Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Playing the Pictures

Here is Clyde Martin's inaugural column in Film Index. As far as I'm aware this is the first regular column on music to appear in the American trade papers, preceding Clarence E. Sinn's "Music for the Pictures" by a couple of months. Martin's column will run until Film Index ceases publication in July 1911, at which point he will write occasionally on sound effects for Moving Picture World.

Proper Music for Motion Pictures and How to Play It

Clyde Martin is one of the few pianists in the country to make a specialty of playing for motion pictures. He is at present filling and engagement at Dodge’s theatre, Keokuk, Iowa, and while on a short trip to new York last week consented to write a series of articles on “The Proper Music for Motion Pictures,” for The Film Index. The articles will no doubt be a great help to musicians in the picture business.

No. 1—The Manager.

He was a shrewd (?) man. The clothing business was too slow and he had been fortunate enough to lay away a few thousand just about the time the call of the motion pictures began to ring in his ears. He figured: a nice front, a screen, a box office, and the public would do the rest. So Mr. Narrowmind secured an excellent location in the heart of the business district and spent a liberal amount on a handsome front. He secured the best machine and the best of everything for decorations, then came the salary list.

He wanted an attractive girl at the window. Many applied who would work for three dollars a week, but the one he wanted demanded ten dollars. Then came the doorman. Now, it kept him awake nights thinking of some popular fellow that could give everyone the glad hand. The man he decided on, just the fellow to his notions, would have laughted [sic] if he had been offered six dollars a week for the job, so he figured it money well spent to pay him fourteen. Then came the difficulty that ninety out of every hundred exhibitors experience before opening; the salary list was too large and the seating capacity too small; the same old story. Get a cheap piano player and singer.

Well, to make a long story short, the house was opened and everyone in the neighborhood was willing to take a chance, once. The house was packed, the pictures were fine, but there was something lacking, something that gave the audience an uneasy feeling that made them restless. Mr. Narrowmind stood in the lobby as the crowd passed out, he heard several knocks, but could not understand. Charlotte de Luxe in the box office certainly looked good to the passers-by, and A. La Mode certainly gave everyone the glad hand as they let loose of the pasteboards, but, still the knocks continued night after night until some friend finally suggested a new piano player.

“What! a new piano player!” He only had to pay this one six dollars a week, and the way business was falling off he would have to get a cheaper one.

The can be applied to nine out of every ten exhibitors to-day. I have found that the average exhibitor regards the piano player as a fill in, or something to break the monotony. It grieves me to make this statement, but the average piano player is worse than something to break the monotony, he makes the show monotonous. It is not their fault, it is the fault of the manager, because he pays them such a small salary that they have no heart to work for his interests. They do not care whether the picture is comedy or drama, they are paid a “rag time salary” and it’s “rag time music” the manager gets.

I know a great many managers who buy every new appliance for their machines; have installed the new screens and spend any amount of money to improve the picture, and still they employ a cheap piano player, who is worse than none at all. They do not take into consideration that the music makes the picture, and if they hope to make “picture fans” out of their audience, they should furnish the proper music with the pictures.

How many picture shows have you been in and heard some piano player playing a slow waltz through a comedy, or rag time through some dramatic scene? As soon as the exhibitor wakes up and insists upon his piano player following the pictures, and will pay him the right salary for the same, he will soon realize why his theatre has been a losing proposition in the past. The manufacturers are daily striving to better their productions and place pictures on a higher standard, the exhibitor should do his share.

In my next article I will give the piano players some tips that will be helpful to them in their work, and make them more valuable.

Source: Clyde Martin, “Playing the Pictures,” Film Index 8 October 1910, 30.

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