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PostPosted: Mon Apr 02, 2012 11:55 pm 

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I find that many silent films suffer from an average musical score. I feel this is because those scores which don't fit well with the film are composed by part-time composers and composers who have never been hired to score a contemporary film so have no proper idea how to go about the job.

Just imagine if one of these working composers scored a silent film - Philip Glass, Ennio Morricone, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman.

Now, these are all giants who I'm sure command a very high salary, so the chances of any one agreeing to score a film would be low.

However, if together, we nominate one film to be scored by one specific composer and then start an online petition, it might get the ball rolling.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:45 am 
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Nyman has actually done several silent scores -- Man With a Movie Camera, The Eleventh Year, A Sixth Part of the World, À propos de Nice, Manhatta, maybe one or two others I missed. The Vertovs are out on DVD from Filmmuseum and the BFI. As I understand it, Nyman's silent scores are mostly reworkings of existing pieces, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for him.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 1:39 am 
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I always found this packaging to be extremely bizarre:
Image
You have to squint to see Vertov's name on there.
When I first saw that I wasn't completely sure if it was the Vertov film or some re-working or whatnot.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 3:34 am 
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SalParadise wrote:
I find that many silent films suffer from an average musical score. I feel this is because those scores which don't fit well with the film are composed by part-time composers and composers who have never been hired to score a contemporary film so have no proper idea how to go about the job.
Just imagine if one of these working composers scored a silent film - Philip Glass, Ennio Morricone, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman.

It sounds like a good idea on paper. But, being a modern film composer doesn't make you necessarily a great silent film composer. I have a good example. Two French film composers Antoine Duhamel and Pierre Jansen were asked to write a score for Griffith's Intolerance in the early 90s. The result was pretty dire. They ignored the lighter moments and wrote a broad darkish orchestral score that felt like 'background music'. If you compare it with Carl Davis' masterful score, it's even more disastrous. The battle scenes are incredibly well delineated by Davis whereas with Jansen & Duhamel, it's just chaotic and continuous loud chromatic mess. Basically, writing for silent film is a very different job. You have to create the characters with the music. You don't need to do that for a talkie. I think Carl Davis is right when he says that silent film music is more like an opera or a ballet. The music supports the atmosphere, the characters continuously. In a modern film, music is far more sparse.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:36 am 
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Ennio Morricone has done at least one silent film score - the 1912 Richard III - and it's bloody awful, showing absolutely no sensitivity to the material and no sense of what makes the film effective. The idea seems to have been to give the whole film an air of archaic and vaguely horrifying mystery, as though it were some kind of video curse excavated from a huanted burial ground; in other words, the score desperately tries to 'sell' the film to an audience who are presumed not to have any prior experience of watching silent films - not a bad idea as such, but misguided in the execution. (I though it was very similar to KTL's Phantom Carriage score; effective for a couple of minutes, but basically inappropriate.)

Someone like Carl Davis is not that great at scoring talkies (though he's not bad either, from what I know of his work), but he has precisely the sensitivity and sensibility required for silents. Napoleon is another case in point: I like Carmine Coppola's score for Apocalypse Now quite a lot, but when it comes to Gance he's clueless.

So I agree with Ann on this one, although generally speaking it would be nice to see more 'professional' film score composers work on silents.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:46 am 
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It's probably worth mentioning that Glass has done two film scores to pre-existing films - neither of them were silent, but they might as well have been. But Tod Browning's Dracula barely had any music at all in its original version, and what Glass did with La Belle et la Bête amounts to a wholesale reconceptualising of the entire film rather than a simple scoring job.

Sloper wrote:
Someone like Carl Davis is not that great at scoring talkies (though he's not bad either, from what I know of his work), but he has precisely the sensitivity and sensibility required for silents. Napoleon is another case in point: I like Carmine Coppola's score for Apocalypse Now quite a lot, but when it comes to Gance he's clueless.

I don't know anyone who prefers Coppola to Davis when it comes to scoring Napoléon, despite the fact that Coppola's score is almost entirely original (the unavoidable 'Marseillaise' aside), whereas Davis is largely a Bach-Beethoven-Mozart mash-up. But the Davis score is physically thrilling in performance in a way that the Coppola one didn't come anywhere near, because Davis is a silent-film composer to his fingertips.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:56 am 
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How well is Richard Einhorn known in the music world? His Voices of Light strikes me as the single best scoring for a silent movie that wasn't written as part of the movie-making process I've ever heard, and the material about him on the Criterion disc implied that he has some cachet as a modernist musician, but I'm not at all familiar with that context. In any case, both that and Philip Glasses also breathtaking Beauty and the Beast score were written because the musicians felt inspired to create a piece based on the movie, rather than being written to commission (or at least, that's my understanding) while Glass's much less interesting Dracula score was something specifically asked of him- which makes me leery of the idea of just matching various musicians up with great films and asking for a score.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 5:07 am 

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Sloper wrote:
...the score desperately tries to 'sell' the film to an audience who are presumed not to have any prior experience of watching silent films...

