Mar 30, 2010

Music for Orphans

Since orphan films are often discovered without sound, a score, or even information on how they were originally screened (assuming they were screened at all), there is always a question of how to present the films to an audience in a way that will be both authentic and entertaining.  Many of the pieces featured in this year’s Orphan Film Symposium fall into this silent dilemma, including a variety of works from the silent era and amateur films recorded without sound.  After careful discussion on how to best screen each film, decisions were made to present several with an appropriate soundtrack or live accompanist, provide a lecture or narration for others, and to keep a few (very short) films completely silent. Music was the preferred option whenever possible, which lead to a few controversial choices.  

One of these situations involves providing piano accompaniment for the historical stag film The Janitor (ca.1930, Kinsey Institute Film Archive).  While perhaps not historically "accurate" (was a pianist present at this type of screening?) the music, performed by Ed Pastorini, will certainly relieve some awkwardness associated with watching pornography with our colleagues in total silence.  Ethnographic films and other representations of ethnic "others" also present a challenge of creating an authentic score without repeating the racial and cultural stereotypes that were often present in silent era film scores.   Fortunately, the musicians at this year’s symposium, including silent film music experts Marty Marks and Donald Sosin, can draw upon their years of experience in dealing with these issues to provide the best possible accompaniment. In addition, the added enjoyment of their performances should encourage discussion.

This year’s symposium will feature soundless film and video with live narration, newly recorded scores, and a variety of musical performances.  Performers include jazz pianist and indie rock musician Ed Pastorini, expert film accompanist and Senior Lecturer in Music at MIT Marty Marks, silent film accompanist extraordinaire Donald Sosin, electronic musician T. Griffin, and classical pianist Elaine Brennan, who is joining us from Ireland. Additionally, the NYU Steinhardt Film Scoring Program, headed by Professor Ron Sadoff, has created a brand new, innovative electronic score for A Trip Down Market Street (1906), premiering on the final evening of the symposium with Rick Prelinger's new 35mm print.

-- Noelle Griffis

Mar 28, 2010

DVD cover art by Alyssa Diaz

Here's the penultimate draft of the cover for the DVD box, which will contain that 11-film line-up described in the previous blog post. 

A DVD with footage of Patti Smith and Ro-Revus. 
(Not available in stores.)

Mar 21, 2010

DVD Sampler of Orphan Films

Three students graduating from the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation master's program in six weeks -- Stefan Elnabli, Walter Forsberg, and Jonah Volk -- have produced a DVD.  It's a fully outfitted production, with liner notes, nice graphic design, finest film-to-video transfer, preservation notes, original scores, and commentary tracks.

This Orphan Film Sampler will be given to attendees at the rapidly upcoming 7th Orphan Film Symposium, which commences April 7th. It's not a collection of items from this year's symposium, but an assortment of films shown at past symposiums, alongside orphaned works not showcased before.

Here's the list of 11 entries:

 • The Passaic Textile Strike, reel 5 (International Workers Aid, 1926)
Jenkins Orphanage Band (Fox Movietone News, 1928)
World's Youngest Acrobat (Hearst Metrotone/Fox Movietone, 1929)
Tales from Tamiment (Louis W. Kellman, for the Rand School of Social Science's Camp Tamiment, ca. 1932)
Berlin Olympics home movies (unknown, 1936)
With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (Henri Cartier-Bresson with Herbert Klein, 1938)
NYU Surveillance Film of 3/6/68 Dow Chemical Demonstration (NYU Campus Security, 1968)
 • Ro-Revus Talks About Worms (South Carolina ETV, 1971)
 • [New Year's Eve at CBGB's] (Amos Poe, ca. 1978) 
 • let's just kiss + say goodbye (Robert Blanchon, 1995)
 • Homage to H. Lee Waters (Bill Brand and Julia Nicoll, 2004)

 The DVD will not be sold.  In fact, no money changed hands in the compilation and production of these orphan films -- thanks to the generosity of Colorlab, Broadway Video, NYU Libraries (University Archives, Fales Library, Tamiment Library, and the Preservation & Conservation Department), South Carolina ETV, the University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections, Library of Congress, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, CPUSA, Amos Poe, NYU Steinhardt Music Program in Film Scoring, and the Tisch School of the Arts/Cinema Studies.

Mar 16, 2010

Old and New Media after Katrina after Orphans 7

The 2010 Orphan Film Symposium is now but 22 days away. The program went to the printer yesterday. The full program is online, with annotations galore. 

Meanwhile, as Orphans 7 gets set to host Helen Hill Award winners Jodie Mack and Danielle Ash, a new book with a chapter on Helen Hill and her film work has been announced by


Mar 12, 2010 on orphan films

re: Art21 blog:

Nick Ravich has a swell review of the March 9th "Best of the Orphan Film Symposium" screening at the IFC Center.

Mar 6, 2010

Bringing Silent Decay to Life: Bill Morrison at Orphans

Experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison is a regular at the Orphan Film Symposium, where he has generated ideas for his distinct approach to creating new works out of damaged film materials. Although Morrison is best known for his feature-length 2002 meditation on the degradation of silent film imagery, Decasia, he has produced over two dozen works since the early 1990s.

Morrison has partnered with preservation expert George Willeman at the Library of Congress's National Audio-Visual Conservation Center to curate fragments resonant with his unique cinematic vision. They come from prints of five silent feature films: Cromwell the Wicked (1926) an obscure quasi-documentary about Cromwell, Oklahoma; The Climbers (1919), a drama by prolific but little-known director Tom Terriss; Pathé's stencil-colored The Life of Christ (1908); and two independent productions, With Buffalo Bill on the U.P. Trail (1926); and a jungle drama called Life's Crossroads (1928).

All of these nitrate-base prints suffered from emulsion deterioration, a phenomenon caused when off-gassing from the decaying nitrate cellulose base softens the silvery, gelatinous image layered upon it. Although this renders the original materials unprojectable, Morrison reframes the aleatory reconfiguration of the images for aesthetic possibilities.

Morrison and Willeman worked with a large collection donated to the Library of Congress by John Maddox of Duck Run, Tennessee, a private collector who used to project films for neighbors in his own outdoor cinema. However, according to Willeman, the silent films in Maddox's collection came to him from another collector. (This physical movement of the prints -- from collector one to Maddox to LOC to Morrison to the symposium screening -- neatly plays into the the Orphans 7 theme, "Moving Pictures Around the World.")

"Many of them were in amazingly good condition for the lack of proper storage, as Bill will attest," says Willeman. He adds, however, "Even the bad ones had some value."  

    -- Eric Kohn

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frame from Buffalo Bill on the U.P. Trail