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Monday, April 12, 2021

Chaplin Heats Up For a 30's Revive

Where Right Music Makes Them Funnier

Chaplin did twelve comedies for Mutual during 1916-17. They are, as a group, the best things he made. I forget how many iterations have gone through my hands, starting with 8mm, to 16, video, laser, DVD, more DVD, then Blu-Ray, Regions One, then Two. That is how high I regard them. Silent comedy in its day, and for revivals after, aimed at “Happy Times and Jolly Moments” (to cite a title of one clip compilation), music a must to enhance mood whether live or canned on a track. Popular tunes might be used, or “old-timey” piano tracking salted with stingers for each fall, crash, shot, bark. Same tricks applied to cartoons were used also to juice live action bereft of talk. Hal Roach applied music-effects to comedies soon as he practically could, via synchronized discs. Just watch ’28-29 releases Habeas Corpus, We Faw Down, Liberty, That’s My Wife, other Laurel-Hardys that used hits of the day to liven backdrop. Slapstick seems unearthly where no sound comes with it. The Mutuals were less recognized classics than simple sure things to please a crowd, including ones gathered well after sound took over. Independent producer and former exhibitor Amadee Van Beuren found he could sell these comedies as well as if new … they were still that funny … more so with V for vigor scores he commissioned from hot jazz makers Gene Rodemich and Winston Sharples. Van Beuren rolled dice in buying six of the twelve Mutual shorts at $10K apiece, guessing that test screenings would pave way toward RKO agreeing to distribute the group, plus remaining half-dozen should initial ones click, which they assuredly did.

Idea was to challenge contagion of double features by making shorts uniquely attractive, theatres using enough one and two-reelers to fill much of time a second full-length would run. Chaplin had stayed a meaningful name in short subjects even as his current policy was features. There was him, then all the rest, not a wonder he was bowed to as master of all slapstick surveyed. Press beyond trades lauded Chaplin regular, one NY sheet calling for return “of those old custard pie throwing pictures that Chaplin used to be seen in.” Never mind he seldom had thrown pies, perception being all, as one exhib in Provincetown, RI found when A Dog’s Life showed “plenty of life” for a 1931 encore (the short dated to 1918). Rurals used Chaplin where he could prop up weak sisters, never mind how far back footage went. Van Beuren knew all this and so felt his investment a safe one. Silent comedy apart from Chaplin was less sure. I don’t know a group other than his Mutuals revived so prominently once talk came. Did patrons miss Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon, mutely tossing their pies? Never mind, as few seemed willing to gamble on names other than Chaplin.

A test for Easy Street in September 1932 put it with minor accompany of Radio Patrol, a Universal programmer no one expected to leap fences, so credit, or blame, would rest with the comedy. Old-school promotion was used, Chaplin lookalikes sought among attending kids, a best resembler in receipt of “a fine saddle horse” (but what would Mom say when he/she rode the nag home?). Appeal having been proven saw “all RKO circuit houses” getting Easy Street with The Phantom of Crestwood, a nice mood switch from slapstick to spine-tingling. Showmen were happy, as in very. The Mutuals, all twelve, ran from fall 1932 into 1934. Here was “Chaplinitis” again, others sniffing money from other of the comic's residue, getting what they could of even older Keystone and Essanay comedies he had made, these rolled out through the 30’s and well after, bunched by however many a theatre could want. So what if they played primitive, so long as tricked out with music, any music, be it stock, bought, or improvised. Call them Parades, A Night With ..., Laff Shows. Charlie was still King, “Wonderful, Lovable, Laughable.” The man himself was even known to attend these paste-ups and laugh the loudest.

