The Making of a Silent Film Score

Kimberly Ashton
February 14, 2014

Though seemingly frozen in their eras, silent films are among the most malleable movies in history. In contrast to talkies—in other words, nearly all motion pictures since the late 1930s—silent films allow orchestras to reimagine and reframe their stories.

"The beauty of silent film is that the film gets reinterpreted by whoever does the score. So that allows the film to become modern again," said Sheldon Mirowitz, a professor in Berklee's Film Scoring Department who directs the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra. 

Last year, the Coolidge Corner Theatre commissioned the orchestra to write and perform a score for Harold Lloyd's 1923 classic film Safety Last!, to be presented on New Year's Eve. 

Students in Emerson College's Media Art MFA program captured the process of preparing for the performance. Their documentary Punches and Streamers: The Making of a Film Score takes viewers behind the scenes of Berklee's Silent Film Practicum as students learn how to punctuate the movie's jokes, hold filmgoers in suspense, and keep the audience engaged. 

"The goal of what we do (when) we go out is to have a collaborative experience with the audience," Mirowitz said.