The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s second annual Music and Film Festival begins Thursday night with Harold Lloyd’s silent film, Safety Last. The screening will be far from silent, though, as the Silent Film Orchestra from Berklee College of Music will be playing live.
The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra is the only college program of its kind. The group has written an original score for the film, which they performed live at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. This is where Martha’s Vineyard Film Center’s executive director Richard Paradise first encountered them and thought to bring the group to the Island for the Music and Film Festival.
“It’s almost like being at a concert,” said Mr. Paradise. “You are listening to this great music, but you are in the dark and you are watching this great film. It gives you goose bumps. It surrounds you. It’s more intense because you know it’s being played live right in front of you.”
On Thursday night, the theatre will be set up a little differently than for typical screenings. The first row of the theatre will be filled with the orchestra and its collection of instruments. The screen will have a 4 x 3 aspect ratio, just like classic silent films, which leaves three or four feet of space on either side of the image. The orchestra will also be dimly visible, with the lights illuminating the music stands.
With no dialogue, the musical score takes on even more importance. The silent film orchestra has carefully picked each note to help narrate the story. The music and sound effects are timed precisely to the film for maximum impact. Not only will the orchestra set the mood, but it will also help to tell the story and keep the viewers engaged.
“Today’s movies tend to focus more on dialogue then anything else,” said Mr. Paradise. “In the silent film era it was the opposite. It was the visuals and the music working together to tell the story.”
For a full list of films at the festival, not all silent, visit mvfilmsociety.com.