You’ve likely seen it: the image of silent film star Harold Lloyd hanging frantically from the skyscraper clock.
Likely you’ve seen it, but you may not know it’s from the 1923 silent film, “Safety Last!”
A free showing of the classic comedy is 4 p.m. Sunday as part of the Music and the Arts at Vineville United Methodist Church series. Ron Carter will accompany the film on the church’s pipe organ.
And something else you likely may not know: many don’t consider silent films to be silent at all.
“Silent films weren’t really made to be silent,” he said. “Yes, they were before ‘talkies,’ but depending on the studio and the budget, films were provided with musical scores to be played as soundtracks. Some were good, some not so good. Some were simple cue sheets providing themes and a few measures of music but others were elaborate orchestral scores. They were created as part of the movie.”
Carter said earliest films were shown in storefronts with piano accompaniment. Their popularity created grand movie theaters with entire pit orchestras. But, to save expense, pipe organs began being used to imitate orchestras and sound effects.
Carter dislikes the idea of an organist “noodling randomly” for films. He said there’s skill, care and preparation involved.
“It’s great using these original scores but many are lost,” he said. “I make sure I have a theme for major characters and possibly one for special locations, like the store in “Safety Last!,” as well as creating a romantic theme for Harold and his girl. I don’t like using known, popular music unless it really fits. I like the music to be part of the film and for people to leave humming it.”
Though there is preparation, Carter said there’s much improvisation.
There’s a knack to bringing it all together and hitting action points perfectly. Carter said that includes a familiarity with the organ.
“I’ll travel down Saturday and spend time getting used to the organ and how to use it for the movie,” he said. “I’ll set up a sound effects module I bring.”
Carter studied music at a young age and is now retired from a career in law enforcement, leaving as a GBI commander. He also has been involved in church music all his life, including currently at his home in Marietta. He became fascinated with playing for film in the 1980s and is a Georgia board member of the American Theatre Organ Society.
“I love playing all around,” he said. “I’ve done ‘Safety Last!’ six or seven times and people say they almost forget there’s no talking. And the reactions are great. Audiences gasp and laugh out loud at the action and gags just like it was made yesterday.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where: Vineville United Methodist Church, 2045 Vineville Ave.
When: 4 p.m. Jan. 6