Thursday, July 15, 2010

My music man - silent movie music and Diary of a Lost Girl

Once my manager at work passed off a problem phone customer to me.  He was a lonely old man, and he was difficult to understand.  In the end, he just wanted to talk, and she's not good with people, so he was pretty irritated when I picked him up off of hold.  He talked for an hour and a half, and when he hung up, he was happier than he'd been in a long time, from what I could tell.

He used to play the organ in movie theaters back when silent movies were the only kind.  All his recordings were out of print and very rare, but I wanted to hear what they sounded like.  He hadn't been able to play for years, of course, but I wished I could have heard him play.  He gave me his address and asked me to stop by some time.  He was, as you might imagine if you can do the math, pretty old then, and it's been a few years since, so he may not be alive any more.

I thought of him recently when I was watching The Diary of a Lost Girl.  Sometimes, the music they put in was just terrible, obviously a synthesizer, not a real organ.  And an organ in a real, drafty, old theater would have sounded different anyway.  There were some very sweet moments in the music, though.

It's unlikely my music man ever played for that movie.  It was cut in half here due to its scandalous nature, and it basically only played in the art theaters of its day.  I guess what was left to the imagination (pretty much everything) was considered scandalous if it came from Germany at that time.

The ending was maybe a tad forced, but it worked mostly because of the force of Louise Brooks' talent pushing it back.  She really is astonishing compared to, well, everyone else.  Pabst (the director) was pretty amazing, too.  He just let her be natural and not overact, and the result is that you identify with her sympathetically as she makes really bad choices. 

I was impressed by how clearly she communicated (without overacting) even though she was acting surrounded by people who didn't speak English.

"It's a silent movie," my mom said, exasperated.

I couldn't quite articulate why I was so impressed, but if I were trying to act natural surrounded by people speaking gibberish to my ears, it would be hard.  It's a subtlety thing.  It's disappointing that she was so self-destructive because I kind of wish I could see all those films she didn't make.  I guess I'll have to settle for Pandora's Box, the other Pabst film she illuminated.  It was supposed to be even more scandalous and much more melodramatic.  I hope the music is better.

I wonder what my music man would have played and what it would have sounded like in that theater all those years ago.  He would have gotten her subtlety, I think.

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