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Alfred Hitchcock’s Silent Movies & F.W. Murnau’s ‘Sunrise’ Getting New Scores

Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Movies & F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise' Getting New Scores

Hitchcock’s Silents Will Be Screened As Part Of The 2012 London Olympics

The scores of English film director Alfred Hitchcock’s early and rarely seen films and German director F.W Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” are up for a creative and modern musical make-over.

As part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this summer, the score of F.W. Murnau’s film will be completely rewritten within the context of an unusual guitar solo project crafted by Italian film archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai and Italian-born composer Giovanni Spinelli. Meanwhile, next summer, as part of the London 2012 Festival, at least three of Alfred Hitchcock’s early silent works will have new orchestral scores composed for them by British talents Nitin Sawhney, Tansy Davies and Daniel Cohen.

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is the first feature film released with synchronized sound-on-film using the Fox Movietone system and was released just before the first talkie, Warner Bros.The Jazz Singer”. The recipient of three Oscars at the first edition of the Academy Awards in 1929 (Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Unique and Artistic Picture – a second Best Picture category that was discontinued after the first edition of the Oscars), F.W Murnau’s American debut for Fox is considered one of the finest silent-era melodramatic masterpieces. Traces of the German Expressionist movement (1914 – 1924) are evident in the film’s atmospheric, stylized and lyrical form. Based on novelist and playwright Hermann Sudermann’s novel “A Trip to Tilsit” (Die Reise Nach Tilsit), the film’s story is about the love triangle between a happily married farmer Anses (George O’Brien) and the “evil temptress” city woman (Margaret Livingston) who seduces him and convinces him to drown Indre (Janet Gaynor), his neglected country wife.

The original musical score for “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” was written by Austrian-American composer Hugo Riesenfeld, so it is exciting and interesting to see what Usai and Spinelli will do differently. Their score revamp involves two challenging and megalomaniac conditions: the entire 94-minute completely new score has to be performed entirely on one solo electric guitar and has to be played live by one player. To prepare for this feat of epic proportions, Spinelli spent 16 months experimenting to discover and create new sounds by exploring electronic effects, trying out different pedals and even by using electric razors, pivot drivers and even milk frothers to play around with the guitar’s sound. Usai and Spinelli have collaborated before. In 2006, at the opening of the 25th International Film Festival in Venice, Spinelli conducted live a new score for D.W Griffith’s “True Heart”. As the Resident Curator of the Telluride International Film Festival and co-founder of the L. Jeffrey Seiznick School of Film Preservation, Usai is known for his eccentric projects. Spinelli’s new score for “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” will be performed on July 14th at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco Film Festival.

Considered the master of the thriller genre and a pioneer of various suspense techniques, Alfred Hitchcock is known for such masterpieces “Vertigo”, “The Birds” and “Psycho”. While we have yet to find out which silent Hitchcock film Tansy Davies will score, Sawhney and Cohen’s events have already been announced.

Sawhney will write the music for the 1926 film “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,” Alfred Hitchcock’s third film and his first suspense or ‘real Hitchcock’ thriller, that stars Ivor Novello as a mysterious lodger who might also be a serial killer terrorizing fog-shrouded London. The new score is to be performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and was commissioned by Network Releasing in partnership with the BFI. Sawhney calls Hitchcock a director “whose shadow any composer would be proud to stand in” adding “Bernard Hermann is one of my great musical heroes. It would be honor enough to follow Hermann’s footsteps but to actually score a film that precedes his musical genius is a wonderful opportunity for creative imagination and invention.”

Young composer and recent graduate from the Royal Academy of Music Daniel Cohen’s first commissioned score will be to create new music for Hitchcock’s first film, 1925’s “The Pleasure Garden”, a melodramatic story about the diverging lives of two dancers, to be performed by the Academy Manson Ensemble from the Royal Academy of Music.

The organizers of the London 2012 Festival have added that the music makeover “will add new dimensions to the master of cinema’s enduring appeal, providing audiences with a large scale yet intimate communal experience.” The special events next summer will be followed in the autumn by a Hitchcock retrospective at the BFI. The London 2012 Festival marks the culmination of the four-year Cultural Olympiad as part of London’s 2012 Olympics. The festival brings leading artists from all over the world together to inspire creativity across all forms of culture from June 21 – September 9 next year. The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival will take place from July 14 – 17 so check it out if you’re in town next week. —Laura-Alexandra Vrabie

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