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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Film Handlers' Forum   » Frank does "Film Done Right" again

Author Topic: Frank does "Film Done Right" again
Martin Brooks
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 806
From: Forest Hills, NY, USA
Registered: May 2002

 - posted 07-18-2004 07:40 PM      Profile for Martin Brooks   Author's Homepage   Email Martin Brooks   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Last summer, Frank Angel did a beautiful job of presenting "Creature From the Black Lagoon" in 3D and with a wonderful live score and live redubbing from the Jazz Passengers to a crowd of thousands. (I searched for my old post on this, but couldn't find it.)

This past week, Frank once again showed how it should be done when he projected Buster Keaton's "The General" to a crowd of about 2500 in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. This time the score was written and performed by The Alloy Orchestra. Projection was pristine. The only way I could detect the changeovers was hearing the clank from the outdoor booth.

Upcoming films at this festival include "The Man With X-Ray Eyes" and "Frankenstein", both to be presented with live scores.

And the Jazz Passengers are reprising their live soundtrack work for "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ in October.

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Mark Gulbrandsen
Resident Trollmaster

Posts: 16227
From: Bountiful, Utah
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 07-18-2004 09:16 PM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
While I certainly appalaude Frank for a great projection job I have to wonder if the live music acompanieing the films would be like if Count Basie played the score for Koyaanisqatsi. I just am not sure the effect of a different accompaniment would be the same or better than the original score for these films

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Steve Kraus
Film God

Posts: 4067
From: Chicago, IL, USA
Registered: May 2000

 - posted 07-18-2004 09:32 PM      Profile for Steve Kraus     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Mark, there is room for both! I've heard a ton of silent film scores thanks to the Silent Film Society of Chicago (whose Silent Summer 2004 Film Festival starts this coming week) with both organ and full orchestra. We've also had Alloy Orchestra at the last 5 Ebertfests. We ran The General at this year's. [thumbsup] for both!

Hmm...I wouldn't have Count Basie playing Philip Glass but Count Basie music with Koyaanisqatsi is actually a pretty cool idea. But which tunes?

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Peter Mork
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 172
From: Newton, MA, USA
Registered: Jun 2002

 - posted 07-19-2004 01:14 AM      Profile for Peter Mork   Email Peter Mork   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The Alloy Orch. has been doing this for years in Boston, and are past masters of it.

But how do you do live music to a sound film like Frankenstein and still hear the dialogue and other stuff? Did they make a special music-free print?

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William Hooper
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1879
From: Mobile, AL USA
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 07-19-2004 03:07 AM      Profile for William Hooper   Author's Homepage   Email William Hooper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Frankenstein & Dracula have music only under the credits. I think there may be a few seconds of music in Dracula because there's a scene where they're at the theatre, & the 'orchestra in the movie at the theatre' may toot a bit.

I thought Creature from the Black Lagoon had music. It seems like there are some extended underwater scenes where the monster is sort of swimming, stalking & ogling the female lead as she swims around in the lagoon. This is a different lagoon from the one where the S.S. Minnow washed up.

Adding music to sound movies had a strange but plain evolution. All 'silent' movies were expected to be accompanied by music, from 1 or 3 musicians or an orchesta in the pit at the theatre where the movies was run; scores or'cue sheets' of suggested selections were provided with the film or published in the trades (cue sheets, obviously). Sound was intended to bring large orchestral accompinemnt with films to smaller markets & theatres - even though there were talkie Vitaphone & Movietone shorts & newsreels, they were (it seems strange now) not even considered by the audience as a reference to how 'the movies' would or should be seen. After the novelty short or newsreel, the orchestra would fire back up for the short comedy & feature. The earliest sound features were actually silents with recorded accompaniment. Warners & the theaters just viewed them as a means of providing better accompaniment, and getting rid of the expense of orchestras & organists. Of course, 'The Jazz Singer' is where everything got glued together - sound, picture, story, performance, audience.

The early sound films were very klunky with sound, & the studios early had problems technically & with perception in how to score under action. (These limitations of early recording also limited the camera & editing a lot more than with the late silents, which is why late silents are much better movies generally than early talkies). So for early talkies, you'd generally have music under the front & end credits only.

Silent films still shown require live accompaniment. Chaplin is still very popular, & one his most popular is "City Lights". "City Lights" was released with a recorded accompaniment track (now called a 'music & effects track', because it's a silent). So programs looking for another film in their series of silents with live accompaniment ran "City Lights" silent, & performed the score live. This extended to when local symphony orchestras wanted to do 'something special', & it has become common for a local symphony orchestra to run "City Lights", performing the score live - but the emphasis is plainly on the orchestra, which is what the season ticketholders are expected to believe, & so the show is VERY often just a cursory movie of video running on a 6 foot screen over the orchestra. It's a show more about the orchestra, not the movie.

This extended to when Universal got Philip Glass to do a score for Dracula. Dracula's a problem movie because it's got huge dull sections - interestingly the long sections where the people are talking & doing clumsy exposition. The best parts are predominantly a silent movie with the images & action of folks clomping around in castles are carrying it. So the idea is, as it has been, that some music would carry things along under the talkie parts, & there'd be room under the already good parts to just let him go ahead & do what he wants. Silent pictures had music there, anyway. The ideas of what silence's effectiveness was in a talkie had to be sort of subjugated to the getting a name to score a problem picture for something new. Glass' score for Dracula is more about Glass than the movie - like a lot of live performances of "City Lights".

Frankenstein's a better sound movie, even though it has lots of 'silent', non-dialogue sequences with just sound effects. It had a better director, a director who adapted better to talkies, as opposed to Dracula's director who was a veteran of silents (& still not as good as Frankenstein's director). So when you get to adding a score for Frankenstein, you move further from fixing anything or supporting the intent of the filmmaker.