The Mutuals modernly look better --- never so vivid as now --- but freewheel is largely out of their music (a lot of current scores still are plenty good however). I was sent a couple sets with Van Beuren tracks (ported from old lasers and/or analog transfers), having not experienced them for years. It was like a plate of Mexican jump beans. So what is “appropriate” accompany for these? Give me VB vitamins from here on. I played The Cure A-B between jazzed-up ’32 and one of the Blu-Ray treatments … no contest, one hot, the other a chill. Restored-to-the-sky falls to earth where music belongs less to Chaplin than Caligari. The Van Beurens were scored to zip-speed of 24 frames-per-second, standard sound projection, thus Charlie at a dead run while accompany tries to stay ahead of him. Tracks were recorded on the east coast, musicians hired out of bands a block, or subway, distant. It is said Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, among later-prominent others, performed for the Chaplins, no doubt glad to get the work. Who knows how fast frames are suppose to pass through apertures? Cameras were cranked by hand, so scratch hope of uniformity. Same with projectors giving patronage a bum’s rush where shows ran overtime and for that reason or other you had to clear the house. With editing so rapid-fire as movies practice today (heck, it’s been that way for twenty years), does Chaplin at 24 fps seem too fast? --- I mean to a modern audience, not fossils wanting to slow silent shows down. Think those raised on video games push brakes? Complaining that they should reveals more about us than them.

For everyone who watches a silent film, there are that many different notions of how to present them. I’ve done talkless shows more often wrong than right. A local art guild invited me and my Eumig 8mm projector to a 1972 gathering, my choice for delectation The General. The Eumig offered two speeds, 18 and 24 frames-per-second. I was green enough to assume all silent movies ran properly at 18, while talkies went 24. The show was agony, my advantage in projecting the fact I did not have to face the audience and observe their suffering, it being dark enough not to catch eye of walkouts. Did I learn from the experience? Evidently not, for less than a year later I inflicted Phantom of the Opera upon fellow collegiates who at least had recourse of that evening’s BYOB policy. Not a few would ask Why do you watch these? At times I found it hard to answer. It took home video to make latter-day silent movie presentations idiot-proof.

Music was for many as much an issue as speed. What worked best? An audience would realize quick what didn’t; that turned lots off silents barely in. I used to play Chopin against all my 8mm, and yes, sometimes it was against, Etudes lagging always behind Keystone chases. How many of us had record libraries from which to select ideal mood? Moon Mullins used a 78 of calliope music to go with his, no matter what silent he showed. It was easier then to accept aural anomalies, for how often did we get opportunity to view pre-talk? No two theatres accompanied the same when Chaplin’s Mutuals were new, the man or woman at keyboards having it their way (did cue sheets go out with these comedies? I’ve not seen any). Some theatres drew patrons on the reputation of who provided music, local stars born by such means. Imagine getting applause all day, every day, from neighbors who came as much to hear you as watch movies. I had a prodigy aunt who accompanied 20’s shows when she was still a kid. Here was practical reason for youngsters to take piano lessons. Work your way up to playing for Charlie Chaplin … now there’s motivation to learn.

So what was initial accompany for Mutuals in 1916-17 --- Fox Trots, the Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear, other fad tunes of the time? You wonder if anyone still digs out yellowed song sheets to tee off Easy Street or The Rink with what was popular over a hundred years ago. Imagine too how many music styles have escorted Chaplin to parties since. Van Bueren’s jazz, “hot” before it later became “swing,” seems ideal to my ears. These scores staked an early 30’s claim on films otherwise elderly. Chaplin's Mutual comedies were thus renewed, would "belong" thanks to music that gave them fresh voice for those who remembered plus ones arriving new to the Chaplin experience, a fusion of energetic “now” wedded to still enjoyed “then.” Maybe some at the time deplored such an update, but for most I suspect it more
than pleased. And for us, what’s the difference between Bunny Hugs and Hot Jazz? Chaplin’s comedy was timeless, stayed that way … he rises even above mournful modern scores. Dizzying are rebirths the Mutual lot has had. So many. Public domain status will do that. Footage found here, lost there, intertitles as they initially were, or faked to look that way, “Slo-mo” applied to fury of those who want Charlie to pick up his pace (reverence overkill?). For all of time kid-watching, I could have paved four more lanes to Winston-Salem, given application to asphalt rather than apertures. The game now, or call it obsession, is to achieve state of Mutual grace, but where is consensus as to that? Find me two, let alone more, in Mutual harmony.

