Saturday, October 11, 2014

Film concert City Lights (the Charles Chaplin score conducted by Günter A. Buchwald, played by Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone)

City Lights © Roy Export S.A.S
Serata finale / Closing Event

Kaupungin valot (Luci della città) (Charles Chaplin Productions/United Artists - US 1931) D, P SC, M: Charles Chaplin; DP: Roland Totheroh; cam. op: Mark Marlatt, Gordon Pollock; ED: Charles Chaplin, Willard Nico; ass D: Harry Crocker, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin; AD: Charles D. Hall; M arr: Arthur Johnston; M dir: Alfred Newman; additional musical themes: “The Star Spangled Banner” (John Stafford Smith), “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here” (Arthur Sullivan), “Dixie” (Daniel Decatur Emmett), “I Hear You Calling Me” (Charles Marshall), “Home, Sweet Home” (Henry Bishop), “La Violetera” (José Padilla), “Swanee River [Old Folks at Home]” (Stephen Foster), “How Dry I Am”, “St. Louis Blues” (W. C. Handy); C: Charlie Chaplin (A Tramp), Virginia Cherrill (A Blind Girl), Florence Lee (Her Grandmother), Harry Myers (An Eccentric Millionaire), Allan Garcia (His Butler), Hank Mann (A Prizefighter), Henry Bergman (mayor; janitor), Albert Austin (street sweeper; burglar), Joe Van Meter (burglar), John Rand (tramp), Spike Robinson (man who throws away cigar), Tiny Ward (man on lift in front of art shop), Mrs. Hyams (flower shop assistant), James Donnelly (foreman), Harry Ayers (cop), Eddie Baker (referee), Tom Dempsey (boxer), Eddie McAuliffe (boxer who leaves in a hurry), Willie Keeler (boxer), Victor Alexander (knocked-out boxer), Tony Stabeman (victorious boxer, later knocked out), Emmett Wagner (boxing second), Joe Herrick, A.B. Lane, Cy Slocum, Ad Herman, Jack Alexander (extras in boxing scene), T.S. Alexander (doctor), Stanhope Wheatcroft (man in café), Jean Harlow (extra in restaurant scene), Mrs. Pope [Jean Harlow’s mother] (extra in restaurant scene), Florence Wicks (woman who sits on cigar), Mark Strong (man in restaurant), Mrs. Garcia (woman at left of table in restaurant); 35 mm, 8093 ft, 90' (24 fps); titles: ENG; print source: Association Chaplin, Paris.
    Original score performed live by: Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone; conductor: Günter A. Buchwald. Music for City Lights © Roy Export Company Establishment and Bourne Co. except “La Violetera” © José Padilla.
    With e-subtitles in Italian, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 11 Oct 2014

David Robinson (GCM Catalogue and website): "In many respects City Lights stands as Chaplin’s archetypal and most perfectly realized work. Yet no film ever cost him more labour and anxiety. The production extended over 683 days, or 113 6-day working weeks. Shooting occupied 179 of these days; the remaining 504 are recorded on the production sheets as “idle”, which they were certainly not, since they included preparation of sets and costumes, rehearsing, cutting, work on the music, illness (Chaplin’s), and the conception and plotting of scenes – as with all Chaplin’s silent films, there was no script: the film was progressively created in independent sections that were styled “factions”, a curious verbal misusage shared by other comedy studios. For Chaplin a great deal of time and energy was eaten up by anxiety, changes of mind, sudden splits with colleagues and cast. Many years later Chaplin told his interviewer Richard Meryman, “I had worked my way into a neurotic state of wanting perfection.”"

"The neurosis had more complex causes. Work began in May 1928, almost two years after the launch of sound films. By the time City Lights was released the silent film was extinct. For Chaplin this was a dual challenge: he had won a world-wide audience with the universal language of silent mime; if he now talked, that audience would shrink to the English-speaking world. The further risk was that in giving his character a voice, he could disillusion a public every one of whom over the past decade and a half had formed his own imagining of how the Tramp’s voice might sound. His bold decision to resist speech in his films remained for almost a decade, until The Great Dictator in 1940."

"In the past Chaplin was beset by the peril of falling in love with his leading ladies. Virginia Cherrill was a definite exception. Half a century later she would say, “I never liked Charlie and he never liked me.” A 20-year-old Chicago socialite and divorcee, she first appealed to Chaplin by her looks and her ability to “look blind without being offensive, repulsive – the others all turned their eyes up to show the whites” (Chaplin advised her to look at him but “to look inwardly and not to see me”). She was, finally, effective on screen, but her inexperience and amateur’s lack of real commitment gave Chaplin headaches. No scene ever occupied him for so long as the brief sequence of their first meeting, at her pavement flower-stand – a scene which Chaplin saw as a “dance”. He did retake after retake to get the rhythm and the right “intonation” for the line, “Flower, sir?” (which would never, of course, be heard). Only after many painful days, spread over three shooting periods, did the scene, in the words of Alistair Cooke, finally flow as easily as water over pebbles."

"Before this, though, Chaplin had fired Virginia after she interrupted his creative enthusiasm with a request for time off to go to the hairdresser. He tried Georgia Hale, his heroine in The Gold Rush, but then recalled Virginia, who took the opportunity to demand that he double her $75-a-week salary. Hers was not the only sacking. Chaplin had taken a liking to the Australian glamour artist Henry Clive (1880-1962), but when, being bronchial, Clive declined to fall into a pool until the sun had warmed it, he had to go, permanently out of favour. Harry Crocker, a friend and associate for many years who had worked with Chaplin on early story ideas for City Lights, was dismissed without warning or explanation. Chaplin’s state of mind was not improved when a road-widening scheme required the rebuilding of part of the studio."

