Sounds for silent films

Russ Tarby, Staff Writer 03/12/08More articles
Before Hollywood added sound to celluloid in the late-1920s, action and dialogue were enhanced by live music.
Through the first quarter of the 20th century, theater organists and pianists played prepared scores and sometimes improvised as the movie’s plot unfolded. In bigger cities, some theaters hired ten- or twelve-piece orchestras to perform before and during the films.
When Cinefest 28 convenes Thursday through Sunday March 13-16, at the Holiday Inn on Electronics Parkway, three accomplished pianists will accompany the silent movies.

Music and movies
All three of the musicians have worldwide reputations for their collaborations with film. Dr. Philip Carli and Gabriel Thibaudeau are returning to Cinefest while Makia Matsumura makes her Syracuse debut.
Rochester’s Phil Carli says that the music accompanying a silent film should blend so well with the action as to be unnoticeable.
“In an ideal performance,” Carli says, “the audience should be caught up in the excitement – or humor, or pathos – of the drama without specific awareness of the accompaniment, even while it is helping to intensify the film’s emotional message…The score and performance should serve the film above all, regardless of the particular genre of the music.”

‘Phantom’ composer
Carli has played at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the Cinematheque Quebecoise in Montreal, the National Film Theatre in London, and the Berlin International Film Festival. He is staff accompanist for the George Eastman House in Rochester.
Thibaudeau, pianist for the Cinémathèque québécoise, has composed scores for three of the most famous silent films ever made, “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Man Who Laughs” and “Nanook of the North.”
Matsumara, who has written soundtracks for many film and video productions, has performed with the Hungary National Symphony, the Berlin Great Radio Orchestra and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.

Talkies with tunes
Music emanating from soundtracks will be heard on several of the talkies being screened at Cinefest 28, including Al Jolson crooning in “The Singing Fool” (1928), and Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors jazzin’ things up in a rare short, also from ’28.
“The Singing Fool” flickers across the Cinefest screen at the Holiday Inn at 4:25 p.m. Thursday March 13.
The Arnheim orchestra short is part of a special 35mm show screening at 8:30 a.m. Saturday May 15, at the Palace Theater, 2384 James St., in Eastwood. That morning’s full-length films include Queen High (1930) with Ginger Rogers.
More than three dozen full-length features and short subjects from the 1900s to the early-1940s will be seen over the four days.

Festival features
Some of the festival’s film highlights include “Stella Dallas” (1928) with Ronald Colman and Belle Bennett, “The Jungle Princess” (1936) with Dorothy Lamour and Ray Milland, “One Romantic Night” (1930) with Lillian Gish, “Wayward” (1932) with Nancy Carroll and Richard Arlen and “You’re a Sweetheart” (1937) with Alice Faye and George Murphy.
Cinefest will also include a Saturday afternoon appearance by film historian Ed Hulse, author of “Filming The West of Zane Grey” which covers all 111 feature films and two serials adapted from Grey’s fictional Westerns.
Sunday morning will feature Cinefest’s annual memorabilia auction hosted by noted film critic Leonard Maltin, a familiar face from TV’s “Entertainment Tonight.”

Cinefest info
An annual celebration of archival motion pictures presented by the Syracuse Cinephile Society, Cinefest was established in 1980 by the late Phil Serling. The fest attracts classic film buffs from around the world. Registration costs $70 for four days, or $25 per day. Admission costs $25 for the Palace program on March 15.
Two movie memorabilia rooms will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 15. Photographs, posters, videos and other items will be on sale. Admission to the dealers’ rooms on Saturday is $5.
For information, visit

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