Many thanks to Scott MacGillivray, who made this column possible. For further info re the Chaplin Mutual series, consult Michael Hayde's definitive account, Chaplin's Vintage Year, a great read, as are all books Hayde has written. 


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I particularly love the Van Beuren versions of the Chaplin Mutual shorts, even though I have never seen them with apparently original Mutual titles nor with the RKO reissue ones. The music and the sound effects prepared for them are amusing and cartoonish enough to enhance the Chaplin work even better than the music he himself prepared for his post 1918 productions.

Contemporary music accompainment usually don't work effectively with these films. The soundtrack needs to be or at least emulate the music of the time because today's musical genres feel strange and out of place in here. I tried to do it when I scored ALL DOLLED UP with tangos as a response of my own due to disagreements and frustrations with commisioned scores for films that in many ocassions did not use the original songs written for them not only in the United States but in many countries around the world including Argentina.

The Carl Davis scores for the Chaplin Mutual shorts are acceptable but they lack the impact that those prepared for Van Beuren have.

12:31 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Were Chaplin re-releases still in play when "The Golden Age of Comedy" appeared, or had his offscreen controversies pushed them off the market? Everybody else in the Youngson film was News to modern audiences, but were his Chaplin clips as novel by then?

Walter Kerr comes down firmly on the side of faster projection speeds in "The Silent Clowns", declaring that Chaplin ruined his own compilations by stretch-printing the action to "natural" pace.

Personal memories of stacking LPs on the record changer when subjecting family to "Lilac Time" in 8mm on 200 ft reels. It was a pretty random selection, including football fight songs. The movie was interesting enough that even cynical siblings toughed it out. More often I was running one-reel cartoons and some Blackhawk shorts for kids, with no other accompaniment than the whirl of the projector and my reading of subtitles in funny voices. In short doses the novelty of images on a screen carried the day.

Also remember that Chaplin TV show with relentless quasi-Youngson narration and music I recognized from cheap sitcoms, cartoons and regional commercials. "The Toy That Grew Up" had nice organ accompaniment, although I remember being annoyed when they quoted "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" for a scene of servants delivering bromos after a wild party. Funny, but way out of period. Later, "The Silent Years" offered appealing piano scores by William Perry. Perry's score was on Blackhawk's VHS release of "The General", and I wish a disc release would use it. There's a CD with suite versions, and another that includes three orchestral selections.

"The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy" scored the silents with what seemed to be 30s music, but it's cheesy, annoyingly repetitious, and clearly not by Shields or Hartley. I understand some foreign video releases featured Shields and Hartley music performed by the Beau Hunks, which seems like a swell idea but on reflection may actually feel too modern for Jazz Age antics.

I'm happy with most modern scores, even some of the Alloy Orchestra oddities. What annoys is when the score is actually working against the film. On "The Red Mill" a big Marion Davies comedy, the TCM composer got the idea the climax was to be played totally straight when it's closer to a gag finish. Similarly, a DVD of "The Bat" featured a meandering "suspense" theme under what were obviously slapstick interludes.

There must be an app that plays projector noises for nostalgic buffs.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Am I thinking of the Robert Youngson movies, or did I watch on long-ago Saturday mornings Chaplin shorts with narration uselessly explaining what we were seeing?

I'm actually impressed by the trade ad assuring prints from "reconditioned negatives -- all scratches and grain removed". And here I thought film restoration was a new thing. Some hardcore film fans actually prefer grain, believing it gives them the truer celluloid experience.

And as for the cartoon at the top of the page: did the artist deliberately misspell "BELIEVE"? And I was ready to carp about the "The Chimp"'s "two reels of solid laughs" because it has a three. But for me the laughs come after the first, so maybe he was on to something.

5:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers considers film speed vs. music accompany:

Between speed and music as the deciding factor in an evening’s entertainment of the old and arcane, I would go with music. I recall one fellow sitting in the scorer’s box along the wall of an ancient gymnasium with a record player, tasked with providing musical accompaniment to Lon Chaney’s version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” He reached his perch by a precariously mounted ladder and was decidedly incommunicado once the show began. No Chopin for this one, though, but rather the most lugubrious of organ scores. It was to the movie as a souffle after a door had slammed. His big idea was to cut the sound during the chandelier sequence and then crank it up full volume when the thing came down, to what he imagined would be a startling effect. However, he had only seen the Arthur Lubin version of “Phantom,” and this sequence was the one thing Lubin had gotten right, building up a little suspense before letting the chandelier fall. Rupert Julien, Chaney’s ostensible director, just gave the scene away. Our fellow in the box cut the sound all right, but before he knew it, the chandelier was down and lying in the audience. Belatedly, he cranked it up again, getting no more reaction than a call from someone down below, asking what happened to the music. That evening, though, no one seemed much bothered by that or 8 mm projectors at the far reaches of their throw, the speed of projection, or anything else. The novel setting, seeing W. C. Fields at the top of his game in “The Fatal Glass of Beer” and “The Dentist,” and the strange and wonderful Lon Chaney made for a marvelous evening. Afterwards, the hapless accompanist acknowledged that maybe Chopin would have been the better choice after all.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

I don't object to seeing the Mutuals in versions other than those Van Beuren reissues, and I'm certainly not knowledgeable enough to argue with those in a better position than I to know whether or not more contemporary versions of those shorts more accurately reflect what audiences saw in 1916-'17. But if you grew up with those Van Beurens and their jazzy soundtracks, it's kind of hard, at least for some of us, for those not to be the favorites.

Given how omnipresent the Mutual shorts were, I've wondered if it didn't annoy Chaplin that he didn't own them.

Re: "Happy Times and Jolly Moments." It so happens that I watched this short the other night. It is, I suppose, from such compilations that the idea took hold that silent comedy was mostly chases and pie throwing. And Billy Bevan. Lots of Billy Bevan. I noticed there was a bit of cheating going on, with footage from the Fatty Arbuckle talkies and 1935's "Keystone Hotel," with soundtracks stripped off, dropped in alongside genuine 1920s Sennett footage.

I wonder if Warner still has any Sennett footage in its vaults, or if that material has long since turned to dust.

Oh, and that ad that opens the essay. I had no idea that Olsen and Johnson made two-reelers. I've only seen them in a couple of their early '40s Universal features. I've never quite known what to make of that pair.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Kevin K: You're remembering The Charlie Chaplin Comedy Theatre, syndicated half-hours produced in 1965 by Vernon P. Becker. The narration was indeed redundant with the action (THE ADVENTURER: "Charlie loses his ice cream -- down his pants." Silent movies for the blind!) Prime TV, the syndicator, actually offered prints with or without narration (the voiceless versions presumably for the international market, but some of them did circulate in America).

Randy: Chaplin didn't own the Mutuals -- by his own choice. Michael Hayde's book points out that Chaplin had his chance to buy back the Mutuals in 1919, 1925, and 1969, and passed on them each time. Michael speculates that Chaplin was content to keep the Mutuals before the public. (Also, the RKO Olsen & Johnson shorts deal fell through. Woulda been fun, but no such films were made.)

Chaplin reissues went back into circulation in a big way, beginning in 1939. THE GREAT DICTATOR was eagerly awaited and getting all sorts of publicity, so independent film peddlers cashed in. Walter Futter prepared new prints of Keystone shorts and TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE, and Sam Rubenstein (King of Comedy, Inc.) brought back the Essanays in 1940. Guaranteed Pictures got into the act in 1941, bringing back the Van Beurens.

I was lucky enough to see THE PAWNSHOP and ONE A. M. in original RKO/Van Beuren prints at a revival screening in 1970. Picture and sound were superior, and oh, those Van Beuren scores! I wish Eric Beheim, Robert Israel, Vince Giordano, or somebody else with a good band would re-record the hot-jazz ONE A.M. score!

