Never on it's Own!

Open, general discussion of music during the era of classic/nitrate movies
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Neil Lipes

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Never on it's Own!

PostMon Jan 28, 2013 5:29 pm

Since we are all in a music chat room I have to assume that all those here are believers in music as an integral part of the motion picture experience.

Indeed my wife's grandmother played piano at the Circle Theater on Columbus Circle during the early days of the silent era.

Motion Pictures and music sort of germinated in unison...and a 'flicker' with piano accompaniment was considered a necessity for what was happening up on that 'silver screen'

The author Randall Larson has written (now in it's second printing) a very informative and needed work concerning music in Motion Pictures..........specifically Science Fiction, and Horror.

Many composers toiled out in Hollywood to make a buck from the "degenerate" art form.......most of the early Universal product had music composed and or arranged by Heintz Roemheld discovered by Universal President Carl Laemmle, Sr. while working in Milwaukee composing scores to accompany the new Universal release 'The Phantom Of The Opera' So impressed was Laemmle that he offered a job to Roemheld as musical director for Universal.....after a stint in Berlin at a Laemmle theater.

Roemheld eschewed the typical tin pan alley music, and instead utilized the great masters of the musical repertoire like Schumann, Schubert, Liszt and Beethoven......just listen to so many of Universal's pictures of the 1930's......and one will discern snippets of many classical 'war-horses'.

In time Universal added additional personnel to the music dept, which was eventually headed by Gilbert Kurland who more or less acted as the clearing house of music for the productions as they entered post production.

Motion Pictures as Louis Mayer would often quip, are your greatest form of entertainment..........surely that enjoyment would not be nearly as full and rich without a musical score tracking the action on that silver screen.
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Bob Birchard

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 12:31 pm

Musical accompaniment varied widely in the silent era. It is simply not true that "movies were never silent." Many theaters would run the first show or two of the day in silence because the attendance was not great enough to make it cost-effective to have a musician playing for these shows, Bob Mitchell became a film organist almost by accident at age 10 or 11 in 1924 because he practiced on the local theater's organ on Saturday mornings before the show, and then just kept playing when the movie started because his mother did not arrive to pick him up in time. Even theaters that had orchestras did not always use them for film accompaniment. Gaylord Carter recalled that in the evenings the Million Dollar Theater orchestra would only play for the first twenty minutes of the feature and he would take over on the organ after that. King Vidor once estimated that at least 50% of the impact of a silent film was in the music, but that effect was not consistent in any two locations--and from the evidence of surviving compiled scores (and from Vitaphone and Movietone scores) it would seem that composers (largely for convenience, I'm sure) often relied on a relatively constrained "bag of tricks" tunes that would have become familiar to moviegoers hearing them week after week and would not have had any particular association with specific films--or emotions for that matter.
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FrankFay

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 1:37 pm

A writer in a 1917 military camp magazine said that the musicians in the local theater (in Spartanburg SC) would play for the beginning of the feature, then walk out and let the middle of the picture play in silence until they came back for the end. He said it was the only place he'd ever seen such a thing and he had no idea why they did so.
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Brooksie

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 2:15 pm

There's the occasional early talkie that doesn't have a lick of background music - Red Dust (1932) springs to mind - and it really does change the viewing experience. Even a year later, the famous Astor-Gable clinch probably would have been backed up with a big string-section flourish, and lost all its rawness as a result. I'm not sure if it was a matter of technology or an artistic decision, but whatever, it was certainly the right one.
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Jack Theakston

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 3:58 pm

Rick Altman makes an excellent point that musical accompaniment was not common in theater up until 1908 in his book, Silent Film Sound, but also explains that there was quite a thriving industry of sound EFFECTS before that point.
J. Theakston
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 5:12 pm

Brooksie wrote:There's the occasional early talkie that doesn't have a lick of background music - Red Dust (1932) springs to mind - and it really does change the viewing experience.


MUCH more often than "occasional" in the years between '28 & '32...where I spend a lot of time. Division between the haves & have-nots is roughly 50-50, I'd estimate, at least among the pictures I'm watching. In general--which doesn't mean "always"--I prefer the have-nots.
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Jim Reid

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 6:11 pm

Then there's "Five Star Final" that has no music in it at all.
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Brooksie

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostFri Feb 15, 2013 6:38 pm

Jack Theakston wrote:Rick Altman makes an excellent point that musical accompaniment was not common in theater up until 1908 in his book, Silent Film Sound, but also explains that there was quite a thriving industry of sound EFFECTS before that point.


Live narration also seems to have been pretty common in the earliest days. The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) had what sounds like a cross between narration and dramatisation. Later in the run they distributed story books that you were supposed to refer to while watching the movie, but whether they were designed to replace the narration or simply augment it is hard to say.
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missdupont

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSat Feb 16, 2013 9:38 am

Several academic writers point out that in early talkies, that music was used only when it actually occurred on screen, i. e., there's a band playing, someone's playing the piano, the radio's on, etc. Not really until KING KONG is there a true sound score to accompany talkies. In the last days of silents, synchronized scores were the first things added, before anyone spoke.
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Jack Theakston

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSat Feb 16, 2013 10:52 am

Jim Reid wrote:Then there's "Five Star Final" that has no music in it at all.


