Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Hand Maiden of Motion Pictures

This article by George Ingersoll contains some good material. First, it has a brief recollection of the early years of accompaniment. These sorts of descriptions are fairly common, especially by the 1920s, but Ingersoll has clearly read the trade papers from the early years, and consequently his recollections seem better grounded than most. Second, the last part of this article is a fairly elaborate discussion of how music was being used on the set at the time. I especially liked the quoted remarks of Victor Schertzinger, who says he plans his shoots by first developing a musical score.

The Hand Maiden of
Motion Pictures

“If Music be the food of love, play on,” the lover cried in Shakespeare’s day.

Music is more than the food of love today. It is the hand maiden of motion pictures. Music is often the better half of the entertainment at a motion picture theater. Great orchestras play on the stage before the screen. Wonderful modern pipe organs are manipulated by first class artists at the keys. In every village where pictures are shown music is now accepted as a part of the program.

Few know how much more music has to do with motion pictures. Orchestras play in the studio when the pictures are taken. Directors find that music keys up the actors and gives the required tempo to the scene. Many of the tales from grand opera have been translated to the screen and told in pictures. Some of the operatic stars like Geraldine Farrar have left the stage to act before the camera.

It is a prophecy well on the way to realization that the music we get with motion pictures will make American the most music loving county the world has ever known.

High Points in Cinema Music.

It is a pleasure to trace the history of music and motion pictures.

One Moment Please!

Everyone remembers when that phrase was flashed on the screen in the early days of the motion pictures. It was flashed at the end of each reel. The theater had only one motion picture machine, and it took time to change to the next reel.

Between reels a singer might appear on the stage before the screen and sing a new popular song. Or the player at the piano would favor the audience with a selection.

This was the beginning of music in the motion pictures years and years ago.

Early flicker films were so tiresome to the eyes that they could only run 30 minutes at a time and were followed by piano music and song.

Harmony fakers were hired at every theater to make up any music they could think of as they watched the picture on the screen.

Wherever and whenever there was a waste moment music would be heard. Then when each theater installed two projection machines to keep the showing of film continuous, shifting from one to the other for each reel as they now do, the musical part of the program became more ambitious.

Ragtime musicians and ragtime musical publishers controlled the field until 1909.

In the motion picture trade journals in 1910 a campaign for better music was started by Ernest Luz and Clarence E. Sinn.

Several film producers were ready to put out music suggestions, but the harmony fakers refused to cooperate because they could not play the better quality music.

In 1910 Humperdinck composed an original score for Max Reinhardt’s production of “The Miracle,” which was produced in Convent garden, London, and later in New York.

The first successful attempts to unite good music and pictures was made by Marcus Loew at the old Bijou theater in New York. Mr. Loew was again a pioneer when he put a 10 piece orchestra in the old Herald Square theater which was the first theater in America devoted exclusively to feature pictures.

Seven years ago Sam Rothapfel came east from Minneapolis and originated the idea embodied in the Strand theater of a big theater designed for and devoted exclusively to motion pictures. Since that time great orchestras have been a feature of every program.

There had been music in the old melodramas. And music followed melodrama to the screen. At first the effect was as crude as the tom tom beating at an Indian Sun dance. It was not even so good. The piano player was left to his or her judgment and that was not always good.

Music expresses emotion. Instrumental music expresses emotion better than anything except the human voice. But all music does not express just the right emotion for any specified photoplay. When the producers realized this, they employed musicians to write the musical key sheets to go with the pictures. They indicated what music to play at various places and scenes and indicated the cue and the tempo.

For example, here is a passage from "The Girl from Outside." The, timing is based on a speed limit of 14 minutes per reel of 1,000 feet. T indicates title and S indicates scene.

S At Screening 1 min. 10 sec. Characteristic Tremolo—Lovenberg, T. City of Nome, 35 sec. Blue TTe (2-4 Allegretto) Aiken; S The Fight, 35 sec. Dramatic Agitato—Hough.

And so on through Sinister Theme, Sorrow Theme, Dramatic Narrative, Pizzicato Misterioso (for burglary and and stealth) to Perpetual Motion (Allegro Agitato), Dramatic Recitative, Tension, Suspense and Furioso—for riot or storm scenes.

Musical accompaniment in the best picture play theaters is approaching the standard that has made pantomime a delight on the continent and Christmas pantomime an especial delight in London. Music for pantomime is specially written, however, and a score is seldom written for photodrama. The first faint beginnings are now being heard. There is a promise of grand opera in motion pictures. There are theaters today where the music is frequently more satisfying than the screen entertainment.

Music lovers in the large cities go to hear the music of the symphony orchestras. They are eager to have music scores written to accompany the photodrama. The music will be written by the best composers after they have witnessed an early showing of the photoplay. The prophets say the time is not far distant when the moving picture theater will be the musical headquarters of the neighborhood. The pictures will necessarily be of a quality to be worth writing the best music for.

Good music adds to the emotional power of photodrama.

Now that this is known, every theater manager is trying to the best of his ability to secure good music in the theater. His chief limitations are the amount of money he can afford to spend and the quality of musicians his town affords.

In Montana is a town of five thousand people who patronize two motion picture theaters. Each theater has three musicians. In one three girls play the piano, a cello and a violin. In the other a girl plays the piano, a young man plays a cornet and another the piccolo and sometimes the snare drum. Each Monday afternoon the two sets meet to practice the selections they are to play for the first three days of the week, and on Thursday afternoon they rehearse the music scores for the new programs. Naturally their music becomes monotonous in the course of the months. Constant playing wears away the fine edge of their performance.

