grinner’s comment reminds


grinner’s comment reminds me of at experience I had when I was a member of the Cornell Film Club. The film club existed to show the best quality copies of cinimatic art they could find. That year the main attraction was “Blowup” (1966) with the director, Michelangelo Antonioni, answereing questions live in the theater. Which was truly fabulous. But I was really looking forward to seeing a newly restored copy of “The Battleship Potemkin” (1925) by Eisenstein. I’d watched a pretty beat-up copy in my college class, “History of Film; Origins to the Advent of Sound.” My research paper (or term paper) was called “The Sound of Silents” and detailed the use of audio for silent films.

So I knew for a fact that Eisenstein worked closely with a composer to create a symphony for a full orchestra to play during the film. There were conductor copies of the full work in Russian archives. And they had even written a score for chamber orchestras for smaller theaters. So I expected a newly restored copy would logically include at least the chamber orchestra version of the score. But the idiots at Cornell actually played the entire film without a sound. During the silent film era, there was no screening of a film that didn’t also include some sort of musical accompaniment, if nothing more than to drown out the racket of the projector. That was the entire point of my paper and I’d done a lot of research (and I aced the paper!) So I was absolutely floored the film committee didn’t know any better. Not to mention it was one of the most uncomfortable movie experience I’ve ever had. Everyone was afraid to even snicker or make any kind of sound during the entire two hours the film runs.

So anyway, if you’re going to create a realistic silent A-movie, you have to create a top notch soundtrack. Every major release during the era had an original score written for it. And it was always part of the critic’s reviews. It was only when the film was screened in some tiny theater in Podun, Wherever that the sound dropped into the single piano we tend to think of as silent movie sound. But in reality it was so much more.

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