3 silent films, the surreal, the suspenseful, the silly
Pianist Stephen Prutsman is well known to chamber music audiences. This year, in addition to playing jazz at Revival House and chamber music at the Avondale with Stéphane Tétreault and Mark Fewer, he will also be conducting his original scores for three silent film shorts from the 1910s and ‘20s along with members of Stratford's own, INNERchamber.
Prutsman talks with Jeanette Guinn about his scores for The Cameraman’s Revenge(1910) a stop-motion animated tale of bugs and their jealousies and infidelities; Suspense (1913) about a woman under siege by a wandering criminal while her husband is hurrying home to save her, if he can avoid the police; and Mighty Like A Moose (1926), starring Charley Chase, in which Mr. and Mrs. Moose both decide to have a little corrective surgery on their faces without telling each other. Hijinks ensue. LISTEN HERE.
SUSPENSE – 1913
Director, screenwriter and actress of “Suspense”, Lois Weber is considered to be the most important female filmmaker the industry has ever known. The film features the earliest example of split screen, anxiety-inducing shots through key holes and mirrors, and a cliff-hanger chase. Although un-credited, horror film actor Lon Chaney makes his film debut as the hobo with evil intent.
THE CAMERAMAN’S REVENGE - 1912
Polish filmmaker Ladislaw Starevicz introduced his now classic “The Cameraman’s Revenge” as the first puppet-animated film of its kind. He often used actual dead insects for this purpose, although understudies were needed in plentiful supplies. No doubt wings and legs would fall off and replacements were to be had. “Cameraman’s Revenge” tells the bizarre yet captivatingly funny story of insect infidelity and jealousy.
MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE
A comedy-classic by any stretch, Leo McCarey’s “Mighty Like a Moose” tells the hysterically funny story of an unsightly couple who unbeknownst to their mates undergo plastic surgery and begin an lurid affair with each other. It stars Vivian Oakland and Charlie Chase as the wife and husband.
This remarkable trio of classic shorts each belongs to contrasting genres in filmmaking which in keeping with the silent film tradition of alliteration marketing I like to label “The Suspenseful, the Surreal and the Silly”. Within these contrasting genres, love is prominent, whether it be bug-love in “The Cameraman’s Revenge”, impending danger to loved ones in “Suspense” or in “Mighty Like a Moose” marital-love revamped, revived and renewed. (More alliteration, sorry…) When writing for silent film, I like to borrow musical languages of the time. In “Suspense” you’ll hear noir-like harmonies, somewhat discordant yet always with a foreboding, doom like, pedal point constant pitch which ones hopes will resolve with relief. In “The Cameraman’s Revenge” sardonic, Soviet-style rhythms and harmonies sandwich sneaky hints of “La Vie en Rose” when Mrs. Beetle rendezvous with her suave French painter-lover. And of course, in the American comedy “Mighty Like a Moose” swing and Charleston (the musical style not the town) predominate. I do like to sneak in tunes of the time so if you think you hear a snippet of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” or “Solitude” you may be on to something…
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