I’ve been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s since the middle of high school. I forget which year it was, but my English lit class had read what my wife and daughter refer to as “the Scottish Play” by Shakespeare. Earlier in the school year when we read “East of Eden”, we were shown the 1955 movie with James Dean. And so, upon finishing reading “the one where Lady McScottish-Play says ‘Out, damn’d spot!’”, we were once again ushered into the media center ersatz screening room. Chairs, a screen and a Bell & Howell 16mm projector. Over the next couple of days, one class period at a time, we were shown Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957).
It was one of the most exciting post-silent-era films I’d ever seen, and I still have a vivid memory of seeing the film.
I have not seen all of Kurosawa’s films but have seen a number of the well-known ones, and even saw Dreams when it was in theaters during its initial release. I read Kurosawa’s Something Like an Autobiography at some point during the year I was at NYU’s graduate film program, and his story, his theories about work ethic and discussions of learning from other film directors while working as an assistant director really impressed me.
Every year around this time (end of December) when I think about my work as a silent film accompanist, I remember another vivid memory of Kurosawa, another one that deeply impressed me and resonated with me: the acceptance speech he gave upon receiving a lifetime achievement Academy Award, in 1990.
Whether you notice it or not, I can tell you that I’m always trying to improve my playing and my scoring technique. Not just beating myself up for missing a cue or playing a scene in a way that doesn’t quite work for me, or for hitting clams, but trying a little extra to make the music better in service of the films I’m playing. It doesn’t always happen, and it may not be noticeable, but the improvements are there. Like erosion (but in a positive direction.) I caught a silent on TCM earlier this year that I thought I’d scored, but I swore what I was hearing didn’t quite sound like me. I looked it up — sure enough, it was one of my scores…from five years ago.
“You may not care for my playing, but think about me…I’m at every show!”
This is the self-deprecating line I’ve come up with, and it may apply to any performing creative artist. I’ve included it in pre-show intros or talks or interviews about What I Do, and it gets a mild laugh. I’ve never had to use it in a conversation.
As 2019 dawns I want to let you know this year — as I do every year — I will work at improving my silent film accompaniment technique and my “chops”. Better scores, better musicianship, and hopefully fewer clams.
See you at the silents!