Picturolls contained additional “code” specifically for the instruments and sound effects on the Fotoplayer.
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.
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:
In the years of silent cinema, lantern slides were used primarily to announce coming attractions, advertise products and services, and to entertain the audience while film reels were being changed on the projector. It also served as an emergency pacifier whenever the film broke or caught on fire (really! —early nitrate film was highly combustible).
The itinerant projectionist had a large case of several slide categories: pre-show and intermission slides including sing-alongs, code of conduct announcements, upcoming programs, and advertisers’ lures. Yes, there were “commercials” way back then, too. There were also emergency procedure slides in case of a film catching on fire or other common catastrophe.
The authentic glass lantern slides shown on this page are from the collection of Joe Rinaudo, silent cinema historian and preservationist. They are all original images, optically restored by Chaz DeSimone and re-mounted by Mr. Rinaudo.
Here’s what the worn, scratched, faded slides looked like before they were restored to original splendor:
Type is sharpened, colors are restored, contrast is expanded, and every scratch and spec of dust is removed. The brilliant colors are bleeding outside the image because these black and white photographs were hand-colored with vibrant transparent dyes. Considering how small the slides are, it took a fine brush and a steady hand to stay within the lines. You’ll notice an unevenness in some large areas of color, where the ink tended to blob, streak or mottle.
These brilliant slides added a splash of color to an otherwise monochromatic show.
The magic lantern was invented long before moving pictures. Here’s some history from Wikipedia:
The magic lantern or Laterna Magica is an early type of image projector developed in the 17th century. It was commonly used for educational and entertainment purposes.
The magic lantern used a concave mirror in back of a light source to direct as much of the light as possible through a small rectangular sheet of glass — a “lantern slide” — on which was the painted or photographic image to be projected, and onward into a lens at the front of the apparatus. The lens was adjusted to optimally focus the plane of the slide at the distance of the projection screen, which could be simply a white wall, and it therefore formed an enlarged image of the slide on the screen.
Apart from sunlight, the only light sources available at the time of invention in the 16th century were candles and oil lamps, which were very inefficient and produced very dim projected images. The invention of the Argand lamp in the 1790s helped to make the images brighter. The invention of limelight in the 1820s made them very much brighter. The invention of the intensely bright electric arc lamp in the 1860s eliminated the need for combustible gases or hazardous chemicals, and eventually the incandescent electric lamp further improved safety and convenience, although not brightness.
The magic lantern was not only a direct ancestor of the motion picture projector, but it could itself be used to project moving images, which was achieved by the use of various types of mechanical slides. Typically, two glass slides, one with the stationary part of the picture and the other with the part that was to move, would be placed one on top of the other and projected together, then the moving slide would be hand-operated, either directly or by means of a lever or other mechanism. Chromotrope slides, which produced eye-dazzling displays of continuously cycling abstract geometrical patterns and colors, were operated by means of a small crank and pulley wheel that rotated a glass disc.
Sometimes — maybe once in a lifetime — we get the chance to do something enjoyable and fun that we thought we’d never be able to do again, simply because technology had taken its place. Thanks to an old friend, I’ve been given that chance.
by Chaz DeSimone
Joe Rinaudo, founder of Silent Cinema Society, has given me a golden (black and white, actually) opportunity to recapture a romance from the past: real hand lettering with pen and brush, and fine typography when wood and metal characters were set by hand. That, combined with replicating the layouts and artistic styles of yesteryear, is what I never thought I’d do again. But as synchronicity between two old friends would have it, I am once again thriving at my passion.
We’re talking — er, we’re silent — about hand-lettering title cards for the silent cinema era of the early 1900s, when cameras and projectors were cranked by hand, and when actors had no speaking lines. Along with elaborate main title artwork, all the dialogue and narrative text was printed or hand-lettered on title cards, called inter-titles, photographed and spliced into the film. The film titles and credits were most often elaborately hand-lettered with embellishments, but sometimes simply typeset, then photographed as still images.
Back to my black-and-white opportunity:
Joe Rinaudo asked me awhile back if I’d be interested in restoring the title cards for his films and create new ones when the originals are lost to time.