Not so! There's source music on the radio when H.B. Warner goes to off himself.

missdupont wrote:Several academic writers point out that in early talkies, that music was used only when it actually occurred on screen, i. e., there's a band playing, someone's playing the piano, the radio's on, etc. Not really until KING KONG is there a true sound score to accompany talkies. In the last days of silents, synchronized scores were the first things added, before anyone spoke.


KING KONG certainly is a milestone in its all-original and extensive score, but hardly what I'd call the first use of real underscoring that wasn't source music. Even Steiner himself was underscoring films such as 1932's THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD before KING KONG.
J. Theakston
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Bob Birchard

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSat Feb 16, 2013 12:19 pm

Jack Theakston wrote: KING KONG certainly is a milestone in its all-original and extensive score, but hardly what I'd call the first use of real underscoring that wasn't source music. Even Steiner himself was underscoring films such as 1932's THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD before KING KONG.



"Bird of Paradise" predates "Kong," as do such films as "Most Dangerous Game" and "Love Me Tonight" and "Trouble in Paradise," so while Steiner was one of the developers of full scoring, he was not alone. The idea of musical underscoring goes back to the stage--hence the term melodrama, and many early talkies followed this tradition with wall-to-wall background music. Around 1930 there was an artistic not that, "Hey, we're making talkies now, and we don't need music." Thus films like Dracula, Five Star Final, and others. But there were always exceptions that used music beyond just source cues befor "Kong."
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSat Feb 16, 2013 3:20 pm

Jack Theakston wrote:Not so! There's source music on the radio when H.B. Warner goes to off himself.



Not to mention that delicious little dance of Marian Marsh to the same radio music.
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSat Feb 16, 2013 11:12 pm

Just rewatched an old favorite, Illicit, 1931, which I love not only because it stars Stanwyck at her most adorable, but also because poor, underappreciated Natalie Moorhead enjoys one of her few sizable parts. No background music except while credits were rolling, & again when two newspaper close-ups were shown to advance the story (music for the latter was a beautiful melody from On With the Show). Thus the producer didn't merely "forget" about background music, but chose to use it only when there was no dramatic action on screen. As I previously noted, this pattern is far from uncommon.
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Never on its Own!

PostSun Feb 17, 2013 12:44 am

The very first all-talkie, THE LIGHTS OF NEW YORK had almost wall-to-wall background music in 1928, and many talkies of 1928-29 use background music at appropriate times. The practice seemed to fall out of fashion by late 1929 until sometime in 1932 for most movies, when full-blown music scores came back with a vengeance, whether synchronized from a pre-recorded music library or collection of sheet music, or composed specifically for the films. There have always been occasional exceptions, with some 1930-31 pictures that have underscoring and some post-1932 films with no underscoring.

Note also that it became easier to edit separate music, effects, and dialogue tracks by the early 1930s than it was in the first few years of talkies. That may have had something to do with filmmakers deciding to forego the hassle of having music scores for awhile, especially lower budget and independent productions. As talkies started to supplant silents in 1929, there was also the apparently growing sense that with the new realism of sound recording it suddenly seemed "unnatural" to hear music with no orchestra on screen (or in the theatre). Luckily audiences and producers came to their senses and led to some of the greatest symphonic mood music of the 20th century as well as new directions in blending sound and image.
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Jim Reid

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSun Feb 17, 2013 1:41 am

Jack Theakston wrote:
Jim Reid wrote:Then there's "Five Star Final" that has no music in it at all.


Not so! There's source music on the radio when H.B. Warner goes to off himself.



My error.
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Rollo Treadway

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostSun Feb 17, 2013 1:36 pm

The great Asphalt Jungle (1950) has music only at the opening and ending scenes. (Plus some source music in Sam Jaffe's fateful stop at the juke joint.)

The Birds (1963) has no music, though the bird noises (real or electronically generated) can be said to be "orchestrated", and indeed Hitch's main composer of the period, Bernard Herrmann. is credited as sound consultant.
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barry byrne

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostMon Mar 18, 2013 2:40 am

Frank Fay posted earlier about musicians taking a break, or finishing up, mid film.
"He said it was the only place he'd ever seen such a thing and he had no idea why they did so."


Curiously, I have just found a similar reference.

British band leader, Louis Levy, who published an autobiography in 1948, which is quoted in " The British Musical Film" by J Mundy, states that at one venue there was no ordered routine and when the musicians felt they had played long enough, all six withdrew and went for a beer or a smoke, without any reference to how the film was running.
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TWhite

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Re: Never on it's Own!

PostMon Jul 08, 2013 1:35 am

MGM's 1954 EXECUTIVE SUITE has no musical score save a large clock chiming at the beginning and end of the film.

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