BSO, St. Marks organ, fill Chaplin, Navarro silent movie screenings with sound

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It surprises some to learn that movies and music have been intertwined since as far back as the 1890’s. From the earliest French films, music played an integral part in setting the mood for the action on the screen, as theaters employed pianos, organs or small ensembles to accompany those black and white gems with a dizzying array of careful compositions and impromptu scores.

In the 1920’s, Charlie Chaplin was a unique figure in Hollywood; not only in writing, directing and appearing in his own films, but also in composing his own musical scores. Chaplin would continue to write movie music, capping his career with the beloved standard, Smile, from the soundtrack of the1936 film Modern Times.

Pops conductor Jack Everly leads the BSO. (Peter Throm Management)
Pops conductor Jack Everly leads the BSO. (Peter Throm Management)

Two of Chaplin’s early efforts may be seen – and heard – this weekend, as the BSO provides accompaniment for screenings of The Idle Class and The Kid in an evening entitled Chaplin’s Back! This welcome return of the BSO performing the accompanying soundtracks live builds on two prior pairings of Chaplin’s famed films with his original scores. At the Thursday evening screening, the orchestra did not miss a beat under the spry baton of Pops Conductor Jack Everly. Maestra Marin Alsop was originally set to lead the symphony in Chaplin’s catchy compositions, but a family emergency forced Alsop to bow out sometime earlier this week.

In The Idle Class (1921) Chaplin (in dual roles as a rich alcoholic and a tramp) pokes fun at the foibles of upper crust society on the eve of the Jazz Age. An absurd game of golf and a costume ball set the stage for mistaken identity and an astounding number of face slaps, butt kicks, knuckle sandwiches and pratfalls.

The Kid (1921) was Chaplin’s first feature film. Six reels and 68 minutes in length, The Kid tells the story of an orphan boy (Jackie Coogan) who, after being abandoned by his young mother (Edna Purviance), and unwittingly kidnapped by two car thieves, winds up in the tender care of Chaplin’s inimitable Tramp. After making a home for the infant child with a series of cleverly contrived contraptions, the action fast-forwards five years to find Chaplin and Coogan living a kind of Dickens inspired existence. The plot turns when some well-meaning officious individuals try to take The Kid away. Through it all there are laughs, a few tears, more fisticuffs, and an incredibly odd angelic/dream sequence. The Kid was the highest grossing film in 1921. Ninety-plus years later, it remains a cinematic masterpiece.

Chaplin’s Back! happens Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8p.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, Maryland, and Saturday, February 1, 8p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, MD. Tickets prices range from $29 to $94 and are available through the BSO Ticket Office, 410-783-8000 or online.


Film lovers will also want to mark their calendars for June 12-14, 2014 as the BSO accompanies one of the greatest films of all time, Casablanca. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, this soul-stirring film brings hope and heartache to the big screen while the orchestra performs Max Steiner’s famous soundtrack. It must be noted that patrons who take in Casablanca (or Chaplin’s Back!) should not be shocked to find that pairing movies and music at the BSO is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Renée Adorée and Ramon Navarro appear in The Pagan.
Renée Adorée and Ramon Navarro appear in The Pagan.

For those who can’t make it to the Meyerhoff or Strathmore for Chaplin’s Back!, St. Mark’s Church in upper Charles Village will screen the 1929 silent The Pagan staring Ramon Novarro, Renée Adorée and Donald Crisp. The Pagan tells the scintillating saga of a, “carefree South Seas native who falls for the half-caste ward of a religious white man who desires her for himself” (IMDB).

The Pagan will be accompanied on St. Mark’s grand Murphy organ by James Harp, music director of the St. Cecilia Society and cantor at St. Mark’s church. Showtime is Sunday, February 2, 1:30pm – 3:30pm. There is no charge for this presentation but donations will be accepted at the door. Ample parking is available on the street and on the nearby church lot. More information may be found by visiting St. Marks Church online.



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