For decades after the advent of the talkies, it was an accepted belief that a hack pianist recycling clichéd themes was an essential part of the silent experience. In fact, this was as much a myth as the notion that silent films were all flickering black and white. Whilst the smallest of neighbourhood cinemas might be limited to a single player, the larger the venue the more musicians they were likely to boast. In the biggest theatres this would mean orchestras of symphonic proportions. They would be playing prepared scores, either compiled from extensive libraries of existing pieces, or for the most important films, scores that had been composed bar for bar to fit the action as it unfolded.
The Thames Silents series, and its succesor the Channel 4 Silents, was conceived as a revival of this forgotten art. An art which was itself a hybrid, combining as it did the eloquence of a superbly crafted film, presented in the best possible condition and at the right speed, with the expressive power of a full orchestral score, all fused together in the communal experience of a large audience. This ‘opera without words’ made a trip to the movies a theatrical experience once again, and was summed up succinctly as LIVE CINEMA.
The preparation of the scores was regarded as of equal importance as the restoration of the films themselves. Although for some films scores from their original release were used, the majority were newly commissioned, many from Carl Davis, whose work for the Hollywood series, and his astonishing five hour score for Napoleon, had done so much to lead the way. Other composers included John Lanchbery – most appropriately a master of the ballet score – and Neil Brand. In all cases, the preparation of the score is a close collaboration between the composer and Photoplay, ensuring that the music follows as closely as possible the rhythym and narrative development, and that the end result, in both its live and recorded forms, does everything possible to maximise the impact of the event.
Presenting these films with their scores performed by live orchestra – the full Live Cinema experience – offers a complete package that will bring the filmmaker’s work fully to life for a modern audience.
For much smaller venues, where an orchestra is not an option, we can offer the alternative of a HiFi Presentation.
Photoplay has unrivalled experience in the preparation of silent film presentations. Any exhibitors looking to create new productions, or sponsors looking to offer support for productions or performances, should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.