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How To Watch A Silent Movie


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The way I have been doing it at home:

I don't use the music that is on it. I will watch without sound but if I want music I'll explain what I use. I have a 5 cd changer. I use cds of famous tv composers. I will give you a list of the cds I use. When I hit a song that don't groove me I hit next & move onto the next song.

List of cds:

1. Complete Peter Gunn - mancini / various 2 cds.

2. Mr. Lucky / Mr. Lucky Goes Latin (one cd) mancini

3. Secret Agent Meets the Saint - edwin astley

4. The Saint - edwin astley

5. 77 Sunset Strip - Warren Barker

6. Beat Girl - john barry

7. tv cop shows - mancini

8. Impact / Double Impact - buddy morrow

9. M Squad / Mike Hammer - stanley wilson / skip martin

10. Top tv Themes - maccd 152 - various artists

11. Thriller / Richard Diamond - pete rugalo

12. The Music of ITC - various artists

13. Big Sound Ember - various artists

14. day the earth stood still - bernard herrmann

15. johnny cool - billy may

16. the wild one - leith stevens & shorty rogers

17. TV Themes - 16 most requested - various

18. TeleVentures - the ventures

19. Blue Movies: Scoring For The Studios - various

20. All-Time Famous - hugo montenegro

21. Pawnbroker / Deadly Affair - Quincy Jones

22. Bullitt - Lalo Schifrin

23. The Crime Scene - various

24. Crime Jazz 1&2 - various

25. Route 66 / More Hit TV Themes - Nelson Riddle


Once you use these after awhile you'll notice how bad silent movie music is. All this music has dramatic qualities which groove along with silent movies. Big Bands and orchestras as compared to a tinkling piano. I'm sure there are more out there like Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables & Sweet Smell of Success which I don't have on cd just records. When you get to alternating them you have trouble going back to dull silent movie music. This is some of the best dramatic music ever made.

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*I rather like the music on the silent movies.*


Me, too, though there are a few exceptions, nearly all of which are cases of not leaving well enough alone. The Gold Rush went from being one of the best silent films to being possibly *the* worst silent film with that unspeakably horrible 1942 sound track. And then there are those recently screened (on TCM) Harold Lloyd shorts, to which generic ragtime music was newly added. Those work about as well as the "enhancements" to our TCM forum pages.


But for the most part the original soundtracks of the silents work beautifully, and even some of the restored ones. I don't see how the soundtracks of the 4 hour version of Greed, or the one from The Crowd, or any of those from Lon Chaney's movies like The Penalty, or those from Louise Brooks' two G.W. Pabst films, could be improved by trying to personalize it from your own CD collection.

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Many silent feature films had scores commissioned for them, BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919), NOSFERATU (1922), THE BLACK PIRATE (1926), and METROPOLIS (1927), to name a few. These are all very excellent scores to watch these films by. While not all silents had commissioned scores, there are some scores written for many of them by the likes of Carl Davis, Robert Israel, and Timothy Brock that are really terrific. I cannot see how music from say PETER GUNN could possibly enhance the viewing experience of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), or even TUMBLEWEEDS (1925).


One would be cheating themselves out of the complete silent film experience by distracting themselves in choosing another track to play if their first choice doesn't work for them. The whole idea behind a film score for silents is to add ambiance without calling attention to itself.

I agree with Andy that there are some really poor scores out there to some films (the Harold Lloyd shorts being particularly bad), but there are so many excellent scores out there that contribute to the overall enjoyment of these films.

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*One would be cheating themselves out of the complete silent film experience by distracting themselves in choosing another track to play if their first choice doesn't work for them. The whole idea behind a film score for silents is to add ambiance without calling attention to itself.*


One genre in particular where the silents often excelled was the melodrama, and in great part I think this is because a few understated musical chords accompanying a slight change in an actor's face can often be far more effective than words in conveying genuine emotion. In fact whenever I see a sound era actor or actress (Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Ryan come to mind) employ such minimalism in order to convey deep emotions, I often say to myself "That was an actor who could have been just as great in silents."