"Compared with Cherrill’s dramatic scenes, the extended comedy sequences – the supremely ironic “Peace and Prosperity” opening, the restaurant, the party devastated by a dog-whistle – were filmed without notable problems. The boxing sequence – which Chaplin himself always treasured as the peak of his choreographic comedy – was achieved with six days’ rehearsal and four of shooting."

"Exceptionally, though the story and the characters passed through many revisions in the preparatory stages of the work, from the very beginning Chaplin never changed his plan for the end of the film – that final scene which James Agee unreservedly called “the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies”. Paradoxically, after an abandoned first attempt early in production, this sequence seems to have been filmed with the minimum of problems. The close-ups were completed in 17 takes and a three-hour afternoon of shooting. Many years later, when Richard Meryman expressed the same sentiments as Agee, the octogenarian Chaplin replied simply, “Well, I knew it  was right.” If we want to define Chaplin’s genius, it is precisely that: the capacity for the infinite pains of experimenting, trying, repeating; the limitless retakes and rejections – but then the gift of knowing when he has arrived, when it has “come right”." – David Robinson

Günter A. Buchwald (GCM Catalogue and website): "The music Charles Chaplin once said that the music for his Tramp films was “conceived as a counterpoint”. This statement is surprising. If we assert that his music fits perfectly, nobody would contradict us. Indeed, we feel the music fits like a glove. But then, what is the nature of this counterpoint? Is it really counterpoint at all? I must underline that the term “counterpoint” is just a musical term. A second voice is joining a basic melody. Both voices are heard simultaneously, but each voice retains its independence. But together they form something new and polyphonic. Counterpoint in art is not something that in politics would mean a contradiction, a verbal fight, or hostile behaviour. Music designed to accompany a visual impression functions as an addition to it. In the best cases, it provides information that doesn´t appear visually. (In the worst cases, it just duplicates what we see.) We primarily perceive music as emotional information; only secondly do we interpret it as “Spanish”, “Church”, “Royal”, “English”, “16th century”. Music becomes an emotional addition to what we view – without any narration or intertitles. It immediately affects us spectators, who now process two things: what we see, and what we hear. The music lets us see colours that don´t exist in reality."

"What we see in City Lights is a ragged figure, a tramp, who at first appears to flaunt authority. But he himself displays no authority: even his finger-snapping fails when he tries to reprimand some newspaper boys. We see a Don Quixote figure, but we are listening to a very simple melody, played by the violins. The rhythmical metre reminds us of a hornpipe, kind of jazzy-folksy. The rising notes of the melody are elegant and gentle, radiating a certain optimism. And this is exactly the musical counterpoint Chaplin intended. Our view of a tramp is completed by music that announces “I am not poor; I feel fine. You see a tramp, but I am a gentleman.” The instrumentation plays its own part. We don´t hear a jazzy slapstick band, but a veritable symphony orchestra, with a sound that we would normally hear in a civic concert hall. During the film we listen to a noble Wagnerian opera sound, most notably in the idyllic love theme, which resounds in the most tender pianissimo when the flower girl touches the tramp´s hand and realizes his identity. This is great cinema, and supreme musical emotion. Their hearts, and ours, stand still. The little tramp, who has the biggest heart, becomes a symbol of global humanity. It is the power of the music which makes the tramp appear a precious member of mankind, and makes us see beyond our first optical impression of him. Of course, we also have moments of musical “mickey-mousing”, for instance, when the tramp steps down to the quay, takes his hat off to the policeman, dusts the bench, and starts to dream. But it is used sparingly."

"David Raksin, his musical assistant on Modern Times, called Chaplin the composer a thieving magpie in music. Obviously he absorbed a lot of music in his life, and he didn´t always know if the music that came to mind was his own creation, or if it was just something already stored in his head. In the case of his use of “La Violetera”, it still costs the Chaplin family a certain amount of money, since it is indeed a famous tune by the Spanish composer José Padilla. But anyone who knows the original fully appreciates the real difference between a popular melody and its masterful scoring in the film." – Günter A. Buchwald

AA: Every time the last scene feels more profound. "You can see now?" The tramp has fallen deeper, his clothes are more torn, and for the first time he is depressed. Yet he was the one who saved the millionaire from suicide, helped the girl and her granny from eviction, and helped the girl get her eyesight back. Now she sees only the bum. First when she touches him she recognizes him. The music is very special, and the final uplift takes place when the screen is already black. Unfortunately the audience started to applaud too early.

A heartfelt performance of Chaplin's score by the Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone conducted by Günter A. Buchwald. The original score was written for a dance orchestra of some 34 players. This was also approximately the strength of the orchestra today (or perhaps closer to 40?). There have been arrangements and performances for a much bigger symphony orchestra, producing a fuller and richer sound, but that is a deviation from Chaplin's original concept, producing intentionally a harsher, jazzier sound. There is at times even an affinity with the contemporary Brechtian-Weillian-Eislerian approach.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto was bookended by two memorable musical evenings. Beniamino Gigli's "Bella figlia dell'amore" was still ringing in my ears. As well as the final mysterious spiritual musical ascent to a new level of self-revelation in the finale of City Lights.

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