Illustration of the Style 40 Fotoplayer. The Academy’s installation is the Style 41, built in 1917.
Following the enthusiastic response at the Fotoplayer’s inaugural program at the Academy of Motion Pictures Linwood Dunn Theater, Joe Rinaudo was asked by Jon Erland of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council to speak at the yearly Los Angeles gathering of The Reel Thing, a group that addresses current thinking and most advanced practical examples of progress in the field of preservation, restoration and media conservation.
On August 20, 2016, Mr. Rinaudo gave the group the “fifty-cent tour” of the restoration process needed to restore the Academy’s 1917 American Fotoplayer.
Afterward, the Fotoplayer was demonstrated by Joe, showing off all its bells and whistles (literally), and then several musical selections were played as the group was exiting.Playing the machine with his back to the audience, Mr. Rinaudo was surprised when he turned around to find that nobody had left — they all stayed to watch him perform and applauded enthusiastically.
Mr. Erland has discussed the possibility of Joe returning at next year’s meeting for a more extensive discussion of the laborious effort to restore the Fotoplayer to its better-than-original condition.
Learn about The Reel Thing here and Joe Rinaudo’s explanation of the Fotoplayer here.
When Joe Rinaudo restored his Model 20 Fotoplayer over three decades ago, he never intended to play classic rock & roll on it. But the people of YouTube made sure he did. Here is one of the cleverist, perfectly timed dubs you’ll ever see and hear and LOL to. (Don’t be fooled — this is not the Huell Howser segment you saw on TV.)
Here’s a poster series for anyone who is in tune with ampersands, brand names with ampersands, or Guns & Roses with an ampersand instead of their official n’ (which should really be ‘n’). AmperArt is created by Chaz DeSimone, who also restores title cards for Joe’s silent films.
This documentary explores the use of orchestras, bands, sound effects artists, piano players & organists during the Silent Film Era (1895 – 1927).
Dr. Paul Monaco
Produced by Chapman University as a graduate film project Jeff Callaway &Craig D. Forrest, co-directors Aaron Burns & Ben Bateman, editors Special thanks to David Shepherd (film historian), Michael Kowalski (advisor) & the late David Garcia (advisor)
Awards: Voted Best Short Documentary @ Oxford Int’l Film Fest (2007) Best Student Short Documentary @ Family Film Fest (2008) Best Student Short Documentary @ Hollywood Int’l Student Film Fest (2007) Official Selection: Whittier Film Fest (2008), Scene First Student Film Fest (2006), Charleston Film Fest (2008), Reynolda Film Fest (2009).
Of Special Interest:
Famous Players Orchestra
Famous Players Orchestra performs and records historic cinematic music used by movie theater orchestras during the silent film era. Listen to samples and learn about the organization here:
Plug your ears! Joe Rinaudo demonstrates his American Fotoplayer on Huell Howser’s California Gold:
Joe Rinaudo discusses the American Fotoplayer:
Joe Rinaudo,founder of the Silent Cinema Society, has a passion for antique phonographs, hand crank motion picture projectors, and mechanical musical instruments. Among these, his most prized possession is the American Fotoplayer.
STYLE 20 (MODIFIED)
So what exactly is an American Fotoplayer ?
The fotoplayer (“foto” from photoplay and “player” from player piano) is a wonderful contraption that was built to provide music and sound effects for silent movies. These machines appeared around 1912 and were used in medium sized theaters. Fotoplayers were in expensive to operate because you didn’t have to be a musician to play them as they were also playable by way of player piano rolls.
The fotoplayer used a fascinating combination of piano, organ pipes, drums, and various sound effects designed to narrate the action of any silent film.
Pedals, levers, switches, buttons, and pull cords were all used to turn on the xylophone, beat a drum, ring a bell, create the sound of thunder, or chirp like a bird.
When sound films came into being in the late 1920’s, the fotoplayer became passé. Of the thousands of American fotoplayers made during their heyday, sadly less than 50 survive, and of those only 12 are known to be in playing condition. One of those 12 is in Joe’s living room.
This machine was originally built in 1926 in Van Nuys Calif. and shipped to a theater in Saskatchewan Canada. It was meticulously restored by Joe Rinaudo in 1976…after being shipped back to California.
The Piano Console
The piano console houses the piano, sleigh bells, xylophone, claxon horn, siren, triangle and a variety of organ pipes. From top to bottom there are pull cords that control gun shot, wind siren, ride and crash cymbals, train whistle, chime, tom-tom, and bass drum. Just above the keyboard there is a series of switches that can turn on and off the tremolo effect and various organ pipes ranging from bass flute to violin. Some switches also control the xylophone and mandolin sounds while push buttons control sound effects such as sleigh bells, door bell, car horn, and bird whistle. The triangle, castanets, tambourine, wood block, snare drum and cowbell are also controlled from telegraph type keys in this same location. To the far right is a bulb horn. The pedals at the floor are used for thunder, bass drum/cymbal, soft piano, sustain, snare drum, and police siren.
The Side Chest
The side chest houses most of the organ pipes and sound effects. Visible are the organ pipes, snare and bass drums, ride cymbal, castanets, cowbell, wood block, tambourine, and chime. Concealed under the lid or behind the pipes are the crash cymbal, wind siren, bird whistle, thunder, and police siren. Larger model fotoplayers used two side chests that contained a wider array of pipes and sound effects.
Dual Roll Player
A unique feature of the fotoplayer is the dual roll player. Not only does this keep a constant flow of music without interruption, but it also allows the operator to change the music to suit the scene instantly. With the flick of a lever the mood can be changed from an exciting chase to a mushy love scene.
Though any piano roll could be used on the fotoplayer, the Picturoll made by the Film Music Co. were made specifically for the fotoplayer. The Picturolls were cut with a unique combination of long and short holes in the paper to make the piano and the organ pipes perform better together.
The titles of these rolls indicate the mood of music which one would play to match the action projected on the screen. Titles such as Mushy Music, Fire! Fire! Fire!, Drunk Soused Spree,and The Roaring Volcano, are some of the typical rolls that a fotoplayer operator would have ready-at-hand.
Please let Joe Rinaudo know if you have or have seen any of these Picturolls, as Joe would love to hear them played on his machine. Contact him here.
TESTING A NEWCOMPOSITION
Scott Lasky and Joe Rinaudo listen to a few test runs of Mr. Lasky’s new roll arrangement of ‘traditional’ silent film chase music.
Scott Lasky is Musical Director for Famous Players Orchestra, a silent film orchestra based in Los Angeles. Mr. Lasky visited Joe Rinaudo to test his newly-cut piano roll.
According to Mr. Lasky , “I recently dropped in on Joe Rinaudo and showed him a new piano roll arrangement I was working on. This was a test roll which we tried out on the American Fotoplayer in order to hear how it would sound using different settings and tempi and also check for errors.” That visit was filmed for the above video.
Visit the Famous Players Orchestra website, FPOrchestra.org, and enjoy this short piece about music of the silent cinema, and about the organization:
Famous Players Orchestra CD Fund Drive
Share your love of silent films and great historic music of the silent era with a contribution to Famous Players Orchestra. Famous Players Orchestra is an IRS 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and your tax-deductable contributions are greatly appreciated! Your generous support will help FPO to continue their work in reviving this remarkable forgotten music through live concert performances and new recording projects. Visit the donation page.