Collection: Carl DAVIS The
Silents New scores
for Classic silent films composed and conducted by Carl
Davis SILVA SCREEN
2CDs FILMXCD 326 [138:59]
By definition and intention the music from this two CD set
can only be described as old-fashioned. So be forewarned those who prefer
a more modern approach to film music, it may very well not be to your taste.
But one thing that I think few would argue over is how authentic Carl Davis'
music sounds. He has perfectly captured the style and flavour of the early
films of the twentieth century, a time when the human voice was silent and
music spoke in its place.
Many renowned silent productions have been re-scored by Davis
over the last twenty years and his music encompasses several different styles,
from classical to jazz to American folk music, along with actual excerpts
from the works of composers such as Beethoven (Napoleon (1927))and
renditions of popular pieces like `Ave Maria' (The Wedding March
(1928)). On other occasions he has adapted existing work as in the case
of Louis F. Gottschalk's likeable Chinese flavoured music from Broken
Blossoms (1919) and Charlie Chaplin's score for City Lights
With a combined running time of well over two hours, there
is certainly a great deal on offer here and I have no doubt that there will
be those who will absolutely love this lavish presentation. There are also
extensive notes about each of the films and comments about the techniques
used from the composer himself. But for me, perhaps as a child of modern
film music (well the talkies onwards anyway), I find myself less enthusiastic.
I suppose I had been hoping to hear Carl Davis approach this work with a
slightly more contemporary sensibility, but instead he chose quite legitimately
to attempt to capture the mood of the times and in that he has been tremendously
successful. And even allowing for my own reservations, there are still several
noteworthy pieces such as The Crowd (1928), Greed (1925),
the `Finale' from Old Heidelberg (1927)and the `Opening Titles'
from The Phantom of the Opera (1925), which sounded to me like something
out of a Danny Elfman Batman score!
Despite my own personal lack of true enthusiasm, there is no
doubt in my mind that this work is a worthy undertaking and very accomplished.
But this style of scoring seems to derive from a time when cinematic themes
were perhaps more simple minded and straight forward. And for me this translates
into a lack of emotional depth, the music so much of the past that I find
myself left strangely detached. It just doesn't speak to me.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
There is really very little to add to what Mark Hockley has said. Like Mark
I don't particularly enjoy much of the music on this set as pure music, but
it has tremendous importance, a splendid evocation and history of the parade
gone by. The Silents is as close as we will now get to what going to the
cinema before sounded like before King Kong (1933) - no, there never was
any such animal as a 'silent' film (that misleading and derogatory term developed
with the advent of 'The Talkies', a retrospective renaming akin to the
thoughtless appending of the number '1' some people bestow on films once
a numbered sequel has been released) - when, regardless of the badly tuned
piano of myth, good cinemas often employed full orchestras. One of my local
cinemas, still functioning today, had a 55 piece symphony.
Some of Davis' 'Silents' scores work better than others removed from the
film, and both Ben-Hur (1925) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925), make for
splendid individual soundtrack albums. Perhaps that is why the set ends with
21 minutes from the former, including the epic chariot race. What may count
against the 2CD set is that the music in 'silent' cinema, unimpeded by dialogue
sound effects, is much more prominent that in our modern 'talkies', and more
often is allowed a pivotal storytelling role. It follows that it is better
to hear a more extensive presentation of the score than offered on these
discs, where music from 17 films fights for attention, allowing more of the
grand musical storytelling design to be experienced. Even so, it is hard
to fault this set, especially at Silva's bargain price and with as usual
Dolby Surround and HDCD encoding on offer. This is a recreation of the bedrock
upon which the modern film score was built, and is thus an indispensable
foundation. Anyone who is seriously interested in the development of cinema
and/or film music should have The Silents in their collection.
Gary S. Dalkin