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First of all I am not saying you have to do it my way or the highway. You need to get the cds & try it. At first I thought like you but once I tried it with cds it made everything better. Let me explain something: a guy who provides music for silent movies.... he has not been proven to know

what you are supposed to play whereas people like Mancini, Riddle, Schifrin, May, Rugalo HAD to know because millions of $ were riding on a production. The qualifications are 100x greater to score tv & movies than a silent movie. These composers had an immense knowledge of music

& these silent musicians are a dime a dozen. They are so weak in their craft the only work they can get is tinkling a piano. The composers I use hired big bands & orchestras. Of real instruments not electronic crap & paid hotel bills to use these pros on their tv/movie scores. Club foot orchestra is what? 4 guys & a girl who can't get jobs! You got Robert Israel .... what exactly has he done? nothing but silent movies. I don't want to put anybody down but the music on Metropolis is awful. The most inappropriate crap. Its apples and oranges. try it you'll like it.


Here is a 1988 version of Golden Arm - I bought the 12" single which has a photo of Kim Novak on the record


If you liked that here is a 1990 hit version of The Saint by Orbital


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Well, obviously I love Silent film music very much. And it was highly diverse. From classical music, to waltz's and Foxtrots, to Ragtime and Jazz. Many of my favorite music pieces were specifically composed for Silent films. I suppose if you have only heard tinkering piano, that's different? And some piano scores are excellent in there own right. So a thumbs down to this thread! Yes, the recently aired Harold Lloyd One-reelers music was a let down, but please don't tell me that the music for THE BIG PARADE isn't great! There are so many scores and so many themes that I love, It would be impossible to name them all.

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Back in the day, a bunch of us in various stages of "altered" consciousness would have the stereo on with the TV volume down. Sometimes the results were hilarious. Often just interesting.


But the last time I did this was in the late '80's, while I was playing an old MOTHERS OF INVENTOIN album( FREAK OUT, to be exact) and PBS was showing some documentary about the history of nuclear weapons.


There's a part of "Help, I'm a Rock" that has our heros sounding like a demented barbershop quartet. At one point they sing:


"It can't happen HERE;

It can't happen HERE;

I'm telling you my DEAR;

That it can't happen HERE;

"Cause I've been checking it out, baby;

I checked it out a couple of times;

And it can't happen HERE!"


Well, when they sang the FIRST "It can't happen HERE", on the word HERE, the screen showed a clip of a nuclear bomb explosion.


On the SECOND "HERE", came a clip of a DIFFERENT A-bomb going off.


AND on the THIRD "here", too.


When they started singing, "'Cause I've been checking it out, baby", there was a clip of people sitting on a hillside holding up rectangles of dark glass in order to watch the nuclear test blast safely.


And it concluded with a final clip of an A-bomb explosion on the final "HERE".


Never before, and never since have I experienced such serendipity.



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What you doubters need to do is try my method. I have hundreds of silent movies. But so many of them have music which bugs me that I decided to use my cds. I like the cds anyway because before the cd was invented they were nearly impossible to get. I bought them cheap but stereo lps could cost over $100 or even more. Now that they are readily available at low prices, its possible you doubters could get them & try my method & it not cost you much. Say buy 2 or 3 a month. On silent movies there have been any number of musicians used and they are mediocre. You get very few Mancinis or Schifrins or or Edwin Astley, or Barry. My problem with silent movie music is its crap. It distracts me because its just flat out bad. So I had been not using music at all just so I could concentrate.

Having 5 cds changer means you can keep hitting next which you cannot do on a dvd. I was able to buy the cds for $5 each & over time it was well worth it. Before you put it down you owe me the benefit of the doubt by going along with it & seeing if it works for yourself. It might not appeal to you on here but actually doing it will change your mind. Then you will quickly realize how bad silent movie music is. I gave you the list free. Now get busy on amazon!

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The problem you have with contemporary composers writing music for silents may be the same as mine.


Contemporary composers are familiar with all types of music from many different eras. Contemporary music may well be their best area of creation, but when trying to compose music for a long past era, they may be a little lost. A sort of "Jack-of-all-trades, master of none" situation. They seem to be trying( to ME, at least) to inject contemporary themes into a style of music that nobody bothers with much anymore. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn't. There ARE exceptions to this, but they're far and few between.


At any rate, your "solution" wouldn't work for me because my CD player doesn't have a remote, and switching tracks would cause me to miss much of the movie. If the score bothers me that much, I simply put the sound on "mute".



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