Red Kimona

Everything related to researching, scoring and performing music with silent film.
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Jim Roots
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Red Kimona

Unread post by Jim Roots » Mon Sep 08, 2008 8:11 am

As some of you guys know, I'm deaf and have no idea what music is being played on silent DVDs, so maybe one of you can help me.

I recently watched THE RED KIMONA (the new Kino version) and when the girl steps onto the train to go back to the New Orleans whorehouse, I was curious if the musician had the wit to start playing "House of the Rising Sun".

I've got one foot on the platform
And one foot on the train
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain


Jim

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Rodney
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Unread post by Rodney » Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:09 pm

Well, you have to be careful about this sort of thing. Since THE RED KIMONA is not a comedy, inserting "wit" in this way can be a distracting commentary, sort of like having a joker sitting behind you making snide comments on the action -- turning a scene that was probably intended to be serious, into a joke. Following this slippery path, you'll end up as one of those musicians who, in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, plays "Row row row your boat gently down the stream" when the phantom takes Christine across the lake. Yes, you've made a clever little joke, but you've also destroyed the mood set up by what can be -- given the right music -- a very impressive scene, and I'd worry about the same thing (to a lesser extent) by putting "Rising Sun" in THE RED KIMONA.

In Rick Altman's book SILENT FILM SOUNDS, he quotes a lot of columnists who ridicule this kind of "pop song" punning mentality, but Rick frames it in a broader context -- should the tone of the film theater experience be controlled by the musician or by the film maker? Originally, musicians who played musical jokes with serious films were, in fact, very popular -- which is why the columnists felt they should be chastised. Is what they do wrong? Says who? This argument continues today with silent films (and Mystery Science Theater).

I tend to do these musical "quotes" only in comedies -- we use "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in THE GENERAL when the confederate army returns, which has the added advantage that this WAS a marching song used in the Civil War. When Arbuckle and St John do their broomstick butt-batting schtick, we play the Anvil Chorus. When Buster starts emptying buckets of the water from the yacht in SPITE MARRIAGE we play the Sorceror's Apprentice.

But I generally try to keep these references under control, and leave these out of serious films, because I want to support the film-makers intent when we can.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"

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Jim Reid
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Unread post by Jim Reid » Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:49 pm

I went to a screening of the Lon Chaney Hunchback at the Dallas Museum of Art a few years ago and the accompaniest was doing a lot of that. I finally got up and left when Esmerelda wakes up after being rescued by Quasimodo and sees his face for the first time. She played "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face". That was too much.

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Rodney
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Unread post by Rodney » Mon Sep 08, 2008 3:11 pm

Jim Reid wrote:I went to a screening of the Lon Chaney Hunchback at the Dallas Museum of Art a few years ago and the accompaniest was doing a lot of that. I finally got up and left when Esmerelda wakes up after being rescued by Quasimodo and sees his face for the first time. She played "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face". That was too much.
Yes, but you'll find that a lot of audiences actually like this, and talk about the cleverness with which it was done when it's over. Purists won't like it, but most people aren't purists.

When we played for The Kid Brother in San Francisco, I predicted to the band that we'd be using our decades of training to give our best interpretation of an hour and a half of exquisite music on our chosen instruments, but that what people would comment on would be the monkey-shoe effects. Sure enough, that got more critical notice than anything. So you can see how musicians can go down that path. It does make you a bigger star.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"

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radiotelefonia
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Unread post by radiotelefonia » Mon Sep 08, 2008 6:09 pm

Considering the lyrics and the year in which it was written, 1926, the tango "Intimas" by piano player Alfonso Lacueva (composer) and bandoneon player Ricardo Luis Brignolo (lyricist) I have to conclude that this is the musical theme for this film... even if I'm wrong!

Here is the original instrumental version, by the Francisco Canaro orchestra, which I myself restored:

http://fb.esnips.com/doc/b54bd42a-4a91- ... timas-1926

And here is the all time singing master performing this tango in his electric version of 1930 (the lyrics were originally written, not surprisingly, for him in 1926, yet this latter version is better than the original):

http://fb.esnips.com/doc/d476d6d6-4d6c- ... 01-Intimas

And to finish, here is the score in its original 1926 version, from todotango:

Image

Image

Image

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Jim Roots
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Unread post by Jim Roots » Tue Sep 09, 2008 6:54 am

Rodney wrote:Well, you have to be careful about this sort of thing. Since THE RED KIMONA is not a comedy, inserting "wit" in this way can be a distracting commentary, sort of like having a joker sitting behind you making snide comments on the action -- turning a scene that was probably intended to be serious, into a joke.
That's true, but I meant "wit" not in the sense of "being funny", but rather in the sense of being an exquisitely apt selection.

