Spoleto 2017 » Film & Literature

Cinema and Sound offers a lighthearted romp through the world of silent film

Scene and heard

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Marrying original music to classic silent film shorts, composer Stephen Prutsman provides a brief bit of escapism for the audience looking to avoid any of the weightier issues they may have been facing before stepping into the theater. And at a brisk one-hour runtime, Cinema and Sound serves as a welcome and entertaining distraction. The show isn't something you'll spend much time analyzing after it's over, but it does provide a bit of light-hearted entertainment for your evening.

Backed by a very capable quartet, Prutsman's piano work and original scores bolster the three silent films that shift from a taut and suspenseful chase picture to a domestic comedy starring insects and an exaggerated farce based around mistaken identity. The films are charming in their own right, but the live music does serve to rejuvenate the films — elevating the short clips from merely a point of interest for hardcore cinephiles to something anyone could enjoy.

Prutsman's enthusiasm quickly becomes infectious as soon as you take your seat in the theater. He energetically introduces each film, providing historical context, trivia about the filmmakers, and generally psyching the audience up for what they're about to see and hear.

Compared to the other two, more lighthearted films, 1913's Suspense feels a bit like an outlier. The story of a husband's desperate race home as his wife and young child try to hide themselves from an invading criminal, the movie is true to its name, and the accompanying score ratchets up the intensity.

Next came The Cameraman's Revenge from 1910. A surreal short featuring stop-animation and actual insects as its stars, the wacky nature of the film serves as an excellent complement to Prutsman's music, which uses the film as an opportunity to pull out the stops and go completely Looney Tunes.

The final film of the evening, Mighty Like A Moose, was prefaced with an interesting round of audience interaction from Prutsman. Before the comedy even began, the composer grabbed a microphone and asked members of the crowd to offer up their best guffaws, laughs, and chuckles. He then invited the audience to whistle and howl as the film's main characters — an unsightly couple gearing up for plastic surgery — emerges from their procedures with a new look and a new lease on life.

Prutsman packs the score with references, callbacks, and homages to popular music from the 1920s, which creates a fun "Name That Tune" vibe for the audience as they follow the tale of a married couple who no longer recognize each other and commit to having an affair with their now beautiful counterparts.

The most important part of Cinema and Sound is that Prutsman never allows the show to drag. He keeps his introductions to each film brief and entertaining before diving back behind his piano. The entire show is a nice bit of escapism for anyone looking to take a break from the modern world, watch some old movies and enjoy some new music. Prutsman is not trying to offer up any profound commentary on world events, merely just trying to put a smile on your face before you leave the theater. And sometimes that's what you need more than anything.

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