Who knew two best friends would be so valuable to each other nearly fifty years after meeting in seventh grade?
I’m restoring the missing parts to his films and he’s restoring my passion for lettering and typography. I have enjoyed rendering titles for Joe for several years now, and I even get to see them projected on the silver screen in silent comedies and dramas accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer. (Twice a year Joe brings his itinerant show to the Nethercutt Museum in Sylmar, California. A calender of events and details about the shows are on their website. He presents itinerant shows elsewhere in California, too. Subscribe to the Silent Cinema Society Newsreel for announcements.)
Much of my work for these titles is cleaning up scanned images of the original negatives. Sometimes I have to “chop up” letters to replace parts of those which are badly deteriorated. When titles are missing entirely (usually due to splicing after splicing of these nearly hundred-year-old films) I have the most fun! Drawing upon my skill of hand lettering (which I did before computers could set a nice script or a modify a typestyle) and knowledge of period type styles, I create new title cards from scratch, based on existing footage and artistic styling of the era. Most of the lettering and effects I accomplish with Photoshop, but once in awhile I still need to use a real pen or brush with real ink to get just the right swing or flair.
You might be wondering, how is it possible that if all the scenes are intact on these films, just the titles and intertitles are missing? I wondered the same thing. Joe explains that much of the live action footage is indeed missing on these old films, but the remaining footage still carries the story. However, if a dialog or narrative intertitle is absent, the plot is hard to follow. So the new intertitles are inserted and the film seems complete, even with several live action frames missing. Most of the lettering I recreate for Joe is taken from the exact text in the films’ original manuscripts.
However, when a restoration is created from segments of several prints of the same film — for instance, where some reels contain rare footage which is missing from others — Joe assembles a “complete” version, for which he meticulously analyzes the original narrative and dialogue, then writes appropriate text for recreated title cards. He is thus rendering a fully-restored version that replicates as much as possible of the original.
Such is the case with Joe Rinaudo’s restoration of The Phantom of the Opera. He is planning an article for this website which documents each step of the process, including restoration of the original 2-strip Technicolor segments of the film.
Here are some titles I’ve either cleaned up or created from scratch, replicating the originals, on a blank sheet of poster board (either Strathmore with ink or Photoshop with pixels) which were then photographed and inserted into the restored films:
Joe Rinaudo chopped off the tip of his finger in a metal shear the day before his birthday a few years ago (it miraculously grew back just like new), so I created this “film title” as his birthday card.
For a sight-and-sound glimpse into the world of Joe Rinaudo, which includes silent films, projectors, mechanical instruments, early phonographs and vintage lighting, watch the Huell Howser “California Gold” documentary which aired February 18, 2006. The program begins after a 60-second sponsor announcement, and runs 30 minutes:
JOSEPH A. RINAUDO Silent Cinema Historian and Preservationist Founder of the Silent Cinema Society
Having been best friends with Joe for over 50 years, I am honored to introduce you to my friend,
Mr. Joseph A. Rinaudo…
Introduction by Chaz DeSimone
“PROFESSORRINAUDO” as silent cinema aficionados call him, has been my friend for over fifty years, since junior high school.
Back when I met Joe he was restoring his Model A to showroom condition, and it was always fun riding around in that thing… including the somewhat embarrassing episode when Joe pulled into a gas station and purchased a whole nickel’s worth of gasoline! It got us home, though.
At that time Joe was also collecting 16mm silent films and would put on shows for his friends. Today he researches, collects, restores and exhibits silent films (35mm these days) on a Powers Cameragraph hand-crank projector, usually with live accompaniment of theater organ or piano, as itinerant shows to audiences far and wide, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (in other words, the Oscar people). Joe Rinaudo is also consultant and provider of restored films to the Library of Congress.