8:38 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

You were in luck when they showed silent movies in Los Angeles because you usually had old Gaylord Carter or young Robert Israel providing live accompaniment. Carter went back to the original days of silent comedy and Israel could sound like he might as well have. I actually went to the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax a couple of times in the last years the original owner John Edward Hampton was running it. He would play recorded music in the background not particularly synced to the action. One of my greatest movie going experiences was in the Laurence Austin period, when he showed an absolutely pristine print of Raymond Griffith's Hands Up!, which I hope someone can put to disc one day. (I also remember when Austin was doing silent movie shows in a church auditorium in the Valley, when he would hold his hand in front of the projector when the Blackhawk not for public exhibition notice was running.) I really, honestly hate to be an ingrate about this, but the only drawback to the early Harold Lloyd shorts Harold Lloyd Entertainment is giving away free and for nothing is the random ricky tick soundtracks put on them. I wish some enterprising You Tubers could bootleg more appropriate soundtracks onto them.

2:29 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great post! Yeah, those cartoony Van Beuren scores on the Chaplin re-issues were terrific. Very peppy! Flashback to managing a college coffee house in the early 70's. Silents were a surprisingly reliable draw, but music was a tricky issue. Had a good sound system and a good turntable but limited personnel available to constantly flip records. An LP side would have to go uninterrupted. 'Phantom of the Opera' was Mussorgsky (Night on Bald Mountain & Pictures at an Exhibition). An early selection of Louis Armstrong as sideman worked with most short comedies. For Keaton features ('Go West' and 'Steamboat Bill Jr.), Offenbach's Gaîté Parisienne.

In the 2010's, our local independent theater had a loose series of silent films accompanied live by regional musicians. Screenings of 'Häxan', 'The Penalty' and particularly 'City Girl' were great, very fun. But, lord, a program of electronic stuff played against 'The General' was a living nightmare! People left the place shaking their heads "what the hell was that?"

10:56 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Interesting that silent films should bring the importance of the selection of the music accompanying the film to the forefront.
Also, the image of that included old ad has inspired me to pull a few of the Mutuals and "Pepe Le Moko" off their shelf and put them into the hopper - they'll make a nice evening's combo.
As to the Mutual Chaplin comedies themselves, I'll only add that every time I view them it renews and strengthens my feeling that Eric Campbell's tragic and premature death was a very great loss for film comedy.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

The RKO Van Beuren reissues were no doubt spurred by the fantastic success of Chaplin's own CITY LIGHTS (1931) among a sea of talkies. Here Chaplin himself utilized sound effects to mock the human voice - CITY LIGHTS starts off with Henry Bergman's speech conveyed by a raspy kazoo (the kazoo solo performed by Charlie himself, according to biographer David Robinson).

Those Van Beuren scores on the Mutuals likely had influence on Chaplin's next silent, MODERN TIMES (1936), where the score is more energetic and up-tempo than the music of CITY LIGHTS. Comparing Van Beuren's "fight music" used as a running theme between Charlie and John Rand throughout THE PAWNSHOP with the music that opens the "conveyor belt" scene in MODERN TIMES, Chaplin's own choice was clearly inspired by the best.

In 1933 "Perfex Pictures" (not to be confused with the tape used to fix torn perforations!) announced the reissue of Stan Laurel's 12 silent two-reelers produced by Joe Rock, "synchronized with music, sound effects, and a modern narrator." I used to own a print of one from this series, HALF A MAN. The music was nowhere near the quality of the Chaplin Mutuals, but it was the smart-alecky narration that really killed the comedy. The Laurel reissues didn't seem to have any real impact at the time, certainly they were no competition to the new Laurel & Hardy films produced by Hal Roach.

In France Buster Keaton's THE BALLOONATIC (1923) was reissued (as "Malec Aéronaute") with a pleasant score around 1935, and while other Keaton silent shorts were still occasionally shown in France up until the start of WWII, I found no evidence that any of Buster's other two-reelers received this kind of treatment. MOMA has a beautiful 35mm print of THE BALLOONATIC's sound reissue, the preprint apparently being the original European negative.

4:12 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

You posted a most imposing portrait of Napoleon atop your page two days ago, captioned "CC as NB."

Honestly, I have now repeatedly stared at that image and mused, "is it Charles Coburn? Chester Conklin? Calvin Coolidge? Clark Clifford?" It took until this morning for me to realize that since your current post is about sound and the Chaplin Mutuals, it might be Charles Spencer Chaplin.

