This Fall marks the third consecutive year the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA has worked with George Eastman House to bring a series of recently restored early features from the GEH Collection. On October 15, I will be traveling to the Warhol to introduce HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920) directed by William Desmond Taylor.
This past week I had an opportunity to speak with Daryl Fleming, the composer charged with writing and performing a new score for the film. Mr. Fleming has recently taken to calling his music ‘pan-temporal songwriting.’ Upon being asked what this is intended to imply he states that his music borrows “liberally from many eras without an attempt at “authenticity.” It is NOT period music, despite melodies, text, and more often being historical in nature. The music is syncretistic and never devolves into anachronism. These are real words. Look them up if you don’t believe me!”
HUCKLEBERRY FINN has been a good fit for his music. The instrumentation for the score will include violin, guitar, harmonica, lap steel, and acoustic bass. Not shocking choices for Mr. Fleming or a story by Mark Twain. He says that “some of the music will use harmony that post-dates the 19th century, at least the harmonies of the folk music of the era. Some of the music I wrote specifically for Huck Finn. I will also quote liberally from Red-Haired Boy, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and elsewhere, and hope to avoid kitsch. There will be some “noise” elements as well, sending things a bit out the window for brief periods.”
Mr. Fleming has been involved in Pittsburgh’s music scene for more than 25 years. When asked how this project is different than all the others he replied “truth is this is my first film score. Folks have often commented on the “cinematic” sound of some of my tunes. I’m up for the task, but I suppose others will be the judge of that–which I welcome. The differences between writing this score and songwriting? Talk to me after the rehearsals and the show and I’ll have a better idea of that. One thing is for sure: writing a score is more time consuming. That’s a fairly mundane response. But true.”
Knowing that the audience will likely be made up of silent film fans and Mark Twain enthusiasts I asked Mr. Fleming what they can expect from his music. His response was one that should be the goal of anyone composing a film score. He said resolutely that he sees his music as adding to the “comprehension and emotional experience of the film.”
It is a rare opportunity these days for Pittsburghers to get to see a brand new 35mm print of a restored silent film accompanied by live musicians. The Warhol might be the only venue left in town where it is even a possibility. For this reason George Eastman House is very proud to work with the Andy Warhol Museum. Hopefully the relationship will continue into the distant future.
Read more about Huck Finn from this year’s 360 I 365 Film Festival.
Ben Tucker is the Processing Technician in the Motion Picture Department. He has been employed by George Eastman House since 2003.