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A Virtually Unique Experience : Silent Movie Night with Classic Films and the Mighty Wurlitzer

Cinema | October 7th, 2020

By Kris Gruber

perriex1@gmail.com

High Plains Reader spoke to Ryan Hardy, President of the Red River Organ Society, about the 47th annual fundraiser for the Mighty Wurlitzer. This year will be the first fully virtual event, with some special additions to the performances.

HIGH PLAINS READER: Can you share some of the discussion points that came up in planning this event, such as the logistics of performing virtually as opposed to in person?

RYAN HARDY: Our in-person Silent Movie Night has followed a regular format over the past few years: pre-show music was played, the big band performed for the first act, and the silent movie was the second act. This year, the biggest variable we had to decide on was what our program would actually look like. While our initial plans involved a program running just under two hours, we got to thinking that viewers may not be interested in committing to that long of an online program. We've since whittled the event down to a more approachable length perfect for both families with kids and Silent Movie Night regulars alike. The virtual format is allowing us to include a few new segments to the event, such as film introductions from area film enthusiasts, behind the scenes footage of inside the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, and interviews with the organists.

HPR:This is the first time you and Lance Johnson have performed together, correct? What do you most look forward to about this collaboration?

RH: This is the first time Johnson and I have scored silent movies on the same program. We have both performed together at past Silent Movie Nights - I typically play the pre-show music, and he plays for the silent movie. Because Silent Movie Night is online this year, our planning team had a blank slate to work with to create what a virtual Silent Movie Night looks like. This allowed us to feature shorter films that we wouldn't typically show at our in-person event. I am most looking forward to the experience of scoring a silent film, as this is my first one! I feel the online format takes some of the pressure and nerves of playing away, because I can always stop the recording and start again with a new take. I hope to be able to score more films for the event in the future, but we will take it one year at a time!

HPR: How did you decide on the classic films that you and Lance will score, "A Trip to the Moon" and "One Week"?

RH: "One Week" is one of Johnson's favorite silent films, and it is also a popular film with our audiences. It is his go-to film to show area students when they tour the Fargo Theatre because it is packed with jokes and gags, while also having a fun, easy-to-follow story. Buster Keaton was a master of the sight gag, which made his work perfect for the silent movie era.

I chose "A Trip to the Moon" as my first film to score for a few reasons. It's famous scene of the rocket landing in the Man on the Moon's eye is one of the most iconic shots in film history, and I feel that viewers would enjoy seeing the context that surrounds that scene. Melies packed this 14 minute film with a lot of action, which makes it a bit more exciting to accompany than some of the other films made around 1902. Because movies were so new at the time, filmmakers were still trying to figure out what exactly its most effective purpose was. Many films of that vintage did not have a complex plot, yet Melies created one of the first science fiction story lines to be told through film. I think our viewers will be surprised just how different the Melies is from the Keaton, in that the Melies has more of a stage show or vaudeville feel to it, whereas the Keaton more closely resembles the style of films we see today.

HPR: I love that this is a free event, with the option of donating through the Red River Theatre Organ Society website or PO Box. Is there anything else the audience should know?

RH: The Wurlitzer at the Fargo Theatre is not only among the largest instruments of its kind in the US, but it is one of less than 300 theatre organs in the world. Many thousands of theater organs were built in the 1900s to accompany silent movies, most of which were abandoned, sold, or destroyed after movies started being made with sound in 1927. Maintaining the instrument's numerous pipes, pneumatic pouches, valves, and electronics takes a considerable amount of time and money, and we (the RRTOS) really need the community's support to ensure that Fargo's own Mighty Wurlitzer continues to play for years to come.

IF YOU GO:

Silent Movie Night : "A Tale of Two Filmmakers"

47th Annual Fundraiser

Saturday, October 17

7:30PM - 8:30PM

Free Online Event, "Pay What You Can"

Donate to : www.rrtos.org, or Red River TOS PO Box #121 Fargo ND

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