Monday, July 13, 2009

Organs, Accompanying with Songs, and Playing Scenics

After a week off, Martin returns with a column arguing against the use of organs, taking issue with Vitagraph's suggestions for music to their films, and giving advice on what music to use in accompanying "Scenics."

Have you ever stopped to consider what the manufacturers are doing toward the advancement of the motion picture business, and what has been accomplished during the last ten or twelve months? All of the manufacturers are working hard and spending thousands of dollars to make the picture business an industry that will be looked up to instead of condemned. It is certainly encouraging when they engage such people as Elbert Hubbard, Rex Beach, Roy Norton, and Caroline Wells to write their plays, and then to have such people as Pilar-Morin and Florence Turner, the greatest exponents of the silent drama the world has ever known, playing in your theatre two or three nights a week, it seems that the exhibitor should at least furnish the proper music.

I know an exhibitor in the middle west that has just ordered a six thousand dollar pipe organ for his picture house and there are hundreds of other exhibitors who have been just as foolish. With all due respect for the manufacturers of pipe organs, I think it is the worst investment a man can make. If the ten dollar piano player does not make good and the exhibitor has more money than brains, his last resort is the pipe organ. Then comes the old story, he has invested so much money in the instrument that he must cut expenses in some way so the lot falls to the musician and he secures a ten dollar organist. Great combination, is it not? If Mr. Exhibitor had only considered paying a little more money for a good piano player, one that would have made good with the audience, he would never have thought of getting a pipe organ.

Let us say, you have one of the best pipe organs on the market, and you want your musician to “play the pictures,” do you realize out of the entire output of association pictures in a week, there will not be over three reels that organ music will be appropriate? Again I say, the piano is the only instrument that can ever be used in playing the pictures.

The pipe organ gives a very effective accompaniment where a picture is shown with religious sentiment, but a piano, when handled properly is just as good, and figure the money saved. Can you imagine a pipe organ accompaniment through such pictures as “The Telephone,” Vitagraph, “The Education of Elizabeth,” Kalem, or “Examination Day at School,” Biograph, it would certainly be a joke. Of course there are two sides to all questions, on the other hand, take such a picture as Gaumont’s “A Penitent of Florence” or Pathe’s “Sister Angelica,” the organ would be great for a picture of this nature, but it is so seldom that we get such pictures, it would hardly justify anyone in paying several thousand dollars for such an instrument. Still exhibitors will pay this great amount for an organ that can only be used once in a while, and will not pay a good salary to a piano player that can accompany any picture that is thrown on the screen.

In several of the recent bulletins of the Vitograph Com-

[27] pany has offered suggestions for appropriate music to accompany several of their releases. I am certainly glad to see a company like the Vitagraph taking an interest in the musical end of the picture business, but I must admit that their suggestions are very poor. For example in their bulletin number 222, where they give a description of the release of October 29th, “The Telephone,” in their note they say, “During the scene of the telephone exchange the musicians can play selection from “The Telephone Girl.” Just think o fit, have you seen the picture? During the telephone exchange scene the telephone girl is connecting the frantic wife with her husband at the club, and the men at the club are calling the fire department, from the expression on the telephone girl’s face you can imagine she hears the cracking of the flames on the other end of the wire, that have cut off all means of escape for that frantic mother and child. And in such a scene the Vitagraph company would like to hear the catchy selections from “The Telephone Girl.”

This is a mistake that is made by half of the musicians in the country, they will pick up a publisher’s catalogue and get names of songs that correspond with the scenes portrayed and they never consider that to make their point, the audience must know what they are playing. There are a few pieces such as “It Looks Like a Big Night Tonight,” “Waiting at the Church,” “We Won’t Go Home Until Morning,” “Don’t Take Me Home,” “Everybody Works But Father,” that can be used in comedy scenes to good advantage. Such pieces as these are known by everyone and when you play them in an appropriate scene the audience appreciates your efforts.

I believe in the use of comic opera music, but not in such pictures as “The Telephone.” Whenever you get pictures such as “The Tactics of Cupid,” Gaumont, “Alice in Wonderland,” Edison, or “The Land of Oz,” Selig, there is nothing more appropriate than selections from such light operas as “King Dodo,” “The Burgomaster,” “The Sultan of Sulu,” or “Babes in Toyland.” I might say when you get a “Special” picture, such as “Chew Chew Land,” the Vitagraph release of Sept. 6th, the most appropriate music you could play would be “Oh You Spearment Kiddo, With the Wriggley Eyes.”

I have been advised by one of the largest association manufacturers that they are about to release a certain grand opera film in the near future, and, as an experiment they are compiling a musical score to accompany the picture. This music will run scene for scene with the picture and the commencement of each title will be marked with a cue on the music. It is certainly encouraging when a manufacturer will take this much interest in the music for pictures, and it seems that the exhibitor should at least do his share, by securing a competent musician to handle the music.

I believe the next improvement in the film business will be the marking of titles with a musical cue. It may be in the next three or four months, or it may be years, but it is sure to come.

To begin with, in playing appropriate music for the pictures, you must divide the pictures in classes, and for the first class let us take the scenic pictures. There is hardly a change of program in your theatre that you do not have a scenic picture on the bill. For the average scenic picture a waltz or a march is about the only music you can find appropriate for the surroundings, but there are a few exceptions. Take for example Pathe’s short scenic picture, the release of October 19th, “Around Pekin,” or the Urban-Eclipse release of July 20, “Pekin, the Walled City,” try and arrange some weird or oriental music, play it in a regular Chinese sing song way and have your drummer keep time with his Turkish cymbal and the tom tom at the same time. It may be possible that later on, I can prepare a small chart for this page showing my style of oriental music.

When you get such a picture as the Pathe release of September 9th, “The Belgian Army,” or the Vitagraph release of October 29th, “A Day on the French Battleship Justice,” never attempt to use anything but a march. The same may be said about the first and last part of the Vitagraph picture released October 11th. “Actors’ Fund Field Day,’ save your marches for all military events, processions, and any picture where a band is shown.

For industrial pictures, such as the Selig release of August 1st, “Shrimps,” the Urban-Eclipse release of August 24th “Shipbuilding of Toulon, France,” or the Pathe release of September 5th, “Zoological Gardens in Antwerp” a good waltz is the best, and in fact the only music that can be used. On the other hand if you have some industrial or scenic pictures taken in Spain or Mexico, you can play some Spanish air that will give life, and be in keeping with the picture and it gives the drummer a chance to use Castanets tambourines.

In my next article I will give a few points in playing for Indian pictures. Indian pictures are possibly the easiest of all to play but the use of the tom tom is sadly abused in most places. There is a great deal in the drummer knowing when to use the tom tom and when not to, and I will try and make this point clear, next week.

Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 19 November 1910, 26-27.

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