'The Man Who Laughs' gets second life with live orchestra

'The Man Who Laughs' gets second life with live orchestra. (WJAR)

Back in the 1920s, before "talking pictures" came along, they were all "silent films". A live orchestra would play in the theatres to add to the experience!

Students from the Berklee College of Music in Boston have created a new score to an old "silent film", and they'll be playing along at the Avon Cinema tomorrow night!

Coming up with a fresh music track, a score, for class credit, to an old silent film, is a welcome challenge for Berklee College of Music students. "The Man Who Laughs" was first shown in 1928, the central character the forerunner to "The Joker" in the Batman series.

Composer and now Berklee Graduate from the Class of 2018 Marcelle Simpson has studied the film closely for her part of the composition.

“He has a smile etched into his face. He grows up, becomes part of this traveling show, falls in love,” she says.

Simpson is one of a dozen or so student composers that were given a chunk of the film, each section integrated with the others, to unify the movie.

“We started writing around January, February, and it was a tough process,” says Simpson.

Back in 2009, the nearby Coolidge Theatre in Brookline was holding a series of silent film exhibitions, and they needed some original scores. So approached the Berklee College of Music for help.

Alison Plante, the Chair of the Film-Scoring Department at Berklee, says “It's something that would be difficult for the most seasoned composing veteran out there. And we're saying 'okay, we're challenging you to get up there in a year.' And they all do it!”

Former student musicians make up the orchestra, and travel the country with the student composers, to perform the scores live to the screenings.

Locally, it's at the Avon Cinema on Thayer Street Thursday night at 7, the Nantucket Film Festival on June 19, as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on June 21.

Stephanie Clark went to the Boston Conservatory before it merged with Berklee. She plays a number of instruments, including the clarinet. “I think people don't know what they're getting into and then they come into this thing and they're like 'I just watched this incredible film!' “

A new twist on the cinematic experience.

Simpson enjoys the experience of actually being the Conductor at the film’s performances, saying “Hearing when the audience laughed and where they would gasp or react, it was really fun for us composers, I mean, you'd be surprised how drawn in you can become to something that has no dialogue or sound effects. It's still a great experience, and a unique one.” Clark adds “I think the scores really bring this sort of common humanity themes and make it relevant to things that we can related to, which is really incredible. It's not just seeing a movie, it's a performance.”

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