Not so silent films

I am thinking of changing my husband’s nickname from PA (Personal Assistant), to PP (Patient Partner). Recently he came to the Cinema Museum again with me to watch some Vitagraph silent films. They were from the 20s and actually very entertaining.

We were entertained, also, by three pianists who gallantly accompanied the galloping horses, Indian attacks , house fires, crashing waves, dying lovers, etc, in the good old single piano days before my father put orchestral music within the reach of small cinemas. What a nice change from one silent film I watched when they had a local band provide the background music. Only it wasn’t anything to do with the movie we were watching, just a performance, so by itself the music might have been ok, but it added nothing at all to the story we were watching. Didn’t anyone tell them what the accompaniment was for?

We were watching 91.5 notched films; I can’t remember if that’s correct but the notch is to stop the film for the dialog panel. If I remember the explanation – which probably made more sense to the technical film buffs there – this hesitation allows the dialog panel to be shown as a slide (one cell) and the projectionist then moves the film on. Otherwise it would have to be repeated on the film long enough for the words to be read. Not as fast as speech, you know. And a lot of film would be wasted. Very clever.

Well not only does this mean careful attention by the projectionist, but it wouldn’t work on a big screen such as we had last night. So it was being projected onto another screen and digitally enlarged and that’s what we saw! Too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain to you. But it worked.

We saw Indians attack covered wagons, ocean storms threatening to swamp the actors (very scary), saving a woman from a burning building (the ladders crashing down in flames), and heros getting their girls at last.

But even better was meeting a whole tribe of folk mad about sound; I have their cards and addresses to keep in touch and talk about my father. It’s all happening.

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