Film critic Sam Edwards reports from Europe.
Some things, quite simply, make a great life even better. I have just come from one of the film music master classes which have been held now for a decade in conjunction with the Silent Film Festival, the Giornate del Cinema Muto, at Pordenone in Italy.
All the entries in the festival are silent films, exactly like those on which that wonderful film about film, Cinema Paradiso, is based. Its director, Guiseppe Tornatore told the film in part about his own life, and as a highlight of the Italian Film Festival, starting at the Lido on November 15, it still evokes the days of silent film with charm and wit.
The thing is, though, that film has never been truly silent. Right from the earliest movies, apart from the sound of the projector and the shuffles and sighs of enraptured audiences, music has been a constant companion, evoking mood, highlighting action and displaying character.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the accompanying music for a 1929 German melodrama, Jenseits Der Strasse, in which multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne used flute, accordion, percussion and a small strung instrument like a zither, as well as piano, to move this sophisticated and often cynical audience from laughter to tears in the space of a few bars.
All the films in the festival require music. Some is provided by chamber orchestras and groups, but the majority comes from pianists who have an extraordinary ability to interpret the visual scenery, to assist audiences to gain the greatest enjoyment. The piano players at the Giornate are international pianists in their own right, and during the master classes provide practical instruction for future film musicians, significant instruction for listeners, and huge entertainment as well.
In the days when some of our grandmothers and grandfathers were the pianists at the local Regent or Embassy, they would accompany films they had not seen before the first screening, and their talent for understanding film stories was prodigious. They were helped by the fact that much film, and film music, is filled with cliches, not in the bad sense of that term, but in the way that we are constantly confronted with the familiar, and there are musical tropes to match those images.
Usually, the score runs underneath our consciousness, but occasionally it is really entertaining, and enlightening, to get off the film for a few moments, and concentrate on the music and the way it so powerfully influences what we see and how we react. Film music makers are the real movie magicians of our time.
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