So after Glass & Dracula, it seems the floodgates opened on looking for more titles to score & perform live to create an 'event'. A big component of this is likely larger draw with a movie that's a known talkie; real 'silent movies' still remain nichier, lower-drawing titles & events.

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Carl Martin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1395
From: Oakland, CA, USA
Registered: Feb 2002

 - posted 07-19-2004 04:42 AM      Profile for Carl Martin   Author's Homepage   Email Carl Martin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: William Hooper
Frankenstein & Dracula have music only under the credits.
i don't remember that being the case w/ frankenstein, but i'll take your word for it. certainly dracula has lots of silent bits, which, regardless of the intent, really work to its advantage, i think. very creepy. when i heard glass scored it i thought it was a very bad idea. never actually heard the score, though.

i like browning (better than whale) but i agree he didn't really transition very well to talkies. there's a lot i love visually about freaks, but when those damn midgets start talking it's just painful.


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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5198
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 07-19-2004 05:30 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Martin, many thanks for the kind words; it was nice seeing a friendly Film-Tech face in the crowd. I have been doing this for my whole life and it never fails to give me butterflies in my stomach before a show, especially with an audience that size.

And yes, I have been trying to figure out how to quite down those zipper solenoids. I tried putting some rubber strips underneath the c/o shutter so that when it slams down, it's not metal to metal, but the rubber burst into flames as soon as the shutter opened! So much for that idea. I suppose if I didn't mind infecting a lung or two I could try asbestos strips.

There is so much noise in that booth because of all the blowers that it sounds like a wind tunnel up there -- there's turbine blowers for the apertures on the Century SAWs, the blowers in the lamphouse as well as the auxiliary blower that sits on top of the exhaust stack; even the water pump motors add to the din. I have walked the lot and that noise can be heard in the area under the booth. So I am thinking instead of approaching it by trying to silence the individual offenders, I am thinking of just adding a front wall with ports like a regular booth so as to absorb most of the booth noise, including the c/o shutter slam.

On the other hand, the thing I love about that venue is that unlike all other booths, I get to hear the audience reacting to the film -- a very different experience for a projectionist, and teriffically satisfying.

BTW, credit has to go to the Douris Corporation which sent us that pristine EK showprint (etched cues, not lab cues) of THE GENERAL. And these guys are SERIOUS about not loosing frames and the leader joints; they include a notice in both cans warning not to cut new frames but to only use the existing splice at each joint. They explain that the only way they can continue to service platter houses and or allow the use of long play reels would be if those venues preserved the integrity of the print by not cutting off frames but taking the time to peel tape and use the existing cuts. The notice went on to say that if theatres did not properly handle the splicing, the alternative would be to restrict bookings only to theatres that played 2000ft reel-to-reel, as do most of the classic distribs. I was very impressed.

The Alloy Orchestra's repertoire, so far as I know, includes their compositions only for silent films. I guess the only people who could determine if what they compose is appropriate for the film would be the audience. And Alloy is gained such a positive reputation that they have their own following. The BQE Project on the other hand, has done both composing for silent titles as well as some with existing soundtracks. They've done GOLD RUSH using Chaplin's own score as well as CITY LIGHTS for which they composed their original score. But they have also composed an original score for THE BLUE ANGEL, which of course has an existing soundtrack.

To answer Pete's question about how do they deal with the music on the soundtrack, for THE BLUE ANGEL they carefully mix their music under the existing dialogue. Where there was no music, that's easy -- they just mix the filmsound dialogue in with their score. Luckily (for the group) the film contained very little original music. But were the existing music does exist --like where Marlene Dietrich sings her famous torch song -- they very creatively wrote music that complimented and harmonized with the music on the film and mixed it together with their score in such a way that they sounded like one and you barely notice the film music. Very tricky, but they pulled it off and it worked very well. Hearing Detrich singing in the center channel to a rich, stereo score left and right that covered all that 30's optical track distortion was really quite unique. Obviously this took lots of practice and a sound engineer to be on top of it every second, but it worked.

As William correctly points out, FRANKENSTEIN has no music within the body of the film and hence it was an easy choice for The BQE Project to score it.

We are also doing THUNDERBALL and it will be, as Donald Sutherland puts it for orange juice, "un-messed-around-with." We are playing just the movie. It's scope so it will fill the full proscenium -- 52ft width, a lot more impressive than the Academy 1.37:1 of THE GENERAL.

For the purists out there, and I can put that hat on on occasion, are these films "tampered" with and is it a different experience as Mark suggests? Sure, but then again, the venue is not an art house where film lovers go to see a film as the director's work. This is an open air, park and picnic venue where families come with picnic tubs and blankets, where couples cuddle up around candles and sip wine and where the buddies eat ribs and slug beer. Are the coming to see FRANKENSTEIN as it was first presented in its original release? Not likely. In fact, the Jazz Passengers used none of the soundtrack from CREATURE at all except for the conductor who listens to it in his headset so he can sync his sound effects and cue the actors. They create a completely new soundtrack, dialogue and all. It really is a spoof of the film and quite hilarious at that. They overdub all the dialogue with hysterically funny lines with the cast matching lip movements pretty well, reading the script much like a live radio play. To be sure this is a very different CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but both times I've run it (once in the park to an audience of 6000 -- that's six with three zeros, boys and girls), the audiences went crazy for it; I never argue with success.

For dates and times (well, it's always at sunset) and for the other live shows that play at the festival as well, check out their site. If you are in the neighborhood, don't hesitate to spend an evening in the park with movies under the stars. It's a sweet experience.

Celebrate Brooklyn

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