This is Joe’s story, in his own words:
My interest in old films began in the 1950’s on black & white television when most of the stations would show silent cartoons and comedies. The collecting bug came to a head when my father (who loved to film everything with his 8mm camera) during our regular Saturday night 8mm home movie film shows inserted a Buster Keaton silent comedy reel in with our home movies. He prefaced this reel by stating that this was an old home movie of our family from the 1920’s. Imagine my shock and happy surprise when I realized that I could own one of the magical films that I thought could only be seen on television! I then saved up enough allowance money to buy my own 8mm films from Sears & Roebuck for 99 cents! I then began showing these films to kids in the neighborhood for 5 cents. I used a 78 rpm phonograph with Spike Jones and Fats Waller records for the music. When I had saved up enough money I would buy another film.
“The madness continues! By the early 1960’s I began collecting 16mm silent films. I remember how excited I was when my mother would drive me down to Films Classics Exchange on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. There a man by the name of Charlie Tarbox would be seated at his antique desk with an old Underwood typewriter. He always wore a black suit with a thin black tie. He had a shock of white hair and a cigar in his mouth. There were stacks of film everywhere. This was an old building with a wooden floor and high ceilings. It smelled of stale cigar smoke and acetate film. This was right out of the 1920’s! Charlie was always very kind to me and his voice reminded me of something like a combination of W.C. Fields and Maxwell Smart! Then the big moment arrived when I purchased my first sound 16mm film from Blackhawk Films, Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box. Talk about magic! I now had a film of high quality (compared to 8mm) and it talked! I began showing my 16mm films to organizations and for private parties for money that I could invest into more 16mm film. By the 1970’s I had amassed a very large 16mm collection.
“When I was at Glendale College in the early 1970’s, there was a shortage of funds (something called a tax over ride?). We had heard that two teachers were going to lose their jobs. A fund raiser was started. I offered to show films in the auditorium with all proceeds going for the teachers’ salaries. I ran Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields films. The program was a big success and enough money was raised, to the best of my recollection, from this and all of the other fund raising efforts to save the teachers’ jobs. The Glendale News Press interviewed me about the film shows and my collection of film. Unfortunately, the reporter took the liberty of stating that “Joe loves to show movies at his house and anyone is welcome to stop by and watch a film!” This was only for my friends but it was too late for a retraction and the phone started ringing with people asking if they might come over for a “Show”! Complete strangers would stop by and ring the bell to see when the next show would be! Fending off all of the crazy calls was becoming a real problem…until one phone call in which a woman’s voice said:
“I understand that you have some of my father’s films.”
“Now I thought, oh my, another nut case. What can this be about? The voice identified herself as Lois Brooks — Stan Laurel’s daughter! She had seen the article in the paper and read the part where I mentioned I had almost every Laurel & Hardy film. Since videos were not available, these films could only be seen on TV, in a theater, or on 16mm film. Since she found it difficult to find any of her father’s films, she asked if she and her husband Rand Brooks might come over sometime to watch a Laurel & Hardy film! There a great friendship began. I brought Lois to her first Laurel & Hardy club meeting (The Sons Of The Desert). Later I became the film archivist for the Laurel family as well as for the local of the Sons Of The Desert chapter, the Way Out West tent. I would travel with Lois and her new husband Tony Hawes for local shows and lectures that Lois and Tony would put on. These were very fun times as I got to meet a lot of old actors from the Hal Roach studios as well as show films regularly at the Masquer’s Club in Hollywood. There I had the privilege to meet a lot of famous people back at the projector.
“The madness gets worse! Compared to 35mm I always thought that 16mm was the end all be all for film collecting. In many ways it is due to the availability of so many titles, cost and ease of moving the light weight equipment. But…I always had a fascination for 35mm hand crank projectors. A friend of mine, Dave Feldman, and I took a road trip to visit Mr. George Hall in Tucson, Arizona. George, who I now consider my mentor, had a vast collection of early 35mm projection equipment and film. In fact his house was set up as an early cinema museum. When we were there, George demonstrated his 1905 Power’s model 5 Cameragraph hand crank projector with a live arc in the lamphouse! What a thrill to see this! I asked if I could crank a film and he took me back to another projector (a Simplex) which was harder to crank — but that didn’t matter. All that I can remember is that I started cranking and was so mesmerized by the magical image created by cranking this wonderful machine, I couldn’t stop, and at about 2:00 a.m., after cranking some 20,000 feet of film, Dave and George had to pull me away from the projector!
