So… I went to a silent film screening with an orchestra score…

I have had some requests for recaps of silent screenings I have attended so I thought I would give it a shot. I don’t attend all that many compared to other silent movie peeps and I don’t actually think I am very good at recapping this sort of thing and doing it justice but let’s give this a shot.

Last week, I ventured down to the wilds of Burbank (spoiler: Burbank is not wild) to take in a screening of a 16mm print of The Mark of Zorro with music by the Famous Players Orchestra. The score was made up of period music with all the expected Latin flourishes.

I didn’t record any part of the show but here is a highlight reel from the orchestra accompanying Son of the Sheik last year.

As far as LA area screenings go, this one was on easy mode. Nice area and, wonder of wonders, parking! There was an informative intro from Kelley Smoot (my second podcast guest!) telling us a little about Douglas Fairbanks discovering Zorro and then the film began.

The audience was diverse and appreciative (a snickering audience can ruin a screening) and applauded all the Fairbanks stunts and antics. In short, a good time was had by all and we got a taste of the old silent era magic with the enthusiastic period score.

The orchestra’s next performance will be at Cinecon accompanying the flapper flick Bare Knees.


  1. bP

    I’ve seen a few silents live. My favorite was last year around Halloween time when Dennis James showed “Phantom of the Opera” at Indiana University and used the student orchestra to go along with him playing the organ. They also used various lighting effects at appropriate times. Such a great way to experience the film. It was nearly a full house (it’s a college auditorium) and seemed that everyone, at least where I could see, enjoyed it. My fear with watching silents live is that someone will laugh at it and not along with it. I kind of take it personal, lol. Fortunately that hasn’t happened, yet.

  2. Keith S.

    How right you are about a snickering audience! At a screening of Ben-Hur people did it when Carmel Myers looks Judah up and down with a vampish look, and to be honest, it’s hard not to smile as it is a bit silly (IMHO), but you have to put yourself in the zone, as it were, though I daŕe say some viewers may have done the same thing back in the day.
    I understand that Phantom of the Opera produced laughter on its first release. I guess audiences have always had varied reactions.

  3. Marie Roget

    Watched Son of the Sheik clip- The Famous Players Orchestra is really good! The Zorro screening was in the Lutheran Church on Buena Vista and Burbank, right? I heard something about it through the L.A. grapevine. Churches and synagogues usually have wonderful acoustics, so the sound clarity must have been very nice. Plus Doug Fairbanks…what’s not to love!

  4. Scott Lueck

    Wow, that sounds like a great experience! I’ve been to a number of silent films, but the musical accompaniment is with an organ, which gives a completely different experience than a live orchestra. I’m happy you had a good time.

    Parking? In Burbank? How the heck did you manage that?

  5. Mary Mallory

    Have my comments disappeared off the face of the planet since neither of the two I posted are here? They are just as viable as the ones above.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I was hoping to save you embarrassment. I certainly hope you didn’t intend to insult the entire audience or to complain that a $10 show in Burbank wasn’t equal to a full symphony. Most silent film screenings operate at break even or a loss and I would never wish to nitpick or cause the accompanists pain.

      1. Fritzi Kramer

        I am experiencing profound fremdschämen and that sounds like a rather unpleasant way to spend one’s time. I am not going to accept further comments on the matter because this is rapidly turning into Silent Movie Mean Girls.

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