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Oct 1 “Lesser-Known Pioneers of Cinema” (MoMA)

La Vie et la passion de Jésus Christ. 1902. France. Directed by Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Nonguet. 30 min.
La Vie du Christ.
1906. France. Directed by Alice Guy Blaché. 28 min.
The Automobile Thieves (incomplete). 1906. USA. Directed by J. Stuart Blackton. 10 min. Francesca di Rimini. 1908. USA. Directed by J. Stuart Blackton. 10 min.
At the Crossroads of Life. 1908. USA. Directed by Wallace McCutcheon, Jr. With D. W. Griffith. 10 min.
Old Isaacs, the Pawnbroker. 1908. USA. Directed by Wallace McCutcheon, Jr. Screenplay by D. W. Griffith. Cinematography by G. W. “Billy” Bitzer. 15 min

Read Charles Silver’s notes on the program here (you may have to scroll down to the entry for this show).

Oct 1 was the repeat showing of this program, and my playing was markedly different from the first time out, the day before on Sept 30. I recorded my performance on Sept 30 and listened to it as I walked home from MoMA. (I use a Zoom H4 digital recorder.) Showing #2 gave me the advantage of having seen the films the day before so I was better able to anticipate story points, and was also able to shape melody and tempo to help point the audience to where they were supposed to look in the tableau-performance Christ films. I also felt, from listening to the recording, that I could do more in the range of dynamics and arranging, and to allow myself to leave more air between (or during) musical phrases. I recorded the Oct 1st show, and if I can get it together will post a “needle-drop” of a hunk of one of the scores.

The first Jesus film is a gorgeous 35mm print; I’d seen hand-colored early films before, but this entire 2-reel “epic” was hand-colored from start to finish. The Alice Guy film, which I’ll be playing for at the Brooklyn Museum’s “First Saturday” event in December (they’ll be exhibiting paintings that Guy’s tableaus were based on), is straight B&W, and not quite quite as razor-sharp, but a good print. The Guy made more use of locations of exterior scenes, while the Zecca was entirely studio-bound.

The “Automobile Thieves” film was a big shift in energy as it is primarily a chase film; I found myself free-associating agitato mood cues from the Photoplay music book I’ve been working on. I don’t usually use that type of music, but it seemed to fit these early films.

I really tried hard to make an improvement in the scores between show #1 and show #2, and think I did. I’m really looking forward to this series — which will now run through May — to seeing so many silents in chrono order and to really getting better at accompanying silents.

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