema as a art-form rather than entertainment.It doesn't contain enough film reviews from Dr.K his opinion does count massively.It doesn't have any links to locally organised film festivals.It doesn't have any links to local picture houses that allow the public to see foreign and art house film on the big screen.It generally doesn't not go far enough to help those who want to discover cinema outside of the blockbusters which are rammed down the public’s throat."

  • Comment number 42.

    It's funny because there is no such thing as a "Silent Movie" but what it means is that the film's story is told mostly through images and the music accompanying it does the rest.

    An interesting point that has been made is that present day films do the opposite and the roles have mostly changed in the relationship.

    Take a film like cough cough Inception: relying on the images to tell the story would make things difficult for the viewer...


    Listening to the soundtrack (as a radio play) would effectively convey MORE of the narrative to you.

    An interesting homework task perhaps could be for us to find recent film examples that still conform to the early "Silent Film" era filmmaking principles?

  • Comment number 43.

    Will have to see the new cut of Metropolis, saw it some 10-15 years ago(not the Moroder abortion). Just a single pianist, but still one of my cinema highlights.

  • Comment number 44.

    And was there anything more touching or poignant than that wonderful silent (well almost) montage of Carl and Ellie's life together in the movie UP,sometimes pictures can paint a thousand words right?...:-)

  • Comment number 45.

    Sorry if this is something that someone else has mentioned...

    But it occurs to me that perhaps this could be a new (old?) entertainment option. I've been to see many bands that incorporate imagery as a major part of their stage shoe - and I mean more than just an expensive light show, I mean a full on video extravaganza - Gorillaz and Tool spring to mind. So if there's an appetite for that then it can't be too much of a step to putting on the sort of Film and Live Music show that could be hugely fun to go to.

  • Comment number 46.

    Could Tom And Jerry cartoons count? :P

  • Comment number 47.

    The first time I saw Eraserhead was actually a muted version on the stage at London's ICA. Canadian some time hip-hopper, some time folksinger, all round music boff and storyteller extraordinaire, Buck 65 made a live score from sampling and mixing old records right next to the screen.

    The highlights were many, especially for someone seeing the movie for the first time and really not understanding it. All the voices were substituted for members of the brass instrument family and seeing the film in its original form will never be the same for me (it's hard to beat the innocent face of Jack Nance parping away like a squeeky trumpet.)

    My only problem with live scores is that you can't go back and enjoy them for a second time like a good movie. If you miss it the first time round, well, that's it!

  • Comment number 48.

    The best silent film I have seen with a musical accompaniment is Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. I have seen many silent films with, live music, usually a pianist, but this is a stand out best. The film itself is quite brilliant (amazing shooting techniques for it's time), but with a talented musician producing the sound track, it is cinema perfection.

  • Comment number 49.

    I had the privilege to see (and listen) Kronos Quartet, in Mexico City, musicalizing "Metropolis". It was outstanding. Years later I could see Nosferatu, musicalized by an American group, but I can't remember the name right now. I'm a film critic and I love silent films, but hearing them with new and modern music is a magical experience.

  • Comment number 50.


    I too have fallen in love with silent film. maybe i was destined to as many years ago my father would sow us 8mm Chaplin shorts before the latest family epic.

    My girlfriend surprised me with a trip to the San Francisco Silent Film festival. We saw "Man with a Movie Camera - 1929 with the Alloy OIrchestra accompanying the film. It was one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. Desperate for more. the 80 minutes just flew by.

    By the way Georges Melieres man in the Moon was also on the program and that was a real treat as well.

    My other favorite silents are Sunrise, Greed, Cottage on Dartmoor, Battleship Potemkin, Passion of Joan of Arc and Murnau's Nosferatu.

    Rob Holloway

  • Comment number 51.

    I have never really liked Charlie Chaplin. I have always preferred Buster Keaton.

    With this in mind I would like add The General to the list, it is a fantastic silent film. A silent film which could definitely benefit from a live accompaniment.

  • Comment number 52.

    About 8 years ago I saw the dulcimer player, Geoff Smith, perform live to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It was the first time I had ever seen the film and it really sparked my interest in German expressionist cinema. I don't know if it's because of the memory of this performance or just the sound of the instrument, but whenever I hear a dulcimer soundtrack set against something victorian or gothic, It always feels like a perfect match, hence my pleasant surprise when watching the recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film.
    I really feel like a score can make or break a silent film. The first time I saw Metropolis was on VHS and it had an awful synth soundtrack that made no effort to emotionally engage with the film. I hated it, and have not really had the desire to watch Metropolis since. A pity, I know.

  • Comment number 53.

    Being advantageously from Bristol, I've seen quite a few. Earlier this year I saw the Passion of Joan of Arc as performed by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory, and in previous years have seen all sorts from The Gold Rush and Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality.

    I also trekked to London this year to see 2001, with the score performed live, which was great and even made the long bits seem less long.

  • Comment number 54.

    The Alloy Orchestra in the States has performed (and sometimes recorded) scores for "The Wind," "Metropolis" (better than Moroder's, but then so is a dial tone), "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and a few others that escape me. I also heard the Boston Symphony accompany "Alexander Nevsky" and Carmine Coppola conduct "Napoleon" on the night that Abel Gance died (they announced it at the end and we all rose as Maestro Coppola played "The Marseillaise"). Mark is right; the excitement of live music against a silent film is intense, far more than A+B=C. The marvelous scores of Carl Davis go a long way toward realising this power, but I'd love to see and hear "Faust," "The Phantom of the Opera," or "Broken Blossoms" live.

  • Comment number 55.

    Some years ago I saw Abel Gance's 1927 masterpiece Napoleon, at the Bristol Hippadrome, with full orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. It was mesmeric, esspecially the last reel triptych. At four hours plus it could have been a long Sunday afternoon but the film sped past. It was an experience I will never forget.

  • Comment number 56.

    I saw Abel Gance's epic 5 1/2 hour Napoleon at the Barbican many years ago with Carl Davies score which was really good and also Harold Lloyd's Safety Last which is a great film (again with Carl Davies). I've always really enjoyed the combination and wish there were more silent films screened with live music. In fact, now I think about it - I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and make one!


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