This story was corrected on Nov. 13, 2012. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
No need to be a total devotee to enjoy what silent films accompanied by live music can bring as entertainment.
McLean's Alden Theater knows that silent films have an audience.
"There is quite a silent film audience and interest in the area. Our silent film events last year were so well received we knew we had to have silent films with music again this year. After all, silent films are universal; you can walk in and have a great time," said Sarah Schaller, Alden Performing Arts director.
And, remember it was only a few months ago, that the imaginative ingenuity of early filmmakers and the universality of silent movies were rewarded at the 2012 Academy Awards. Oscars were presented for a number of silent film era forms of movies. They included "The Artist," winning Best Picture, and Martin Scorsese's animated "Hugo" winning Best Cinematography, and Woody Allen's homage to the 1920s, "Midnight in Paris" with its delightfully jazz guitar infused sound tract.
Alden has scheduled several evenings of non-talkie films with live music. There is "Classics of the Silent Screen," with live piano accompaniment on Wednesday evening, Nov. 14. And silent films with live gypsy jazz providing the accompaniment Saturday evening, Nov. 17.
Silent film can reach into the hearts and emotions of even the most computer savvy younger audiences.
Schaller recalled an experience from last year. "We were showing Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Thief of Bagdad,' which is known for its innovative special effects. A group of teenage boys was in the audience, toward the end of the movie when a magic carpet takes off and begins to fly, the boys just started cheering. It was so gratifying to see that the special effects in a nearly 90-year-old film could impress and thrill the computer generated imagery (CGI) generation."
On Nov. 14, original silent films with a holiday focus will be screened at the Alden. The films were selected by film preservationist Bruce Lawton who was born into the business. His late great-grandfather and grandfather were both in the Hollywood movie industry.
Lawton promises an authentic artistic experience. He is even projecting the movies using special film stock and projector, not video tape. He has selected a potpourri of short films such as an "Our Gang" comedy to get into the holiday spirit, "Good Cheer." Another is "The Courtship of Miles Sandwich" depicting how Thanksgiving began; it is a mash-up of the first Thanksgiving.
Pianist Ben Model will accompany the films with his composed-on-the-spot music. According to Model, as he watches the moving images he improvises the score.
"The music will sound as if from the silent era along with the feelings of the moment. I even take into account the vibes of the audience as they watch the film."
The piano music is played to add to the audience's enjoyment. But, "when the lights are off, I disappear from view. They are just viewing the screen and letting their imaginations soar."
On Nov. 17, the five-member band Hot Club of San Francisco (HCSF) will present and accompany "Cinema Vivant," an evening of vintage silent films. The Hot Club, founded by Paul Mehling, includes guitar, violin and bass, with a string-laden French gypsy jazz style. Films will include the likes of "The Cameraman's Revenge" from 1912 by Ladislaw Starewicz, a pioneer in stop-action animation.
“There will be something for everyone. We want the films to appeal to all kinds of people and all ages. We plan to present several joyful short films full of imagination and innovation,” Mehling said. There is even expected to be one silent film that predates and may remind some of a certain and more recent toy story.
Gypsy jazz was developed in France in the 1930s under the innovation of Django Reinhardt (guitar) and Stephane Grappelli (violin) who meld the emotion, romance and mystery of gypsy music with 1930's American swing jazz music. Today there is a re-emergence of jazz renditions in the unique Reinhardt and Grappelli style. You don't have to look long to find on some DC-area radio stations, even NPR did a piece a few weeks ago.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Ben Model’s name.