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Monday, July 18, 2005


I have been a fan of 'silent' movies ever since my parents took me to the Museum of Modern Art to see
Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN when I was five years old.
I had just learned to read and the audience had a grand time as I read the titles to my little sister and she and I both led the reaction in laughter.

There's a participatory quality to silent comedy that is unique; this is probably because they are films that require a degree of outside participation to be 'complete'. They were never meant to be shown 'silent'. A good live musical accompaniment can make the films seem fresh and new.
A bad score can distract from the film and break the illusion.

Many new collections on DVD feature outstanding musical tracks.
The special edition of Roscoe Arbuckle's films released this year by Laughsmith Entertainment is easily the best of the lot; the music is invariably right, and the films feature everything from solo piano to small orchestra. The music is well timed to the action and never distracts from the action.

Other silent filmmakers have not been so fortunate in their accompanists. Buster Keaton, my favorite of the lot, has been very poorly served in the Kino releases of the "Collection".
They have the superb Gaylord Carter score for STEAMBOAT BILL JUNIOR, at least, but what is it that compels anyone to use the "Alloy Orchestra" at all?
I have heard them live, and heard them on this collection, and on the Arbuckle/Keaton collection--and I am invariably driven to get a portable CD player to play anything else as accompaniment for the films.
This group does not complement the film they play for; they compete with it. Their score for SHERLOCK JUNIOR is completely unlistenable.

Here's a quote from someone who knew a thing or two about scoring silent movies. The people who rerelease these films should read it and take it to heart. Comedies from the masters don't need the music's 'help' to be funny.

"Elegant music provided an emotional dimensionn to my comedies. The musical arrangers seldom understood this. They wanted the music to be funny. However, I explained to them that I did not want competition, but that the music was to be a counter-point of grace and charm; that it should express feeling, without which, as Hazlitt said,a work of art remains incomplete....Whatever the music expresses, the rest is only accompaniment."
--Charlie Chaplin