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10th Orphan Film Symposium (April 6-9, 2016): Scoring Documentaries

OrphansXThe Packard Campus is excited to host to the tenth edition of the Orphan Film Symposium, April 6-9, 2016; the theme is “Sound,” both with and without moving images. “Orphans X” is presented in conjunction with New York University Cinema Studies and its Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program.

You can register for Orphans X here.

Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of any Orphan Film Symposium is the sheer eclecticism of its attendees. “Film” as a cultural/historical/physical artifact might provide the foundational avenue of inquiry, but really it’s just a point of departure for a lot of freewheeling discussion.

Music and musicologists have always been vital to the Orphans mix, and that’s especially true this year with the emphasis on sound. Case in point, an entire panel devoted to documentary film scoring:

  • Julie Brown (University of London) on the original “atmospheric” accompaniment to the film The Epic of Everest (1924) that featured an orchestral score and Tibetan monks,
  • Blake McDowell (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture) on Paul Bowles scores for Bride of Samoa (1934) and Venus and Adonis (1935), and
  • Haden Guest (Harvard Film Archive) on the rediscovery of the first talking film in the Irish language, Robert Flaherty’s Oidhche Sheanchais (A Night of Storytelling, 1935).

The panel will be moderated by Julie Hubbert from the University of South Carolina.

The “surrealist cine experiment” Venus and Adonis in Moviemakers, August 1935.

Speaking of points of departure, both Bride of Samoa and Venus and Adonis were directed by Harry Dunham (Venus was co-directed by J.V.D. Bucher). I recognized Dunham as cinematographer of the recently re-discovered Orson Welles short Too Much Johnson (1938), but also as director of China Strikes Back (1937), which he shot at great personal risk as the first Westerner to obtain footage of Communist forces in China. China Strikes Back was the first film ever scored by Alex North, who later enjoyed a long and successful career in Hollywood, receiving fifteen Academy Award nominations…although he never won! He was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1986.

Since I also knew that North had scored a short about the Library of Congress in 1945, I was curious what other titles he worked on before focusing on Hollywood features. Turns out we have a copy of the last short he scored, Decision for Chemistry from 1953. It’s an advertisement for the Monsanto Company, touting the ubiquity of chemistry in everyday life, the important role Monsanto plays, and the future of chemical research (a future that quite distinctly does not require female participation, it seems). And yes, it has a pretty good score.

See you at Orphans X!

Decision for Chemistry (MPO Productions, 1953)

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