-- Griff

9:00 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Many fond memories of the Van Beuren Mutuals. I first encountered them on NYC's public tv (WNET, channel 13). Herb Graff hosted a week of silent comedies during Christmas vacation, when the educational programs were on hiatus.

Some special random remembrances: the phrase "A VanBeuren Production" filling the screen; Winston Sharples using "Vagabond Lover" and "Auf Wiedersehn" in the scores for THE VAGABOND and THE CURE; and in THE FIREMAN, Leo White frantically running around as the dubbed soundtrack voice yells "FIRE! FIRE!" what seems like a hundred times!

1:38 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I had a battered, almost unplayable original 16mm print of one of the Van Beuren Chaplins. The visual quality of the black and white images was stunning. Not even the best Blu-ray restorations look as good as that 16mm print did. It's beauty took my breath away.The Van Beurensound tracks are fine by me. I really like the ambient tracks used on Hal roach's silent comedies. They never interfere with the movies. Almost all the current crop of silent films have unbearable soundtracks. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, for example, is plain awful. I found that Edmund Meisel (who knew a thing or three about film music) had created a score for the film which is available on a cd. Bought it. Scored the film with Meisel's music. It came alive.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Speaking of Buster Keaton I once owned a 16mm print of THE CAMERAMAN of which the picture image was not the nest by a long shot but the wonderful ambient jazz piano score was way better than what the film now sports. It was so good it could be listened to for itself. I'm not a fan of solo piano scores. This one was one of the exceptions.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Strangely, if asked, I would have sworn that THE TOY THAT GREW UP used a solo piano score, at least on the 2 or 3 I particularly recall, ELLA CINDERS and LADY WINDEMERES FAN for example...but of course, it's possible I'm mistaken about was nearly 50 years ago...

7:29 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Randy - Chaplin was paid a million dollars over a year and a half for the Mutuals. That would be a tidy sum today. Back then it was phenomenal. He did okay, don't you think?

10:05 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Chaplin got $75 a week starting at Keystone. That was raised to, I think $125.00 plus bonus for directing. He was docked the bonus because DOUGH AND DYNAMITE was meant to be a one reeler. He made it two. It was the most profitable of the Keystones. Unable to get the value he deserved at Keystone he accepted Eassaney's offer of $10,000 a film plus a bonus of $100,000 for signing with them. After that came the Mutuals followed by lots more from First National plus ownership of his films. As a boy growing up in the slums of London Chaplin thought the doors open to the children of the rich closed to him he wrote in MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY. He added, "Then I read Emerson's essay, ON SELF RELIANCE. Here is a bit: "The reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance." Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in ON SELF-RELIANCE, "Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you only have an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much...

"Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued advisor who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, 'What do I have with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within?' my friend suggested, '--But these impulses may be from below, not from above,' I replied. 'They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will then live as one from the Devil.' No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature. Good and bad are but names transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it...I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions." I especially like, "If I am the Devil's child, I will then live as one from the Devil.'" God, the strength in that. “Where in the wide history of the world do we find art created by the excessively wealthy, powerful, or educated?”— David Mamet.

Like John Taylor Gstto I do my best to keep young people out of school. “Like the belief of the terminally ill in medicine the belief of the legitimately frightened in the educational process is a comforting lie...The American educational process prepares those with second-rate intellects to thrive in a bureaucratic environment. Obedience, rote memorization, and neatness are enshrined as intellectual achievements.”

1:15 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Mr.Mankini may well be right about piano scores on "The Toy That Grew Up". The theme music, "Curse of an Aching Heart", was definitely burned into memory as piano. Yet I somehow recall at least some films having soft-pedaled organ.

The one note I'd add to Chaplin's philosophy is that a successful nonconformist know why the rules and conventions exist. Some can be dismissed with impunity; others are there for good reason and, if not honored, must be replaced by something better. Chaplin mastered the Karno and Keystone formulas, and therefore didn't have to re-invent every wheel.

