Monday, April 6, 2009

Music is One-Quarter of the Show

Anticipating both Vincent LoBrutto's and David Lynch's comments (which we cite on p. xxii of the preface), American novelist Rex Beach makes a similar claim in 1917. Here is a most interesting short notice published in Moving Picture World:
Motion picture theater owners all over the world are driving thousands of dollars of business from their houses every week with musical programs unsuited to productions, in the opinion of Rex Beach. The author, whose novels are to be pictured under his supervision and distributed through Goldwyn, believes that carefully selected music, not necessarily original, but chosen for its suitability to the subject, will account for twenty-five per cent. of the financial success of a picture.

“Orchestral music,” he said recently, “has the same psychological effect on a motion picture audience as band music on marching soldiers. In both cases, music is necessary to weld the emotional appeal.

“We all remember the elemental pianist when the motion picture was in the curio stage—how he pounded and thrummed and fought out civil war battles on his piano keys. He served a purpose, but his day is done.

“Succeeding this earnest person was the six-piece orchestra. You know how these fellows passed the evening—overture waltz, intermission for refreshments, organ selection, a silent wait, orchestra returns and upsets chairs getting adjusted for the popular medley, a little ragtime, organ improvisation and so on to the finish.

“It is very largely different to-day in an evergrowing number of theaters. Here in New York the Strand, for instance, employs an expert to devise musical settings and has them played by a forty-piece symphony orchestra. That brings almost as many people back the next week as the worth of the picture.

“Motion picture music need not be classical, but it must be appropriate. In a large measure the audience is unconscious of its effect, but the effct [sic] is there and must be taken account of by the theater owner who expects to make money.”

Source: “Music One-Quarter of Show, Says Beach,” Moving Picture World 13 October 1917, 220
Image of Rex Beach from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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