Cinema and Sound — Marriage and Magic

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IF YOU CAN STILL GET A TICKET, this is a fun show for several reasons. The main reason is pianist Stephen Prutsman of classical, jazz, fusion, and other musical renown who is the emcee, keyboard player, and driving force behind it.

Accompanying Mr. Prutsman live on stage are four string players from the Spoleto orchestra who help perform his original compositions which he has paired with three film “shorts” from the early 1900s which, interestingly, share in common the theme of marriage—and the result that afterwards you can’t imagine those early silent films without music.

The Spoleto preview for this show (which you can read here) tells you everything you need to know about the films, their storylines, and the concept behind Mr. Prutsman’s compilation. What it can’t tell you, though, is how his presentation lends insight into the magic of cinema — a magic that has long been taken for granted since audio got added to video.

It seems obvious, but until you see it you don’t realize that, without audio, actors had to do something very different on screen. They had to “act” the sound, which in many cases resulted in exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. What distinguished the best actors was how well they could “communicate” with the least amount of exaggeration. Things got more complex and sophisticated when it came to physical comedy which, by its nature, calls for exxageration but which has to be contained enough not to fall into slap stick humor.

Pianist Stephen Prutsman

Mr. Prutsman had to walk that same fine line when composing the music for these three very different films, and he succeeded par excellence.

Two of the films depict human scenarios (the third is animated) and their sets immediately reminded me of Jackie Gleason’s show, The Honeymooners, which always took place in Ralph and Alice Kramden’s simple apartment rooms where the “action” depended entirely on the actors’ faces, gestures, and timing. I realized for the first time how much that show owed to silent film and how much Gleason and company’s acting resembled the facial expressions, physical comedy, and human nuance of silent film actors.

It also explained why the packed crowd at The Woolfe Street Playhouse comprised mostly 50 to 70 years olds who could not have been more pleased to be there.

Bravo to Stephen Prutsman for bringing these silent “shorts” to life with so much finesse, perceptivity, and fun.


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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
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