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A Screen Idol takes it to his audience (Monday, October 12, 2020)

A comment on the above post.

When I first began showing silent films in the late 1960s I ran BLOOD AND SAND (1922) with a powerful Spanish guitar soundtrack created by a friend. I had created a more conventional score but this one broke all the rules I imagined existed (they don’t exist). It never attempted to match the music to the action (as conventional scores do). You could turn off the movie and listen to the music.

What it did was to quietly allow the picture to tell its story without attempting to manipulate the emotions of the audience. I ran the program every night for several months. All the women young and old walked out with rivers of tears running down their faces often to the consternation of their male companions.

It was a real lesson in presentation and in film scoring.

When I score a silent film I watch it several times silently. Gradually I begin to hear a score in my imagination. Then I begin the process of making the imaginary concrete. I want the audience to move slightly forward in their sets as the story grips them. Often when people walk out who have seen the same film elsewhere they say, “That’s how I always imagined the film should sound.”

I hated the score created for Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON by Carmine Coppola who described the picture as an “antique.” If it is so is the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner…so are the plays of Shakespeare and others.

THE EAGLE is one of my favorites. Thanks for this piece. You’re right about Valentino and money. He died broke. June Mathis paid for his crypt at Hollywood Cemetery.

Another friend who liked my work with music and silent film accepted my invitation to score Lillian Gish in LA BOHEME. He edited a publication on classical music.His score is synchronized to the picture which was projected at silent speed unlike the Warner Archive dvd version. Again the impact of a great film with great music resulted in women and, this time men, walking out with tear streamed faces.

For THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) I created a score that presents the girl as a gold digger and the Phantom as the hero. Again people walk out saying, “That is how I always imagined the film should sound.”

My most radical score was putting RADIOHEAD to NOSFERATU (1922). Suddenly the film becomes timeless. One reviewer wrote, “Reg Hartt has a way of making the old suddenly seem new and the new seem everlasting.”

If silent films are not to be relegated to the dust bins they need to move beyond being seen as antiques, they need to become “suddenly new.”

The theaters in which those films were first seen sat thousands. Those thousands, beginning with THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) paid top Broadway prices. They did that because the movies delivered.

Today’s theaters seat hundreds and often have trouble getting that.

The movie going experience is not what it once was.

When I did my programs in huge theaters people said afterwards, “You make this theater feel like your living room.”

Today, since 1992, I have used my living room. People now say, “You make your living room feel like a theater.”

The University of Toronto VARSITY newspaper stated, “We rarely feel a film’s greatness in film class. We often feel it at Reg Hartt’s CineForum.”

If this seems like self promotion let it. In an episode of THE HONEYMOONERS Jackie Gleason’s character Ralph wrote a song everyone (including we the audience) laughed at as terrible. The show ended with the song we had laughed at sung straight by an A list singer. It went on to become a hit:

I was in my early teens when I saw that show. It was a huge lesson in the importance of presentation.

D. W. Griffith with THE BIRTH OF A NATION raised the movies from a five and dime business to equal footing with “Legitimate Theater.”

The movies themselves took it back to being “cheap entertainment,” back to its five and dime Nickleodeon origins.

Doing so the movies made themselves irrelevant.

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