Friday, July 10, 2009

Accompanying with Song Quotes

In this column, Clyde Martin discusses using song quotes to accompany a film. "Funning"—the ironic use of quotes to burlesque a film—is apparently not yet an issue, but Martin does caution against overusing the device, especially in dramatic pictures.

Once again, Martin rambles a bit before getting on point. The peculiar punctuation has also been retained from the original.

Some people are under the impression that to become an excellent piano player they must master sight reading, and I agree with them if they expect to follow concert work, but my advice to those wishing to become picture pianists, is to throw away your music and “fake,” as you can never play pictures as long as you are obliged to keep your music in front of you.

I was much amused at a little incident that happened in a picture house in the southern part of Indiana. The energetic young lad that presided over the ivories was making a great effort to accompany the pictures with appropriate music. He had two pieces in his repertoire, one for comedy scenes and one for dramatic scenes. If a picture opened with a dramatic scene, it never failed that his rag time score was in front of him, and by the time he had his correct music in place, the scene would be over.

You cannot expect to sort out your music during the showing of a picture and hold your audience to the scenes portrayed.

There are a few scenes in some of the comedy pictures where you can use strains from popular songs, but this can easily be overdone and if you give them too much of it the audience soon tires of you and an electric piano could take your place as far as the audience is concerned.

With the dramatic scenes it is different. During the showing of a heavy dramatic production, popular music is out of the question, unless you have a chance to use some of those good old tunes such as “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” “MY Old Kentucky Home,” “Annie Laurie,” etc. They are the pieces that reach home, if there is anything on earth that will hold an audience, it is one of those tunes. But don’t force them on the picture, wait your chance, wait until some good picture comes along that you can use one of them.

Do you remember the Biograph release of August 8. “The House With Closed Shutters?” There was your chance for “My Old Kentucky Home.” Let us take this picture as an example. Can you imagine a more pathetic scene than the closing of the picture where the old negro comes on the porch of the stately colonial mansion and closes the shutters, never to be opened again, and when the strains “By and by Hard Times Comes a Knocking at the Door,” then, “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night,” reaches the ears of the audience, every man, woman and child, in their mind repeats those famous lines, they not only repeat the words of the song with the action of the picture, they can picture the sorrow that is behind those closed shutters and can see the broken hearted mother protecting the family name. In this case the music has been as great a feature as the picture, but, you must take in consideration, you cannot place the music for “My Old Kentucky Home” on the piano and play it as it is written. You must be original, you must create and use expression. You must not try to make the picture fit your music you must make the music fit with the picture. Try and cultivate a sympathetic touch if you ever expect to make good in playing pictures.

As an example, for a good comedy picture, one that you can use several popular tunes during the showing and not overdo the thing, we will take the Edison release of August 26, “The Valet’s Vindication.” About the third scene in the picture is where Kirby, the valet, is awaiting the arrival of a number of friends, he has invited in to spend the evening. The table is well supplied with refreshments, cigars, poker chips, etc., and the audience will repeat the lines with you “It Looks Like a Big Night To-night,” you have won your first point. The next scene shows the Valet the morning after the party, considerably the worse for the wear, and asleep at the table. If you will play just a few strains from “The Morning After the Night Before” it will make every man in the audience, want to hand Kirby a cold towel and a pitcher of ice water. You have won your second point. Two points are enough in this picture, it is well to remember not to run a good thing in the ground. During the showing of the balance of the picture play some lively air until you come to the last scene, where, Beekman and Miss Bradley have been married and are enjoying their first home breakfast with Kirby as a sort of a guardian angel of the household, then play “The Waning Honeymoon” from “The Time, The Place and the Girl” until the close of the picture. In my next article I will show a few points where the average drummer is a handicap to the musician playing pictures. Drums are well enough in certain parts of pictures, but they are a detriment when used through the entire show.

Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 29 October 1910, 7.

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