The Dallas VideoFest falls just before Halloween. A spooky season worth tapping into, at least for one of the fest's signature events.
"We thought maybe we should go in a Halloween direction," says Brian Satterwhite, a composer and film aficionado who served as a consultant for this year's live silent film orchestral performance for the VideoFest. "So we started looking at suspense and thrillers and even some horror films but when we started talking about Hitchcock, that really drew us in because they have a very modern feel and energy to them. They don't feel as dated as some silent films can so we thought we just couldn't go wrong with that."
They dug up (no pun intended) one of the Master of Suspense's few silent works called The Lodger, the story of a landlady who suspects that one of her tenants may be a serial killer that features Hitchcock's first of many on-screen career cameo. Tonight, they present a digitally remastered version of the Hitchcock classic with an original score penned by Douglas Pipes and performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony Orchestra tonight at 8 p.m. at the Dallas City Performance Hall.
Richard McKay, the DSC Artistic Director who will compose the orchestra for The Lodger screening, says VideoFest founder and director Bart Weiss wanted to bring a live composition for a silent film after seeing the DSC's Sight of Sound performance in which a orchestra performed a live soundtrack to a silent film.
"They're a different kind of audience from what you'd expect from a typical symphony orchestra," McKay says. "It's a more diverse demo who are more causal and it just feels different. It's very energetic. I think he got a sense of that and our ensemble is very experimental and happy to try new projects so from there, we started talking about a collaboration."
Pipes, a composer who wrote music for films such as the animated cult classic Monster House and the horror anthology Trick 'R Treat, came on board thanks to his relationship with Satterwhite who became friends with the composer after writing a heartfelt review of his Monster House score.
"He was on the top of my list," Satterwhite says. "His music is perfect for this. He brings to the table everything I'm looking for in a silent film score. It's very narrative driven but at the same time, the composition is interesting. I'm a fan of his work in general so it was just a very good fit."
Pipes says he relished the chance to take on the challenge that Satterwhite and McKay presented to him.
"There's no director because Mr. Hitchcock is no longer with us in this case to tell any of us what he's looking for, so we're all free to make something we hope represents the spirit of what he wanted. This is much more organic and probably more true to how films used to be made where a composer goes off, writes a score, comes out and it's recorded."
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Pipes says he's more excited just to be able to hear something he wrote performed in a music hall as opposed to chunks being recorded in a recording studio.
"I'm so excited to have it in this Hall," Pipes says. "There is no more exciting place for a musician to have played than in a fantastic sounding environment with fantastic musicians. Even in a recording studio, it doesn't even come close."
That's what makes tonight's performance so exciting for Pipes, McKay and Satterwhite. They are very interested to see just how a group of musicians can pull off such a feat in a live setting.
"We realize this is the hardest thing to do," Satterwhite says. "I've also experienced conducting a film all within a studio in two or three minute chunks at a time. We're doing 90-minute chunks on stage. It's difficult. It's not an easy thing to do."