The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

(and/or improvised) but intended to sound like 'period' music -- the approach usually taken by Kleiner, by the organist Gaylord Carter, and more recently by Carl Davis; (3) a new score which is deliberately anachronistic in style, such as those created by Moroder for Metropolis in 1983, and by Duhamel and Jansen for Intolerance in 1986. Thus, altogether there now exist nine possible combinations of music and silent cinema (three modes of presentation, three types of score), and all of them have yielded results both subtle and obtrusive, both satisfying and offensive.

Particularly interesting in this respect are the cases where different versions have recently been prepared of the same film. For Intolerance, for example, there now exist four different versions. There is Anderson's, which is based on the Breil score and has been performed in conjunction with a restoration of the film (by MOMA and the Library of Congress) in a version as close as possible to that seen at the 1916 New York premiére. There is a Brownlow-Gill restoration with Davis score, which has been screened both live and on television. There is the 'modernist' Duhamel and Jansen version. And a laser disc also exists of a further restoration with a recorded organ score by Carter. In the case of Metropolis popular attention has been grabbed by the Moroder version with its synthetic mix of disco styles and new songs performed by various pop artists, but the film has been presented several times with a version of the original Huppertz score adapted and conducted by Berndt Heller, and with semi-improvisatory scores performed live by avant-garde ensembles. It is not possible to make hard-and-fast choices between the different approaches taken in these cases. Anderson has argued persuasively in favour of the presentation of a film like Intolerance in proper viewing conditions with the music originally designed for it, but even she has admitted that such meticulous restorations can have more historical than aesthetic interest. Meanwhile a case can also be made for the enlivening use of 'anachronistic' music, particularly for unconventional films, though the case of Metropolis shows that the use of trendy pop-music scores can make the film itself look dated when the music itself begins to date and progressive styles of jazz and minimalism can provide a more effective counterpoint to the film.

It is good to face so many possibilities, even if they stand in such confusing array. The simple fact is that music for silent films was ever-changing, because live, and to be truly 'authentic' must continue to change. Moreover, it is probably futile to expect that the musical traditions of silent cinema will ever be fully restored; for one thing, we simply cannot watch the films in the same way as our ancestors, after so many decades of experience with sound films, and after so much of the original repertoire has either been forgotten or has lost any semblance of freshness. The best that can be hoped for, perhaps, is that from time to time we will be able to return to the theatre to hear a live accompaniment, whether old or new, that makes an effective match to the film and is sensitively performed; when this happens, we are better able to imagine the silent cinema's past glories, and to experience it as an art still vital, a century after it all began.


Anderson, Gillian ( 1990), "No Music until Cue".

Erdmann, Hans, and Becce, Giuseppe ( 1927), Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik.

Gorbman, Claudia ( 1987), Unheard Melodies.

Marks, Martin ( 1995), Music and the Silent Film.

Rapée, Erno ( 1924), Motion Picture Moods.

----- ( 1925), Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures.

The Heyday of the Silents


By the middle of the 1920s the cinema had reached a peak of splendour which in certain respects it would never again surpass. It is true that there was not synchronized sound, nor Technicolor, except at a very experimental stage. Synchronized sound was to be introduced at the end of the decade, while Technicolor came into use only in the mid 1930s and beyond. Nor, except in isolated cases like Abel Gance's Napoléon ( 1927), was there anything approaching the wide screen that audiences were to be accustomed to from the 1950s onwards. It is also the case that viewing conditions in many parts of the world, particularly in rural areas, remained makeshift and primitive.

But there were many compensations. Audiences in cities throughout the developed world were treated to a spectacle which only twenty years earlier would have been unimaginable. In the absence of on-screen sound there were orchestras and sound effects. Film stocks using panchromatic emulsion on a nitrate base produced images of great clarity and detail enhanced by tinting and toning. Flicker effect had been eliminated, and screens up to 24 X 18 feet in size showed images brightly and without


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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