Last night’s Jazz on 3 celebrated the art of live accompaniment to silent film, as part of the BBC’s marvellous Sound of Cinema season. The show, presented by Jez Nelson, features jazz and improvising musicians creating live scores for silent films. Listen again here, or catch up with the sessions by watching these gorgeous clips, with music from the live session by Alison Blunt (violin), Viv Corringham (vocals), John Bisset (guitar) and David Leahy (double bass). Here, they are accompanying an experimental film by Louise Curham called Pararaha, Ruapehu, Mt Clear.
The much-loved 1925 German film A Trip to the Planets was also among the films chosen for the session.
Another modern silent here, Composted Memorial by Sally Golding, an installation and performance artist know for her cine-sculptures. She desecribes the film, which is constructed from vintage 9.5mm home-movie fragments as: “A wonky filmic resurrection, as a cine-essay dissolving in destructive magic.”
This week, I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Sound of Cinema, a new cross-channel season from the BBC exploring film music in all its variety. The centrepiece of the season, arriving in September, is a three-part documentary on BBC4 by silent film composer Neil Brand called The Big Score. I’ve had a sneak preview of the series and it’s seriously fascinating stuff, with Brand tracing the development of film music from the silent era onwards, explaining exactly how classic scores work their magic on the viewing public and interviewing movie composers and big-name directors. Vangelis discusses the creation of his classic score for the most famous slow-motion sequence of them all in Chariots of Fire; Martin Scorsese talks us through his use of Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets. In the first episode, Brand talks to silent film accompanist Bernie Anderson at Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City – and has a go on the magnificent in-house organ there.
Other elements in the season include stars discussing their favourite film music moments on BBC Radio 6; a documentary about the relationship between hip-hop and cinema on BBC Radio 1; Bobby Friction exploring Bollywood music on the BBC Asian Network; and a BBC Radio 2 documentary made by Mark Kermode called Soundtrack of my Life, which promises to be very entertaining. There’s absolutely masses planned on BBC Radio 3, including Sound of Cinema downloads by Brand and a a week of programmes hosted by Matthew Sweet. You can read more here (PDF). Radio1 film critic Rhianna Dhillon talked to me about the intriguing possibility of getting some pop acts to have a stab at scoring a film – perhaps they will get a taste for it and we’ll find some new names added to the list of regular silent film composers!
Because, yes, this all sounds a bit “talkie” for Silent London, but I’m sharing this with you because this series promises “a deep understanding of what music does for film”. It’s a subject that silent cinema fans discuss animatedly after every screening – we’re in the now unusual position of watching the same film again and again with different scores, which can make a huge difference to the experience. Perhaps, after dipping into this season. we’ll have an insight into the influences, theories and ideas rushing through the film accompanist’s mind at the next screening we attend.