I haven't heard it myself but this also seems to apply to the AIR score for the restored colour version of A Trip to the Moon, judging from what I've read on Nitrateville:
bigshot wrote:
The music sounds like the bastard child of Pink Floyd and 1970s porno movie soundtracks. It doesn't hit a single accent in the film. During chase scenes it noodles along aimlessly. Explosions happen on the screen as the underwater synth sounds loop on and on. The music makes the film seem boring, and that's quite a trick. I have no idea why they used this track in the first place, and I'm even more baffled why they provided no alternative.

In reply for Flicker Alley:
David Shepard wrote:
The AIR score as exclusive accompaniment is a contractual requirement imposed by agreement between AIR and the Foundations that paid a huge amount of money for this project that, not withstanding the short running time of the film, is probably the most complex film restoration ever undertaken. Some people may not like the music but others do, and it came about because the Foundations polled several leading current French film directors who recommended AIR. Certainly it is a matter of taste and there is no right and wrong. There is a sunset on the AIR score because it was Melies' wish that the film be accompanied "in the mode" and of course, "the mode" in music changes rather quickly over time.... Any music may be used at live performances.

He added later that the expiry date of the AIR score is "years away". So those of us who hate this kind of anachronistic music on silents will have to do without the restoration, watch it mute or (if technically savvy enough) merge it with another existing score for the film. The FA release is one of the very few I haven't bought - though that's partly because the Blu-ray was region-locked, another contractual obligation apparently!


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 5:29 am 
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Does the Cinematic Orchestra's score for Man with a Movie Camera have any fans around here? (I think I remember Manicsounds was as well, if I'm not mistaken). I have yet to watch the film with any other score, simply because I find their interpretation so brilliant. Their take on Theme de Yoyo is perhaps the highlight.

I have been disappointed with some master scores - after having heard new versions first. The prime example might be the Nosferatu score. I shouldn't complain about having the original, formerly lost score, but it's nothing too exciting (and hardly seems to match the film: prime example being the scene where Orlok enters Hutter's room at night) . My preference is for the Silent Orchestra score on the Image disc. I also can't really stomach the original Nibelungenlied score. I'll die happy if Gaylord Carter's organ score ends up on MOC's disc.

I suppose we shouldn't complain too much -since some companies are actually commissioning new music, rather than dumping Toccata on everything. Perhaps my favorite PD bandit score tale is my first encounter with Birth of a Nation - which had the Holbern symphony played on repeat. It worked out a lot better than you might initially fear. It had the added bonus of also starting my love for Grieg - so whatever.

If anything should be attacked, it's every Gothic Industrial band's rite of passage: composing a score for Nosferatu.

Last thing before I stop: Does Tangerine Dream's score for L'Inferno ever improve? I've attempted it many times, but can't get past the first five minutes - and I would rather wait for something else than see it completely silent.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 5:40 am 

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Minkin wrote:
Last thing before I stop: Does Tangerine Dream's score for L'Inferno ever improve? I've attempted it many times, but can't get past the first five minutes - and I would rather wait for something else than see it completely silent.

It never improved for me but there is now a piano-scored edition from Cineteca di Bologna (English-friendly).


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:03 am 
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This seems appropriate for this thread - Simon Fisher Turner talks about the challenges of scoring The Great White Silence.

Which posed particular challenges given that it's a two-hour documentary without much narrative shape, especially in the middle when it devotes an inordinate amount of time to penguin footage.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:27 am 
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A couple more examples of working composers in current filmmaking who have written new scores for silent films: David Newman writing a new score for Sunrise (clips here and here) which as far as I know was only ever performed at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival screening; and Joe Hisaishi's score for The General (clip here) which seems pretty good. For some reason going from animated films to silent films seems like a smoother transition to me than contemporary live-action films to silents, so it makes sense to me that composers like Hisaishi and David Newman (thinking of his legitimately exquisite score for The Brave Little Toaster) would be game for it. I feel like Michael Giacchino would be a good fit, too (he's practically scored a silent short already with that lovely sequence toward the beginning of Up).

But I would have to agree with others here that it certainly doesn't strike me as obvious that someone who is good at scoring contemporary films will be better at scoring silent films than someone who has only (or primarily) composed for silents. You might just as well say that an actor who is good in contemporary films would be better in a silent film than an actor who is primarily experienced in pantomime - if anything, it's counterintuitive.

