Free pop-up series pairs silent films with live music

Roxy's Downtown is partnering with VibrantICT for a silent film and live music series at 412 1/2 E. Douglas.
Roxy's Downtown is partnering with VibrantICT for a silent film and live music series at 412 1/2 E. Douglas.

Looking for a quiet Friday night with a twist?

Roxy’s Downtown is hosting a free screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 film “The Lodger” for the first event in a series of silent films accompanied by live music on Friday.

Doors open at 6 p.m. with themed drink specials and a new menu at Cafe on the Rox by chef Alan Schmidt. The film and music start at 7:30 p.m. at 412 ½ E. Douglas.

The International Superstar Boy Band will create a spontaneous soundtrack to the film, which follows the story of a landlady who suspects her new tenant is a serial killer, with Torin Anderson on guitar, Von Hansen on percussion, Tat Hidano on drums, UJ Pesone on bass and Randy Zellers on guitar.

The series is a collaboration with VibrantICT, a project that creates spontaneous musical happenings throughout Wichita. It is sponsored in partnership by Chamber Music at The Barn with The Knight Foundation through the Wichita Community Foundation, according to the Roxy’s Downtown website.

Susan Mayo, VibrantICT music director, said she began working with John Hammer, Roxy’s Downtown owner, in February to organize a series of silent films paired with different types of live music.

Andersen said Mayo had performed with the musicians for a Final Friday at Fisch Haus art studio and gallery before they became the International Superstar Boy Band and the idea of taking part in the series has been snowballing ever since.

Mayo said she knew the musicians would be up for the task.

“For the first and third series, we wanted people who could really improvise,” Mayo said. “A lot of times with a silent film it helps to be creative.”

Mayo said when studying a film before an improvised session, it’s interesting to listen to different soundtracks that come with different versions.

"The Lodger" has been reproduced since its 1927 debut to include sound, but Andersen said 12 minutes in to a 1947 adaptation of the film, he decided to avoid it altogether.

“I was concerned it would color my emotional response,” Andersen said. “Music is a magnificent tool for guiding emotion.”

The improvisation process is really regimented because it’s important to study the film and know what's needed to accompany the film, Mayo said.

"I think it's important that everyone knows that a particular scene is melancholic or another is happy," Mayo said. "One musician an't be playing aggressive and violent music while another is doing something fun and light."

The band also needs to go through and connect their timing, Mayo said.

“When writing down a score, you have to keep in mind that you have to improvise on top of that,” Mayo said. “Time is very specific—it adds a whole other dimension.”

Andersen said he took notes on the 1927 film and added emotional cues for the band to follow.

“If a woman is about to scream, three seconds prior, I will use emotional prompts like ‘fear’ or ‘despair,’” Andersen said. “So there will be a prompt that goes into play before the transition for the band to see.”

There are some mixed emotions about the challenges of the film, including how each player interprets different emotional contexts and cues, Andersen said.

“Any good film will have a plot and a subplot,” Andersen said. “It’s up to the player to decide whether they want to play something sinister or comical in a specific situation and I think that will be fun in a spontaneous situation. Where I left emotional cues, one player might respond in a comical way and another in a fearful way.”

It's possible the audience will like the different responses, Andersen said.

“It could turn into a really interesting dialogue that could help us see the film in a way we never thought of before,” Andersen said. “We can offer a whole different perspective. It’s a very artistic adventure or both the artists and the audience. It’ll be a fun watch.”

Mayo said the series is a very creative and interesting project to do.

“It adds a whole different element when you’re making sounds to go along with an action that’s happening at that moment,” Mayo said. “We’re opening a creative can of worms.”

Free Silent Film Series Events

When: Saturday, July 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Roxy's Downtown, 412 1/2 E. Douglas

What: Films include “La Joie De Vivre” (1934), “The Cameraman's Revenge” (1912), “Symphonie diagonale” (1924), “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928) and “Felix The Cat - Monkeys With Magic” (1924). Music by the WC String Quartet with original music by Susan Mayo.

When: Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Roxy's Downtown, 412 1/2 E. Douglas

What: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). Improvised music by Mike Unruh, Bob Glassburner, Max Ridgeway and Susan Mayo.

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