"The Dream Factory" - a nickname for the Hollywoodland and the motto for this year's edition of Silent Movie Festival in Krakow captures well the festival's spirit.
The term "silent movie" might be considered bit misguided - the cinema never liked silence, the music was always there, long before the world understood how to capture the audio on the magnetic tape. And music was there to enhance, to translate, to follow or push the story.
The beauty of the silent movie phenomen is that they can have a new life through music. They can adapt to modern times and acquire new meanings or rather new means of expression. As the Hollywood's latest trend is to re-make and re-heat plenty of old movies, however there's no need and no way to re-do Charlie Chaplin's movie. But you can always change the musical context and create a new and unique experience.
I chose three festival screenings, and, in hindsight, I wished I had seen the entire program.
I recall listening to Jazz Band Ball Orchestra's LPs as a teenager, and their true-to-the-tradition renditions of jazz classics were fun and pleasure to listen to. The JBBO was assembled over half a century ago by Jan Kudyk who's still in charge.
The orchestra played to "Mania : A history of a cigarette factory worker" featuring Pola Negri, a story not unlike the one presented much more recently in the cinema by Buz Luhrmann in "Moulin Rouge" and are many more examples to enlist. A young and beatifull factory worker Mania, played by Negri, falls madly in love with a talented composer, but is also courted by the factory's owner, who happens to be the opera's main sponsor, and as such holds the key to the composer's future. It's a story of romance, devotion and betrayal.
Jazz Band Ball's music fit perfectly the ballroom scenes, filled with dances and the discreet charm of burgeiosie. Jazz Band Ball Orchestra might sound like a true Second Line, in fact they joyfully travelled from Dixieland to swing and (for the dramatic finale) sharp post-bop chords.
"The Cameraman" has Buster Keaton playing his usual role of a clumsy hero, a cameraman who falls madly in love with a receptionist walking in a news office, in order to impress her he tries to take the best pictures of the New York city, with sort of mixed results. There's some burlesque, romance and action, with plenty of laughter (I can't rember any recent comedy that had the audience laugh so honestly). Don't let me spoil too much of the story - it's an absolute must-see movie.
The music was provided by a stellar quartet with two brilliant clarintestis - Ziporyn and Zimpel, Zemler on drums and percussion and Riley on guitar. The quartet excelled laying the most sweet and charming melody below the romantic history, or some cartoonish effects, mimicking the rhythm of burlesque falls and bumps on the screen. Yet the most rewarding moments were music would create an alternate interpretation of the movie events, not following closely the narration but adding some intriguing dimensions to the story, changing the accents or creating the friction between peacefull, suspense, comic and tragic.
"Sherlock Jr." is a movie that began the very first Silent Movie Festival, a story of a cinema operator and amatuer detective crosses the borders between reality and fiction of moving pictures quite literally having the main character walking in and out of a movie screen within the movie. In fact the particular scene seems a recurrent visual trick, with the real life cinema audience watching a surreal cinema audience on the screen, watching another screen.
100nka music brought out the mystery-crime tinge of the story, it was jazz with modern urban pulse (for the chase scene) and noir atmoshpere. The music did not overcome the comedy elements of the movie but definitely added some surreal texture to it. 100nka's sound combines strong sense of groove with colourfull immagination and it kept the audience on its toes as much as history on the screen.
Silent Movie festival marries for a few nights great stories with great movies, never too much of a good thing. Hope the next december will come soon enough.
ps. This post is a bit overdue, but on the other hand, Holiday season might prove to be a perfect time to catch upon some of the classic films of the silent era.
Jazz Band Ball Orchestra playing to "Mania a history of a cigarette factory worker" (06.12)
Jan Kudyk - trumpet; Marek Michalak - trombone; Jacek Mazur - clarinet; Wojciech Groborz - piano, arranger; Teofil Lisiecki - double bass; Wieslaw Jamiol - drums
Ziporyn / Zimpel / Zemler / Riley playing to "The Cameraman" (06.12)
Evan Ziporyn - clarinets; Waclaw Zimpel - clarinets; Huber Zemler - drums, percussion; Gyan Riley - guitar
100nka playing to "Sherlock Jr." (07.12)
Tomasz Les - guitar; Adam Stodolski; Przemyslaw Borowiecki - drums
14th Silent Movie Festival. Kino Pod Baranami. Krakow