|From the final scene of SUNRISE|
®' program was started in 2007 by Coolidge board member Dr. Norman, and Becki Norman, the collaboration with the the Berklee school started a few years later. In our conversation, Dr. Norman first explained that the goal of the program for the Coolidge was simple: to present classic silent films in the way they were meant to be seen. As a silent film aficionado for many years, Dr. Norman said "while there are great single musicians out there accompanying silent films, I've always felt that having an ensemble or orchestra, provided they have the right talent, enriches the theatrical experience of the film, and I make that a priority for the Coolidge." He reached out to the Berklee school because, he said, it's a local university and just happens to possess the only undergraduate program in film scoring, with exceptional students from all over the world. He found a willing partner in Emmy-nominated Mirowitz (go here for his website and bio).
To date, I believe I've only missed one of the so-far nine screenings with scores that have had their world premieres at the Coolidge from the now-named Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO). They are branching out -- just last year they performed their score for F.W. Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and performed their new score for NOSFERATU with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Halloween night. Fortunately for those of us in the area, they continue their partnership with the Coolidge, at least in part because of the historic nature of the theatre, the educational experience for the students, and the educated and appreciative hometown audiences.
|Prof. Mirowitz from|
Berklee School of MusicWebsite
That brings us to May 2, 2016, when the BSFO will premiere at the Coolidge their new score for VARIETÉ (1925), recently restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation. (I'm taking a red-eye flight back from the TCM Film Festival just to get back to Boston in time to attend). This film was directed by E.A. Dupont, and stars Emil Jannings as a former trapeze artist turned carnival barker,who gets in trouble after falling for a much younger exotic dancer. (Jannings was a celebrated silent film actor, who also is the star of THE LAST LAUGH, from FW Murnau, and THE LAST COMMAND by Von Sternberg, among others.) In June, the BSFO will go on the road to perform their score for the 7:15 PM Friday evening (June 3) screening of the film at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Prof. Mirowitz mentioned that, when needed, sound effects to accompany the action (a salute, for example, with a whistle) are scored directly. He mentioned that he learned from Carl Davis that Davis's orchestra usually just performs the effect live rather than writing it into the score. "Why didn't I think of that?" he quipped. At the end of this fascinating evening came a stunning piece of news: Kino Lorber has contracted with the BSFO to record their score for an upcoming DVD release of VARIETÉ, and has also bought the rights to their score for THE LAST LAUGH. There is no other example known of a group of university students composing, performing, and recording scores to silent film. But this is no ordinary group of college musicians -- elite, indeed.
|BSFO rehearsing for SAFETY LAST|
at the Coolidge (from the Emerson
College doumentary "Punches & Streamers")
When comparing writing a score for a silent film vs. a modern one, Prof. Mirowitz said the bar is low for the former -- "anyone can use a movie to make music, but we aim to create the music to make the movie." I expect on May 2nd the audience will understand exactly what Prof. Mirowitz meant.