New PhD in film music in Italy

Marco Bellano completed his doctorate degree in History and Critic of Cinema in April 21, 2011 (University of Padova) :

Accanto allo schermo
Il repertorio musicale de Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

Next to the light
The musical repertoire of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

English abstract

Film archives devoted to silents do not often accompany their film collections with pertinent music collections. There are, of course, meaningful exceptions, like the silent music collections at the Library of Congress or at the MoMA, or the Eyl/Van Houten Collection at the Nederlands Filmmuseum. But they are, precisely, exceptions. This situation apparently clashes with the need for «painstaking historical research» that Rick Altman recommends to be at the core of contemporary studies on silent films. A research done within an archive of silent film, in fact, is likely to be incomplete on the side of music and sound practices. Musicians of the silent era interacted with films by staying at the side of the screen, in the shadows next to the light of the projector: it is quite ironic how the discourse on their music, now, is again confined in a “shadow” – a metaphoric one, though - which borders with the “light” of the modern studies on silent cinema, but cannot proficiently interact with it. «It is time», as Altman said, «to include sound in silent cinema’s historiographical revival».

A complete silent film music archive should be at the interface between a music library and a performing arts collection. Written scores, during the silent era, were a minority: the greatest part of the musical practice was instead based on cue sheets, compilations, repertoires, or even improvisations –which cannot of course have left any trace outside occasional accounts from audience members or the performers themselves. Moreover, practices of non-musical sonorization where often complementary to and concurrent with music performances: so, there is an evident need to keep record of them too. In addition to that, it must be remembered that, especially since the 1980 Thames Television presentation of Abel Gance’s Napoléon, reconstructed by Kevin Brownlow with new music by Carl Davis, the repertoire of the music for the silents started to grow again. In the last 30 years, the venues where silent film are screened in a way respectful of historical practices multiplied, as well as the production of appropriate music accompaniments founded on complete scores, but also, again, on cue sheets and improvisations, just like during the actual silent age. It seems reasonable for this “new” tradition of music for silents to be preserved alongside the historical documents which are its origin and source of inspiration.

These considerations are used as a premise to reconstruct and study a special collection of silent film music: the repertoire played at the international silent film festival Le Giornate del Cinema Muto of Pordenone, Italy, from 1982 to present days. The accuracy shown by this festival in the presentation and divulgation of silent film music practices provides in fact a solid ground for a project of this kind. In addition to that, Le Giornate have already expressed, in 2009, the intention of having such an archive developed in Pordenone, after a suggestion I advanced during the XI Collegium organized by the festival.

The thesis is divided into two parts. The first one includes an introductory chapter, where problems about the archival preservation of musical sources pertinent to silent film music are discussed. Then, a first chapter deals with an outline of the history of music for silent films, choosing a non-linear approach based on the insurgence of musical practices more than on a chronological succession. The first part is concluded by a chapter describing the aesthetic of music for silent films, including a review of the pertinent literature and a description of the audiovisual strategies used by the composers.

The second part is the repertoire of the music that has been performed live at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto on the basis of written scores. 115 films are listed following the 29 editions of the Festival, with full filmographic information. Each film is accompanied by a short analysis of the main audiovisual strategies.

The sources of this research are mainly the audiovisual recordings of the screenings at le Giornate del Cinema Muto preserved at La Cineteca del Friuli, Gemona. Other details have been collected through conversations (in person or via email) with some of the authors of the music: Gillian B. Anderson, Neil Brand, Günter A. Buchwald, Philip Carli, Antonio Coppola, Berndt Heller, Stephen Horne, Maud Nelissen, Donald Sosin and Gabriel Thibaudeau.

Supervisor: Prof. Alberto ZOTTI MINICI (University of Padova)
Examining committee: Prof. Antonio COSTA (IUAV University, Venice); Prof. Michele CANOSA (University of Bologna); Prof. Farah POLATO (University of Padova).

Contact: marco.bellano@unipd.it

Dipartimento di Storia delle Arti Visive e della Musica (Department of History of Visual Arts and Music)
PhD School in Storia e Critica dei Beni Artistici, Musicali e dello Spettacolo (History and Critic of Fine Arts, Music and Performing Arts).
PhD in Storia e Critica del Cinema (History and Critic of Cinema)