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