“I purchased a Power’s model 6A lamphouse and base from George. I then purchased a very nice Power’s model 6B projector head from Mr. Dick Prather in Portland, Oregon. I did a full-on restoration and converted the lamphouse to a high intensity halogen light source that is safe for film. I begged and borrowed small pieces of 35mm film. I would do demonstrations on the side of my building and on my garage door at home. Wow! What a picture! 35mm rules!
“I started doing outdoor demonstrations with any film that I could find. I never thought that I would be able to afford a real 35mm film, let alone a silent. My good friend Mr. David Shepard asked me if I would do a show for him at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles. He said that this year (2002) was the 100th anniversary of Georges Melies’s A Trip To The Moon. Mr. Bob Mitchell would be playing the music and David Shepard would be reading the spoken text. We would have to do two shows. He kindly offered to let me make a new print off of his negative in return for cranking the shows! To do my first public performance with such important and wonderful people as Bob Mitchell and David Shepard at the Silent Movie Theater with CNN in attendance…heck, I would have paid David to do the shows! So with my able assistant, Mr. Gary Gibson, both of us dressed like itinerant projectionists from the early 1900’s, both shows went over well to full houses and great reviews.
“Since that time I have worked with The Library of Congress in the restoration of silent film, as well as doing regular hand crank shows for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 100 Years of Film series. With Mr. Dean Mora and Mr. Gary Gibson we have done and regularly do re-creation turn-of-the-last-century itinerant motion picture shows for The Handford Fox Theater, The Visalia Fox Theater, The Balboa Theater, The Peterson Car Museum, The Turner Classic Film Festival, The San Rafael Theater, six shows a year at the Nethercutt Museum (boasting the third largest theater organ in the world) and numerous colleges, schools, and other venues.
“Looking back to my 8mm days, I would have never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have ended up projecting 35mm — with a crank, no less!”
I am very proud of my friend Joe for accomplishing his dream of founding the Silent Cinema Society to preserve the art and technology of silent cinema. I am also honored he employs my talent to restore the titles for his films…
A Golden Opportunity
Actually, this was a Black-and-White Opportunity: Joe asked me a few years ago if I’d be interested in restoring the title cards for his films and create new ones when the originals are lost to time. Who knew two best friends would be so valuable to each other nearly fifty years after meeting in seventh grade — my restoring the missing parts to his films and he restoring my passion for lettering and typography? I have enjoyed rendering titles for Joe for several years now, and I even get to see them projected on the silver screen in silent comedies and dramas accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer. (Twice a year Joe brings his itinerant show to the Nethercutt Museum in Sylmar, California. A calender of events and details about the shows are on their website.)
Joe is all about silent film, but he also loves sound. Loud sound! Not the dialog and music that passes through the projector that is printed on the film. Oh no, Joe’s silent films are accompanied by an ear-shattering, robust “symphony” created by one person sitting at one machine: The Fotoplayer. This resembles a player piano, but with two rolls for changing music for different scenes; an assortment of pull cords, levers, buttons and stops connected to a side cabinet containing organ pipes, percussion, brass, sound effects, and literally bells and whistles. The pianist usually lets the rolls play the music while he selects the instrument stops and creates the sound effects. He’s watching the film, of course, all at the same time.
Joe has one of these machines. He acquired his American Fotoplayer Style 20 while he was 21 years old and spent the next three years restoring it to brand-new condition. it’s the centerpiece in his living room. This thing is loud! It’s amazing Joe has any neighbors left, unless they’re all hard of hearing. Joe recently completed the restoration of a Style 41 American Fotoplayer for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (remember, the Oscar people).
See the calendar of Professor Rinaudo’s Itinerant Shows under “COMINGATTRACTIONS” and treat yourself to some comedy, suspense, or pathos of the golden — er, black and white — era of silent cinema.
Preserving Silent Cinema Art and Technology
Have you told your friends about Silent Cinema Society?