Silent Films

Often when I’m working on a film I’ll turn off the dialogue and sound effects and just enjoy the music with the picture. It’s pleasant to think of an era when this was considered normal. Theaters like the Roxy in New York had house orchestras that put on new concerts every week. Smaller theaters had at least a pianist. Today any live performance to a silent film is a special event.

John M. Davis playing accordion to the film "The Man With a Movie Camera" at the Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens, 2016
John M. Davis playing accordion to the film “The Man With a Movie Camera” at the Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens, February 13, 2016, with Charlie Tokarz on clarinet.

 

The World's Greatest Silent Film Band, seen at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. From the left: John Mettam, percussion; Mattias Olsson, drum set; Donald Sosin, keyboard; Charles Tokarz, flute/clarinet/sax; John M. Davis, keyboard/theremin/accordion
The World’s Greatest Silent Film Band, seen here at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.  From left: John Mettam, percussion; Mattias Olsson, drums; Donald Sosin, keyboard; Charles Tokarz, flute/clarinet/sax; John M. Davis, keyboard/theremin/accordion

Films and Performances

  • Agrippina Guazzoni, 1910 – GCM Audition
  • Bloomer & The Egg Powder Cines, 1913 – GCM Audition
  • Broken Blossoms D.W. Griffith, 1919 – Fourth Universalist Unitarian Church, Manhattan, 2000
  • Cops Buster Keaton, 1922 – Austria, 2003
  • Cruel and Unusual Comedy from the Desmet Collection of the Eye Institute, Amsterdam – Museum of Modern Art, 2011
  • A Corner in Wheat D.W. Grifith, 1908 – GCM Audition
  • Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction – Museum of Modern Art, August 2017 – with Donald Sosin.  Silent films in the series included Georges Méliès’s The Conquest of the Pole (1912), Walter R. Booth’s The Over-Incubated Baby (1901), Buster Keaton’s The Electric House (1922), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Vapour (2015)
  • The Goat Buster Keaton, 1921 – Austria, 2003
  • The Great Train Robbery Edwin Porter, 1903 – GCM Audition
  • Koko’s Haunted House Fleisher, 1928 – GCM Audition
  • The Lodger Alfred Hitchcock, 1927
  • The Lure of Crooning Water Arthur Rooke, 1920 – GCM, 2004
  • The Man With The Movie Camera Dziga Vertov, 1929 – with Donald Sosin, Walter Reede Theater, Museum of the Moving Image, 2008 — 2016 with Donald Sosin, John Mettam, Mattias Olsson and Charlie Tokarz at the Museum of the Moving Image.
  • Manhattan Madness Alan Dwan, 1916 – GCM 2005
  • Metropolis Fritz Lang, 1927 – Austria, 2002
  • One Week Buster Keaton, 1920 – Austria 2003
  • The Wind Victor Sjöström, 1928 – GCM Audition

The Vengeance of a Sergeant

This is my score that was performed by an octet at MOMA in 2011.  Unfortunately I don’t have a recording of that performance, so we’ll have to make do with the demo.

The Vengeance of a Sergeant from John Davis on Vimeo.

Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto

The Giornate Del Cinema Muto, also known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, is the largest and most prestigious silent film festival in the world. In October of 2004 I was selected to be a part of the “School of Music to Image,” which was a series of master classes taught by Neil Brand and Donald Sosin. On the last day of the program I performed an improvised score, sight unseen, to the film The Lure of Crooning Water in front of a large audience. The next year I returned with a sextet to perform a prepared score to Manhattan Madness.

Here are two of my audition films for the Giornate.

Koko’s Haunted House

Koko's Haunted House from John Davis on Vimeo.

Bloomer and the Egg Powder

Bloomer and the Egg Powder from John Davis on Vimeo.