Organist thrills audience with silent film music

Jen Lassen, Editor-in-chief

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Theatre organist Jim Ford accompanied two digitally restored silent films by English film director and producerAlfred Hitchcock with two live, completely improvised musical performances. The two-night event occurred on Jan. 20 and 21 at the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg.

Ford accompanied Hitchcock’s original silent film “The Lodger” (1927) on Jan. 20 and “Blackmail”(1929) on Jan. 21. Ford played improvised music for “The Lodger” for 90 minutes, the duration of the entire film; for “Blackmail,” Ford played music for all 79 minutes of the film.

With Ford’s live musical accompaniment, and in the single-screen art deco Campus Theatre, both of Hitchcock’s silent films were presented as they would have been in the early 20th century when they first premiered.

These two films were exhibited in the historic Campus Theatre as part of Adjunct Instructor Rebecca Willoughby’s ENGL 238 seminar entitled “Auteurs: Hitchcock,” the word “auteur” referring to filmmakers’ authorship of their film based on their personal influence and artistic control. The films also accompanied the Bucknell Film/Media Series program.

“It’s an amazing privilege to be able to see these early Hitchcock films in this context. We’re viewing the best possible versions of these films–the product of a huge amount of time and resources, not just courtesy of the BFI National Archive, but also courtesy of Bucknell Film/Media Studies and the Campus Theatre,” Willoughby said.

Not only was the live music accompaniment notable, but the films themselves were displayed in rare form and restored quality. The two films displayed were digital restorations produced for the British Film Institute’s Hitchcock 9 program. The laborious restoration of Hitchcock’s silent films by the British Film Institute included removing damage and wear, improving image sharpness, restoring tinting, and incorporating recently-found shots.

The Hitchcock 9 program, which began to tour around the country in 2013, showcases the nine surviving silent films of Alfred Hitchcock. Both “The Lodger” and “Blackmail” are thrillers, but the Hitchcock 9 includes comedies, melodramas, and romantic comedies.

This two-night event brought audience members back to a time before digital sound, and long before computers, iPads, texting, and tweeting. Hitchcock, with Ford’s musical help, took viewers away from their hyper-connected, 21st-century lives to a world of live music and to a time when “silence [was] golden.”

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