Silent Hitchcock Films Meet Live Improv at the Campus Theater
Theatre organist Jim Ford accompanied two digitally restored silent films by English film director and producer, Alfred Hitchcock, with two live, completely improvised musical performances. The two-night event occurred on January 20th and 21st at the Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg.
Ford accompanied Hitchcock's original silent film The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1926) on January 20 and Blackmail (Hitchcock, 1929) on January 21. Ford played improvised music for The Lodger for 90 minutes, the duration of the entire film; for Blackmail as well, Ford played music for all 79 minutes of the film.
Ford's live musical accompaniment paired with the single screen art deco of the Campus Theatre presented both of Hitchcock's silent films as they would have been when they first premiered in the early 20th century. Used to accompany silent films, theatre organs were widely popular prior to the 1930’s. These special organs are also known as “Unit Orchestras,” as they can emulate many different sounds from an orchestra; including pipe organs, violins, oboes, trumpets, clarinets, and more.
“Talkies,” or films including sound, became mainstream movie entertainment right around the 1930’s, halting the production of theatre pipe organs. The American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS) was then founded in 1955, and several chapters emerged around the country. A modest, yet nationwide movement set out to save as many of these instruments as possible.
Ford’s live, improvised music and these two films were exhibited in the historic Campus Theatre as part of Professor Willoughby's English 238 seminar entitled "Auteurs: Hitchcock." The word "auteur" refers to a filmmaker's authorship of their film based on their great personal influence and artistic control. The films also accompanied the Bucknell Film/Media Series program.
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.”