Charlie Chaplin seems to be all the craze these days. Not that the legendary silent movie comic has ever been in danger of slipping off his pedestal, but there have been one or two multidisciplinary events in recent times that feed off a previously little-known Chaplin gift.
The Revolution Orchestra is certainly doing its bit to keep the British-born genius uppermost in our minds, eyes, ears and hearts with The Gold Rush series of concerts lined up for Herzliya, Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv taking place September 2-9. The title, of course, references Chaplin’s 1925 masterpiece which incorporates some of the greatest visual and comedic gems in movie history.
A couple of months or so ago, Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint teamed up with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a concert that featured several of Chaplin’s best-known numbers, sandwiched between works by the likes of Gershwin, Brahms, Stravinsky and Debussy.
Chaplin numbers? You heard right. If you didn’t get that well-kept secret about the diminutive mustachioed chap’s talents from Quint and the JSO, that should come across loud and clear, in a multisensory fashion, with the Revolution Orchestra program.
“The revolution I am trying to convey,” says conductor Roy Oppenheim (the play on the ensemble’s name clearly not intended), “is not about listening to Chaplin the composer. Rather it is about having a different experience.”
For the uninitiated, it is worthwhile noting that while not a composer in the strict sense of the word – Chaplin could neither read nor write music – he put together some of the cinema world’s most beautiful and enduring melodies. Basically, he created the soundtracks for almost all his movies, including City Lights, Limelight and the incisive satire Modern Times, as well as the film that gives its name to the current concert run.
“The revolution I am trying to convey is not about listening to Chaplin the composer. Rather it is about having a different experience.”Roy Oppenheim
An alternative take
OPPENHEIM is offering us an alternative take on watching the Chaplin movie in question. “This is like entering a time capsule and getting an understanding of what cinema was like 100 years ago,” he says, adding that, in fact, the Revolution Orchestra format is not all that different from the original mode of presentation.
“Back then, there would be a pianist who played while the silent movie was screened. I always say that this is a seret ilem (the Hebrew translation of ‘silent movie’) which also means ‘dumb movie’ and not a seret cheresh (‘deaf movie’),” Oppenheim laughs.
He feels that is a salient point that is worth underscoring several times. “I will mention that before the concert. A seret ilem is a movie without speech. I feel that people should know that, in a silent movie, the music competes with the dialogue. So, with a silent movie, you have a lot of music. And if you want to have music with a movie, it is best to go for a silent movie.”
Unlike the aforementioned Quint-JSO collaboration, The Gold Rush has the orchestra playing while the entire movie is screened, from start to end, on the stage backdrop.
Oppenheim says The Gold Rush performance, while it resurrects the old, silent movie live-music format, is a game changer on several levels. “Wagner had great success when he put the orchestra in the pit, so the audience didn’t see the music, they only heard it.”
Therein lies a sensorial switch. “The audience at our concerts will see the music and hear the film [through the musical accompaniment], which creates something very interesting.”
The conductor knows the format is not entirely revolutionary, and orchestral screenings have become something of a global fad. But he believes that he and his cohorts are offering the public a little bit more for its hard-earned cash, visually as well as aurally.
“I talk about seeing the music. I think there is something very beautiful, in aesthetic terms, in watching a black and white movie when the musicians are in full color.” That, he says, enhances the full sensorial package.
“Most of the orchestral screenings have a big movie with a big ensemble, which gives you the ‘oh my god’ factor. The artistic effect is a very professional matter. It is very difficult to play music in such circumstances. It is a marathon – 90 minutes of nonstop playing.”
THIS IS clearly no ordinary entertainment experience. “The dissonance between the monochrome movie and music in color, I believe, can sometimes cause the spectator to ignore the screen and watch the orchestra. That is also due to the fact that the movie and the music are not completely synchronized,” he says.
The musicians really get put through their paces but, says Oppenheim, they provide a good return for the ticket layout. “There are also special effects, like the various sounds the percussionist makes to tie in with the movie. And you’d be amazed what you can do with a balloon,” he laughs without letting too much out of the bag.
The split senses situation, with the members of the audience oscillating between listening and watching, can be a boon too. “I think that brings people closer to the film, especially as it is a silent movie,” Oppenheim notes. “The music brings the emotional element, which connects you more powerfully with the characters and action in the film.”
And not forgetting that The Gold Rush is a true gem which, it is said, Chaplin wanted to be remembered for more than any of his other wonderful works. “This is a masterpiece which we are presenting to the audience, as is,” the conductor says. “The way to present it properly is on the stage.”
If anything can help to keep Chaplin’s rich body of work alive and kicking and tickling our funny bone, this is probably it.
For tickets and more information: Herzliya Center for the Performing Arts, (09) 972-9999; the Jerusalem Theatre, *6226 and www.bimot.co.il; Haifa Auditorium, (04) 837-7777 and www.barak-tickets.co.il; Tel Aviv Opera House, (03) 627-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il.