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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.


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,, 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.

The End

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Sounds of Silent Cinema

This doc­u­men­tary explores the use of orches­tras, bands, sound effects artists, piano play­ers & organ­ists dur­ing the Silent Film Era (1895 – 1927).

Fea­ture inter­views:
Dr. Paul Mona­co
Bob Mitchell
Joe Rin­au­do
Mil­dred Lewis
Ed Kelsey

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)

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:

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Glass Lantern Slides



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:


and after:


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.

—Wikipedia; read full arti­cle here


View before-and-after restora­tion exam­ples of silent cin­e­ma main titles and inter­ti­tles .

Titles & Intertitles



See authen­tic glass lantern slides from Joe Rinaudo’s col­lec­tion.



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.


Hey, humor was crude back in the 1920’s.


The End

Meet Joe Rinaudo

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:

Professor 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

PROFESSOR RINAUDOas silent cin­e­ma afi­ciona­dos call him, has been my friend for over fifty years, since junior high school.

model-ABack 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 Music BoxThe 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.

Powers CameragraphThe 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!

Restored-by-Joe-RinaudoI 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.

Professor RinaudoSince 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

BC-FRONT-WEB-lowActu­al­ly, 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.)

Silent…with Sound

Fotoplayer Model 20 modifiedJoe 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).

Learn more about the Foto­play­er on Joe’s Foto­play­er Page.

See the cal­en­dar of Pro­fes­sor Rinaudo’s Itin­er­ant Shows under “COMING ATTRACTIONS” and treat your­self to some com­e­dy, sus­pense, or pathos of the gold­en — er, black and white — era of silent cin­e­ma.

The End