Organist accompanies classic silent film Nosferatu
|By Jon James|
In 1922, when the now-classic vampire film “Nosferatu” hit the big screen, the only sounds heard in a movie theater were performed live by an in-house organist.
This weekend, to celebrate Halloween, Lansing Theater Organ recreates the experience by accompanying the German horror film on a pipe organ originally installed in Lansing’s Michigan Theater. The Barton organ was moved in the 1980s when the theater was converted into an office building. It’s housed in the Grand Ledge Opera House, where the accompaniment will take place.
Playing the organ will be Scott Smith, president of Lansing Theater Organ and Grand Ledge house organist. He also performed on the same organ from 1972 to 1980 as the Michigan Theater’s last house organist.. Smith has played alongside many silent films, but this is his first performance of “Nosferatu.”
“For its time, ’Nosferatu’ is really something to watch,” Smith said. “It’s a film that’s always intrigued me.”
Smith isn’t the first person to find the movie — which stars Max Schreck as the bloodthirsty Count Orlok —fascinating.
After the filmmakers were successfully sued by Bram Stoker’s widow Florence — who argued that “Nosferatu” was too similar to her late husband’s novel, “Dracula” — all prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Some bootleg copies of the silent movie re-emerged in 1929, and it popped up again in the 1970s.
It has since become a favorite title among silent film fans and horror buffs.
For those familiar with “Nosferatu,” this performance will be a bit different than watching it on DVD. Performing alongside the film means plenty of improvisational playing for Smith, who has watched the film a number of times in preparation, writing some original themes and getting a feel for the movie.
He says that the biggest challenge is finding the balance between overplaying the scene by following the action of each character, and not establishing enough theme to enhance the scenes.
“If I’m doing my job right, 10 minutes into the film you won’t even know I’m there,” Smith said.
There will be certain “theme songs” for characters and settings, but to connect those melodies Smith will be following the film, creating music on the spot.
Accompanied by organist Scott Smith
3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30
Grand Ledge Opera House, 121 S. Bridge St., Grand Ledge
$10 fin advance; $12 at the door