That said, I would still be very interested in seeing more of them try it. I mentioned Michael Giacchino. Gabriel Yared also does seem like a really good choice, given that he definitely has an interest in "classic" styles of film scoring (judging by his unused score for Troy, rejected for being too "old-fashioned") and the fact that he is also very active in composing for ballet (and I think generally he's much more versatile than a lot of people give him credit for).


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:39 am 
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Minkin wrote:
If anything should be attacked, it's every Gothic Industrial band's rite of passage: composing a score for Nosferatu.

A couple of years ago I saw a live performance with accompaniment by Misty's Big Adventure. The adventure in question seemed to entail playing a pre-recorded music track and trying very hard to drown it out (who could blame them?) with an electric guitar, a xylophone and a clarinet. There may well have been other instruments of torture involved. Probably not Gothic Industrial, but it was a long, headachey evening.

I may be alone in thinking James Bernard's score is definitive (and prefer the BFI edition to MoC in other ways too); so there's one example of a 'talkie' composer getting it right...

Agreed on Gabriel Yared, something about his music seems uncannily suited to silent films - the only reason I can think of is that he's very attentive to the emotional details of a scene. Thinking of Ripley and Lives of Others primarily.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:51 am 
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Talking of headachey evening, I once had the (mis)fortune to go to the premiere of a new score for Eisenstein's Strike. It wasn't really music as such, but some electronic noises produced by a computer and giant speakers. The composer (from IRCAM ) made a very pompous speech to explain his score. Not only was it deafeningly loud, but it was like a series of screeching noises... If you ever want to listen to that, Carlotta released it on DVD.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:56 am 
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MichaelB wrote:
I don't know anyone who prefers Coppola to Davis when it comes to scoring Napoléon

Well, me for example. Coppola's droning marches and sentimental shtick are completely appropriate for this monstrosity. It's obviously a backhanded compliment, but still Coppola hit the right sound.

Instead of talking about great composers scoring great silents, I'd rather suggest having young composers score a silent as the start of their career. Warner had these nice silent scoring competitions for e.g. the Garbo or the Chaney films and I liked the results very much. Young people are eager and hungry and interested in their task while older legends usually do their stuff regardless what the film in question would really need.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:03 am 
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lubitsch wrote:
Well, me for example. Coppola's droning marches and sentimental shtick are completely appropriate for this monstrosity. It's obviously a backhanded compliment, but still Coppola hit the right sound.

But even if you're reading the film like that, wouldn't you agree that Davis' bombastic use of Beethoven is rather more effective?

lubitsch wrote:
Instead of talking about great composers scoring great silents, I'd rather suggest having young composers score a silent as the start of their career. Warner had these nice silent scoring competitions for e.g. the Garbo or the Chaney films and I liked the results very much. Young people are eager and hungry and interested in their task while older legends usually do their stuff regardless what the film in question would really need.

As I understand it, that's pretty much what the BFI is doing with the nine Hitchcock silents currently under restoration - they're commissioning nine different composers, and going from the names announced so far (Nitin Sawhney/The Lodger, Daniel Patrick Cohen/The Pleasure Garden, Soweto Kinch/The Ring), the emphasis is clearly on the younger generation.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:29 am 
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Don't forget the commissions for the upcoming Epstein set too. Germaine Dulac's set from a year or so back also got a choice of three scores including the 'toy orchestra' sound of Pascal Comelade which is hardly a mainstream choice. And cross referencing the upcoming Birth of a Nation howzabout DJ Spooky's remix?


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 5:04 pm 
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At Herr Schreck's suggestion, the "Silent Masterworks without Master Scores" thread has been merged with this thread. Just so there's no confusion.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 5:06 pm 
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Thank you, sir!


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:38 pm 
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From the Flicker Alley thread:

Drucker wrote:
HerrSchreck wrote:
The shit that is accepted and passed along as Formally Appropriate in the realm of silent film music can be breathtaking; alas the Timothy Brocks of the world are few and far between. The sin so many commit is to use the scoring of a commercial dvd/BD as an opportunity to reach an audience more vast than is common for them... and to use the score as a means of seizing the moment and capturing their attention. Thus you get scores that are fitst overbearing, and second, stylistically completely inappropriate--resulting in a total disaster bearing little to no connection to the thing that happens to be unfolding on your TV screen.

Haven't seen this one, though. Good on you for bringing the world of silents to your tot. .