"House of the Rising Sun", as you know, is a very serious, sad, and bitter song. It fits the mood of the scene. Not like, say, "The Little Engine That Could", which would certainly have turned the scene into mockery. Or "I Need a Hot-dog In My Roll".

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Rodney
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Unread post by Rodney » Tue Sep 09, 2008 7:22 am

Point taken. My examples were, of course, far more extreme; and yours would have worked reasonably well for the scene. But still, there's the aspect of being pulled out of the picture for a second to say to yourself "Hey, this is House of the Rising Sun. The last verse of that one is about going back to a whore house. That's kind of appropriate to this scene!" And appropriate or not, it draws the watchers' thoughts away from the predicament of the character on the screen to the musicians in the pit (or in the studio), and therefore I probably wouldn't use it -- unless it were a montage of travel that takes a certain amount of time (like in the Czech version of EROTIKON) where you can let the music develop and there's time for the watcher to think about the cinematography, think about the music, think about the situation, then get back to the plot again.

It's a matter of taste, I guess.
Rodney Sauer
The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
www.mont-alto.com
"Let the Music do the Talking!"

Michael Mortilla
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Unread post by Michael Mortilla » Tue Sep 09, 2008 8:45 am

Rodney wrote:
...you'll find that a lot of audiences actually like this
Rodney wrote:
It's a matter of taste, I guess.
(from 2 different posts)

I couldn't agree more with Rodney. While the song is from the period and probably pre-dates it a fair number of years, the rock version is what people know and that brings a certain connotation to the music. This is usually more of a distraction than an effective kind of choice. As Rodney says, it draws the attention away from the characters and plot. I also doubt that many in the audience would know it's a folk tune.

The fact that people might like songs or not is of no concern to me. What is of concern is that the story be supported with music that is emotionally, dramatically and/or otherwise fits the scene.

As an aside, I've played and composed a lot of dance music for Modern and Ballet. I also improvise often - almost exclusively unless I've composed the piece. One of my first ballet classes I played perfectly in the style of the dance. The dancers loved it but the somewhat famous male instructor was mute the whole class. At the end of the class, he came over to the piano and screamed at me: "YOU DIDN'T PLAY A SINGLE TUNE I KNOW!" and stormed out. Quite the scene.

Of course, he hadn't asked me to play anything specific so how would I know? He just expected it. But the point is not unrelated. People often like the recognizable and the security of knowing what comes next. But in the theater, the only people who aren't prepared are the audience - and I for one like to keep it that way. It's an artistic choice.

BTW, had I been quicker on my feet with the ballet instructor I might have played "If I Only Had a Brain" for his exit. Maybe next time. :)
Michael Mortilla

MIDILifeCrisis

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Jim Roots
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Unread post by Jim Roots » Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:07 am

Michael Mortilla wrote:
Rodney wrote:
...you'll find that a lot of audiences actually like this
Rodney wrote:
It's a matter of taste, I guess.
(from 2 different posts)

I couldn't agree more with Rodney. While the song is from the period and probably pre-dates it a fair number of years, the rock version is what people know and that brings a certain connotation to the music. This is usually more of a distraction than an effective kind of choice. As Rodney says, it draws the attention away from the characters and plot. I also doubt that many in the audience would know it's a folk tune.
Good points, all. I recall that nearly 40 years ago, when I was in high school and still had a fair chunk of hearing left, on music night a trio of students played "House of the Rising Sun" on acoustic guitars as a folk song. Knowing only the Animals' rock version, I was considerably taken aback by this approach.

I wonder if it would have worked in RED KIMONA if played on a desolate-sounding acoustic guitar or banjo, distancing itself from recognition of the rock version? Or perhaps as a flute solo? Keyboards, brass, or bass wouldn't work...

Jim

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FrankFay
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Unread post by FrankFay » Wed Sep 10, 2008 8:57 am

It's not impossible. During the Rennaisance the tune of a a popular song "L'Homme Armee" was used as the basis for church compositions.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L'homme_arm%C3%A9
Apparently it's all in how you arrange it and play it.
Eric Stott

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Derek B.
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Unread post by Derek B. » Wed Sep 10, 2008 10:14 pm

Rodney wrote:It's a matter of taste, I guess.
And, as has been at least implicit in some of the comments, it also depends on the film. I saw a showing of Murnau's City Girl where the accompanist used "K-K-K-Katy" as the theme for the female lead "Kate". That might fit thematically if one connects the stuttering in the lyrics to the hesitancy of the male lead but I found it very distracting. The score for the comedy Les deux timides at San Francisco used a song I associate with Maurice Chevalier ("Valentine"). In that case I also found it distracting but much less so. On the other hand, the recorded soundtrack for the silent part of the part-talkie Modern Love shown at Cinecon used several popular songs in a way that seemed very appropriate to me.
- Derek B.

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