The question I am asked most often at show Q&A’s, social situations and in press interviews is one I still don’t know how to answer. “Do you have a favorite film that you like to accompany?” After 38 years of accompanying silent movies I am still caught off-guard trying to answer this.
The truth is — I don’t. This answer is usually disappointing to people who ask, I think. I feel bad, because from the expression of people’s faces when they ask, this looks like it’s going to have a really good or interesting answer. I want to comply and yet no matter how many times I’m asked, when it happens, I am a deer in the headlights. Improviser that I am, possessing what I consider to be a good ability to pivot when I don’t have an answer and still come up with something useful and informative, I find it interesting that I still cannot come up with a good, concise response.
I’m more interested in the general showing of silent films, of making the films go over as well as possible, and getting more people interested in the medium. What I often refer to as “audience preservation”. It’s what’s driven my interest and skill-developing as a programmer over the last 10-15 years. Will the potential or regular audience at [insert venue] come out to see [insert title]? And…will seeing [insert title] entertain first-timers who’ve taken a chance on the show to the point that they’d come back to another silent film show, whether it’s mine or anyone else’s?
To me, at least, it doesn’t matter if I am crazy about the film or not. There are pictures that are a challenge for me and there are some that are like coasting down a hill on a bicycle. The easier ones are an opportunity to find new levels to what I do in underscoring and supporting the film, and the trickier ones are an opportunity to do the same.
The audience doesn’t know what I’m going through, they’re there to see [insert title] and have a good time. Whoever that audience is — elementary school kids, the TCM Classic Film Festival, hardcore cinephiles, seniors, you name it — that’s what often resonates about a film for me more than how much I like playing the piano or theatre organ to it.
In the last few years, I’ve become more interested in why I get asked this question than I am in coming up with a title that I really enjoy playing for. Perhaps understanding that is the key to my having a good answer to what my favorite film to play for is.