I know this isn't the thread for silent film scores, but what say you about stylistically, perhaps, scores trying too HARD to fit the mood? City Girl, for example (I DO like the score), but there's parts of it that strike me as a bit (for lack of a better word...jeez so many qualifiers), "obvious." It's a movie centered around a farm, and there's hillbilly-ish instrumentation. Some Kino discs like Cabinet of Caligari...I think really start to lose me when the franticness of the picture is too literally recreated with music.
Well I think the Kino CALIGARI's default track-the more modern track-pretty decent, though some of it is just too loose and noodling. The second track by Sosin is just mindbendingly bad.

CITY GIRL as a film is Murnau at his crowd-pleasing most melodramatically accessible ( for heaven's sake hour heroine actually has a hopeful geranium in her window!). For that reason I think the score (i dont have the MOC BD, but have the crown jewel of all home video releases, the MurBorzFox box) works well.

As for scores being too thematically obvious or too supportive of the onscreen action, it's certainly the lesser of 2 evils, considering the industrial norm. Silent film scoring is a unique form of music as it is meant not so much to be noticed but to be entirely supportive of, to punctuate the onscreen action. I suppose it is possible to be overly supportive, but certainly if this were the problem in the majority of cases, I would be a much happier man when it came to dvd releases.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:59 pm 
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Anyone ever see 3epkano do live accompaniments? I've only seen them do one film, Metropolis and it was excellent - I liked it even better than Alloy Orchestra's accompaniment. I don't even recall them doing any 'mickey mousing' to the music, which I liked.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:01 pm 
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I mentioned this in another thread, but the score on TCM's release of The Cameraman is so appalling that I wound up watching the movie mute- it tries desperately to change mood so as to fit every single joke or moment of pathos, and winds up having absolutely zero unity musically and underlining jokes in a way that destroys the wit of them. Blegh.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:07 pm 
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matrixschmatrix wrote:
I mentioned this in another thread, but the score on TCM's release of The Cameraman is so appalling that I wound up watching the movie mute- it tries desperately to change mood so as to fit every single joke or moment of pathos, and winds up having absolutely zero unity musically and underlining jokes in a way that destroys the wit of them. Blegh.

I saw this at Film Forum during their Silent run, and the original music was fantastic. There's a scene in the movie where Buster keeps getting hurt (doing what I don't remember, I think it's trying to get the camera out of the office and walking into the door) and at that moment, the pianist would whack the piano to mime the effect of getting hurt, but besides that, the music breezed along wonderfully.

But again, that effect, repeated too often, would be maddening.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:43 am 
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Just got back from seeing Merrill Garbus, Ava Mendoza, and the tUnE-yArDs band perform over several Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle shorts at the Castro. I thought their music for One Week was the highlight, beginning with beautiful falsetto vocal blending (all Garbus, of course, looped into a choir) over the wedding, leading to some clumsy jackhammer rhythms over the house construction (reminiscent of Raymond Scott), and ending with a great roaring mush of electric guitar and saxophone as the house spun around in the storm. They did a nice raqs sharqi mock-up during Arbuckle's Salome dance in The Cook, and although Garbus poached one of her own songs from w h o k i l l ("Gangsta") for the bank robbery in The Haunted House, the bouncy rhythm of the tune worked more or less. All in all, I think she is a kindred spirit to Arbuckle and Keaton, and like the themes of violence in her songs, there was some appropriate menace in her collaboration with Mendoza; the pratfalls had more impact as a result, even if the music was occasionally too loud. I had mixed feelings overall, but for the most part, it was a success, and it was interesting to see young pop artists (albeit on the experimental end) contribute music to 90-year-old films in the wake of reading the Nitrateville thread regarding AIR's score to Méliès.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent Film Music
PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2012 6:09 pm 
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More along the theme of music responsive to action: I am watching King Vidor's La Bohème from TCM, and as Mimi lies dying of tuberculosis, the pianist decides to play a frisky arpeggiated theme reminiscent of butterflies and maypole dances. I'm assuming this was a score intended for this film and not superimposed by a producer. I wouldn't bother picking on this particular musician (whoever he/she is), except that I think the point should be made that conventional silent-score instrumentation can just as often lead to incommensurate, insipid work as "modernized" scoring. My experience with Merrill Garbus and Buster Keaton above testifies to the potential for modern work to buttress rather than undermine the image; in some cases, it even boosts the film to greater heights. Most on this board probably already realize this and are open to innovative work in silent film scoring, but I guess I'm still reacting to the Nitrateville kerfuffle (beginning here) regarding AIR's score to Méliès; a lot of that criticism seems to sustain the myth that silent film music should have no instrumentation that is anachronistic to the period in which it was produced, although I think the majority of complaints in that particular case at least ostensibly revolve around the score's indifference to action on screen, which, in fact, is the most common complaint I have with conventional scoring. I'd much rather listen to something unique that doesn't punctuate every hammer blow, than something that lazily attempts to overcome these deficiencies by being conventional.


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