Monday, July 27, 2009

Patriotic Airs and Other Tips

Clyde Martin's column this week is again rather amorphous, and it must be said that he seems in a rather surly mood. After taking issue with the use of the flag for assuring applause, Martin prints a letter from one reader, which he forthrightly calls "foolish question No. 999." The more I read Martin and the way he freely berates his readers (especially in comparison to Clarence Sinn), the more I wonder that his column lasted as long as he did.

It has only been in the last couple of years that any strides have been made towards playing the pictures and it has been just the last few months that musicians have awakened to the fact that they have a world of opportunities before them if they can master this new profession.

Last week, while we were running the Vitagraph picture "The Statue Dog," the release of November 25, it occurred to me that it was just such a picture that got me into the notion of making a study of playing the pictures. It was about four years ago, I was playing in one of the first picture houses in Denver, and if I remember correctly the name of the film was "Crayano." It showed a cartoonist drawing sketches, I think the first sketch was that of an Irishman, and I played "The Wearing of the Green." The second sketch was that of a dog and I played "Oh Where, Oh Where Is My Little Dog Gone," and there were several other sketches where such music filled in very well. Then at the close of the picture the cartoonist made a drawing of Col. Roosevelt, and of course I was there with "Yankee Doodle," or something of that nature, and naturally the house went into hysterics when the Roosevelt picture was completed, and I took credit for half of the applause (this was four years ago) at any rate I was "mut" enough to believe that the audience was showing their appreciation of my work. Although I have learned better since, I was innocent of the fact at that time, that half of the rotten vaudeville acts and some of the manufacturers of motion pictures would unfurl the American flag at the end or climax in order to get a hand. At that, I am glad that my conscience did not hurt me at that time, for it put me in the notion of watching for points in the pictures where I could use appropriate a music, and I trust that the Vita¬graph picture of "The Statue Dog" will have a tendency to start more beginners into playing the pictures.

In "The Statue Dog" several opportunities present themselves where short strains of popu¬lar tunes can be used to good advantage. When the title "A Rah Rah Boy" comes on, you can play "He's a College Boy" or "College Boys," then comes a title "2 A. M.," you can play "We Won’t Go Home until Morning," and when the title "Kelly” comes on you can play “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly." But when the dog is shown holding the American flag, we have a subject that must be considered.

When the American flag is used in a picture, the average piano player falls into the first national air that comes into his mind, this is very well as far as your own patriotism is concerned, but if you will play something else in such a scene, and let the flag take due credit for the applause I believe you will be handling the situation in the proper way.

Of course, there are certain pictures like the Pathe picture the "Clemency of Abraham Lincoln" where national airs have been used throughout the picture that it is very appropriate to use them when the flag is shown as well. But the pictures I have reference to are such pictures as "The Statue Dog," where the producer has resorted to such unprofessional means to "pull a picture through."

I once knew of a fly-by-night vaudeville act that was so rotten it would have been hissed off the stage had it not been that they closed their act by letting down a big drop, on which was painted the American flag. When the audience saw the drop they gave it (the drop) a big hand and the vaudevillians took several bows. At the end of the week the manager, on the Saturday night show, had his carpenter put a sign on the drop reading "Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue, not the act,” and I believe the performers took eighteen or twenty bows that night before they discovered the sign on their drop.

This week I received a letter from a piano player, asking foolish question No. 999 "What can you play for dramatic pictures, can you give me a list of selections that won't make the work so tiresome?" Here is my answer: "If you find the art of playing the pictures becoming tiresome to you, don't undertake a profession that means work afternoon and night. If you would really make a success at playing the pictures, your work would be a pleasure and not a burden to you. If you have some relative in politics that can get you a job in the city hall, there's where you will be a shining light, or if you have money, go to Florida for the winter and take a rest, anyone that would write such a foolish letter either needs a rest or an examination."

I have received a large number of such foolish letters. and then I have received many letters giving practical tips and asking reasonable questions, and I am glad to hear from musicians at any time and be of any service possible.

A piano player that plays the pictures knows that it means hours of hard work, but if they are heart and soul in their work and are looking forward to a future, they will find their work to be a pleasure and not a drudge. If the work is a drudge to you, you had better get off of the job and find something "easy."

I cannot see why playing the pictures would be a burden to any musician. If you are playing for vaudeville, you are obliged to play as the act wants you to, if you are doing concert work you are in a rut, the same thing week in and week out. But picture playing offers something better. You have a large field, you have quite an assortment of subjects, you have no one but yourself to fight it out with. What more can you ask I was really glad to get such a foolish letter, for I never believed there was anyone with musical ability that found their work to be a burden.

Did you ever notice that the stars on the legitimate stage usually "get a hand" at their first appearance of the evening? This is just as true with the ten, twenty and thirty-cent attractions as it is with those higher up. Each have their own class of admirers. It is just the same with the motion picture star, yet, have you ever tried to "work up" the entrance of Florence Turner, Alice Joyce, or any of the stars of the picture world? I have, and have met with success. I make it a point to "work up" the entrance of the popular stars and it never falls that the audience give them a round of applause. It is true this is a small point, but, I believe, it makes the audience more enthusiastic in the pictures and has a tendency to make more admirers of the silent drama.

If you have any suggestions in this line, if you have discovered any new way of "working up" scenes, just drop me a line and I assure you any pointers win be appreciated by readers of The Index, as well' as myself.

Source: Clyde Martin, Playing the Pictures, Film Index 31 December 1910, 12.