austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Ever since they passed the Prohibition law

If you live long enough, you'll be asked to score a silent movie. By ``score'' I mean compose the musical accompaniment, not to make fine marks along its length. You can protest that you don't know anything about music except how to listen to it and they should hire a musician. You might even try a diversionary argument over whether ``forte'' should be said as one syllable or two. It'll do no good: once they get an idea in their heads there's no getting it out again, so you may as well get to work, and you'll need my help.

They should give you a copy of the movie; if they refuse to give you one, take one by force. The first step in scoring a silent movie is to watch the movie to check that it is silent. With many early talking pictures it may just be the sound recording wasn't very good, so turn the sound on your television way up and listen carefully. Once convinced it is silent, turn off the movie, then remember and scramble for the television's ``mute'' button before you are liquefied by Hannah Montana at 488 decibels.

The easiest part is if the scene has a character at a musical instrument, since you can play what they played, especially if they show sheet music with a song title. But be warned: many early 20th century compositions were really short and padded out to five minutes by vigorously repeating twelve bars of original music, like a 1980s computer game. You have to count your repetitions to tell when to stop. In 1926 Carl W Stalling got stuck in a tight loop around Bert Kalmar, George Jessel, and Harry Ruby's Where Do They Go When They Row-Row-Row, and by the time he got out it was 1933, Prohibition had ended, and he was working for Ub Iwerks's animation company. You likely will not have such results.

But for most of the film you will be on your own. Fortunately writing music is a simple process of taking the available, name-brand notes (store-brand notes should be used only for Nebenstimme) and placing in them in groups and orders accurately setting the mood of the scene. Occasionally you should include in your notes a term like ``glissando'' or ``col legno'' to show you've been paying attention and not thinking about that clip where Harold Lloyd dangles from clock hands high above a city street, and how you've never met anyone who saw whatever movie that was in, and have no idea why his character did that or how could an industry with such an apparent disregard for one of its superstars' safety last. Mostly they did things like that to rile the President enough he would poke his head out the White House door and glare sternly at them. Calvin Coolidge was so good at these stern glares, in fact, that when he chose not to run for re-election the heart went out of the silent movie industry, and they gave up and made talking pictures instead.

Complete your score by receiving twenty points for every minor suit contract, thirty for major suit and nontrump tricks, and ten additional points for no-trump. Add your overtricks, and congratulations! If you haven't been asked to score a silent movie you haven't lived long enough; let's meet again in a century and see who's laughing then.

Trivia: In 1928 Paramount released 78 movies, all silent. In 1929 it released 67, only 20 silent. The Speed of Sound, Scott Eyman.

Currently Reading: The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television, David Weinstein.


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