3:44 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Nice to see that others remember WTTW's THE TOY THAT GREW UP, but I have to say that I only remember their accompianist Hal Pearl playing an electric organ on the show, and the several scores I recorded on tape were all electric organ, but he may have played piano for the comedy shorts they showed.

Here's a surviving episode, which is their broadcast of VARIETY:


4:49 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Re:THE TOY THAT GREW UP.... the more I think about it, and read comments here, the less I'm trusting my memories... I found TOY to be one of the best programmes of its type, ever, due to low key nature of the presentation, which of course would appeal to a young,up and coming silent fan, as I was in those days....I fully appreciate the absolute bounty we have now but in some ways, there's almost TOO much out there, accessed too easily.... just the bewildering variety of scores available for each one makes my head spin.... and not in a good way!

8:19 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

And a big thanks to Richard M Roberts for finding an episode of TOY on YouTube....the understated tenor of presentation is just how I remember if I could properly recall the musical accompaniment....

11:19 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The question, "Why do you buy those?" I bet rings a bell with many here who go back to those silent 8mm prints we bought with hard earned dollars. I saw ads in FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND for complete 8mm copies of METROPOLIS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. They were beyond my reach until my mother saw an ad in the newspaper for someone to cut chickens (with a bandsaw) for Kentucky Fried Chicken in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I got 1.5 cents a bird as half of a two man job, one cutting, one bagging and alternating so we did not get tired and cut our fingers off. The boss showed me how to cut them right. The manager showed me how to cut them fast. He said, "Don't get caught." I figured the smart thing would be to learn to cut them right fast. They had trouble keeping a second person so I got 3 cents a bird. With that money I bought METROPOLIS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I ran them projected silent on my bedroom wall. Wow! I grew up on 1950s, 60s Hollywood fare. I had no idea the movies had once been so powerful. I was hooked. I wanted to see EVERYTHING from THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY on. My friends and family said, "Why are you wasting your money?" They did not realize I was giving myself a Grade A education in the art and history of the movies. Colonel Saunders came to town. He heard about the crazy kid cutting and bagging PERFECT. He came down to where I was and watched as I cut that day's batch. He said, "I need more like you." I just ordered the German 3D Blu-ray of THE CREATURE FROM THE BACK LAGOON Legacy Edition. Why since I already have the American edition. Because the German edition includes the Universal 8 anaglyph of CREATURE plus an interview with Jack Arnold. I bought the German 3D Blu-ray release of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE for the same reason. Creating scores on reel to reel tape for my silent films taught me how to score movies. The audience taught me how to score them better. When the audience leans forward in their seat to get closer to the screen I know I've got what the film demands. There was a woman in the Sault who ran a camera store. She came from Germany. She had been raped she said ninety times the night the Russians invaded Berlin. I learned a lot from her. She bought those 8mm copies of METROPOLIS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FOOLISH WIVES, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and others for me. I paid her with the pennies I got cutting chickens for KFC. I feel sorry for those who ask, "Why are you wasting your money on those?" Not one cent was wasted. David Beard, who ran a film book store, quoted in a piece on me, said, "Reg Hartt is underfinanced, overworked and snubbed. We should be paying tribute to him." No one is underfinanced who works for love which always leads the way. “Where in the wide history of the world do we find art created by the excessively wealthy, powerful, or educated?”— David Mamet. As for my film scores, they are unique. I let the movie tell me how it wants to sound. Shirley Hughes, of THE TORONTO SILENT FILM SOCIETY, stated that no one in the world scores silent films better than I do. That is one helluva thing for a person to say. I am perhaps the only person who uses silence in silent films. I learned to do that by accident. I had brought Bernard B. Brown to Toronto in 1980 because he had played first violin in the orchestra which accompanied THE BIRTH OF A NATION as THE CLANSMAN in 1915. After he returned The Toronto Film Society invited me to show the film with my score. The problem was their projectors ran faster and tape recorder ran slower. I solved this by running parts of the film in silence and using the monitor speaker in the soundproofed booth to sync the score. The audience went nuts. People said, "I especially admired your INSPIRED use of silence." I don't care where you have seen these films. Until you have seen my presentations you have not seen them at their most powerful.

10:39 AM  

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