What Are You Doing for Better Music?

What can be done to make their work more interesting and their playing more spirited? That is the problem of every theater manager and every neighborhood.

In the finest theaters of the cities 40 and 50 musicians are engaged to interpret the music. In these theaters films are screened twice and even three times before they are shown to the public. At the first screening, the musical director views the film and the musical setting is sketched. At the second and later showings the final score is determined upon the finishing touches suggested. A vast music library is kept up to date with the latest scores. The final score selected at the second screening is then carefully rehearsed by the orchestra to insure a smooth performance at the first showing of the picture to the public.

Two out of three pictures possess all the elements that go to make opera with natural scenery and the finest acting in well developed story.

In fitting music to motion pictures the process may be likened to modern ballet, where the dancing is fitted to the music. In the case of pictures the process is merely reversed and the music is fitted to the emotions and actions of the actors. And this opens up a new field of analysis of great artistic value. For it is a true gift to be able to translate the mental vision into musical sounds. In the first place it requires a comprehensive knowledge to select suitable passages that convey distinct emotions.

What the Musician Does

The Musician who views the motion picture to provide music for the theater must take note of the exact length of the scenes and chose musical scores that are of the same length. He must analyze the general atmosphere and the tone color of the picture, whether happy or unhappy, comic or tragic and so on.

It is far from easy to choose the music when these points are decided. As pictures are now made it is seldom that a whole movement can be used which follows exactly the screen action. Two thirds of the music must be fragments and these must be carefully bound together and synchronized to reproduce and strengthen the action of the play.

The problem is then to provide the musical accompaniment at a reasonable expense and find music form. Where the large cities now have orchestras the motion picture theaters of the smaller cities, particularly in the middle west, place their main dependence on a pipe organ. The great improvements in organs and the real artistry of American organists is a story in itself. Where the organ has often been the main feature of the musical program in churches it is becoming so in theaters. Many former church organists are now playing for the cinema.

The cinema program often begins with an organ prelude even when an orchestra is also employed. The topical films are preceded by an ambitious rendering of a symphony or grand opera selection. A singer of excellent voice may appear to sing popular or classic melodies. Half the pleasure of the evening belongs to the musicians.

Where a Director Scores.

Music today is so much a part of motion pictures that photoplay directors use orchestras at the studio when the cameraman is turning the crank on the pictures. They get a better tempo in the acting. A good jazz band is indispensable to a jazz scene as Victor Schertzinger realized when he directed Mabel Normand in the jazz romance of “Upstairs.” Both the star and the director are no main [?] musicians. It was Tom Moore who played the composer in “Heartsease,” and the playing he did at the organ was reproduced on the organ in many of the theaters where the picture was shown.

In the case of Victor Schertzinger, a famous boy violinist has grown up to be a motion picture director. He was raised in Philadelphia and appeared there with the symphony orchestra. He subsequently played solos in Sousa’s and Pryor’s bands. Later he wrote the musical score for “Civilization” and is now directing Mabel Normand in her acting for he screen. This is the way he explained his success:

“You see, the whole world loves music. The lowest beast of humanity will transcent [sic] for the second at the sound of certain musical strains, and you would never recognize him in that state. The higher souls are likewise uplifted, cheered, made merry by music.

“When first I get a script, I read it over once to get the story, then I read it with blue pencil in hand, marking the important action scenes. Then I go home, sit down at the piano and go over the marked portions carefully. I visualize the action—then work up a little score fitting the scene and the emotion, then I play it over and see if it suits. In this way I memorize the big scenes and have music to accompany them.

“Now as you know at the studio I always have music on the set, whether it be violin, piano, orchestra, band, or a jazz dance quintet. So we play the original scores when the camera is grinding.

“I have seen the time when just a passing breath of melody would put the star and the players in the correct spirit during a hard day’s work.

“The war proved that music can keep up the morale of an army—so why not the spirit of a few motion picture actors and one dear little star, to say nothing of the harassed director?”

So thoroughly is music established in the motion picture studios that one of the great producing companies, the Goldwyn Pictures corporation, now has a regular brass band of 18 pieces, made up of employees who rehearse regularly in the music room of the wardrobe building. They plan to parade, play and rejoice and probably give noon concerts for the benefit of those actors who are too tired to go home in their limousines.

The musician who leads this studio organization is Bert Crossland. He also directs the orchestra which plays for dances, state affairs, hotel scenes and so on. He has spent six years in the photoplay field studying players and directors and composing music That will bring tears and smiles or keep up emotional acting so that the director can get all the effects in acting that are necessary to the making of an excellent picture.

For Geraldine Farrar’s three pictures of this season, Mr. Crossland was in constant attendance with his violin, playing it carefully when the great star was to show moments of joy; producing moaning, mystic tunes when she had to cry or show grief. This sounds amusing or amazing, depending on your point of view, but it is easily understood by those who know how difficult it is to act before the camera with only the fierce lighting of the scene and the few property men to watch. In the absence of a great audience, music has been the spur to the self expression of every artist. Music interpretated [sic] by fellow artists has been found to be the greatest aid and inspiration to emotional expression.

Sources: George Ingersoll, “The Hand Maiden of Motion Pictures,” Fresno Morning Republican 21 December 1919, 6A; Charlotte Observer 12 February 1920, 5. Note: Each of these sources reproduces only a portion of the full article and may include insertions by the local paper's editor. I've tried to construct a coherent text from the sources.

No comments:

Post a Comment