Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Whole New World

A couple of months ago, the staff at Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater (1340 Mike Fahey St., Omaha, NE 68102) asked me about doing something I've never, ever undertaken in my life:

Cue a silent movie.

It's all part of the theater's upcoming silent film festival, a cycle that begins on 10-4-2011 at 7:00 PM. Each movie in the series (the series ends on 12-15-2011) will feature live musical accompaniment from a different performer or group of performers...and the music will run the gamut from hard rock to ragtime.

Well, they're letting me go up to bat on 12-15-2011. At 7:00 PM that evening, I'm playing alongside one of Buster Keaton's best movies, the 1926 classic "The General."

I'm in another club around here, the River City Theatre Organ Society, and one of its earliest activities happened in 1986. It took place at the Orpheum Theater, and it was "Those Were the Days." One of its components was a showing of "The General," and Jack Moelmann- later the president of the American Theatre Organ Society- cued the film at the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer.

That showing was what I remembered when Film Streams chief Rachel Jacobson asked me about doing a silent movie.

Film Streams has the piano, all right; it's an 1899 Steinway upright that had, for a long time in its life, been used at Boys Town. I ended up finding the instrument a couple of years ago at the former Renier's Pianos and Keyboards (then located at 49th and Dodge Sts.).

Renier's had the old upright in the store's basement, and I ended up paying $50 for the instrument itself and $50 for moving the piano.

And it all started because I wanted to donate an old piano to a local venue (such as a coffeehouse) that area performers Adam Swanson (2008, 2009, and 2010 Regular Division titleholder at Illinois' World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest as well as the event's 2003, 2004, and 2006 Junior Division champ) and Marty Mincer (he won the contest's Regular Division crown in 1990 and 1993) could get more opportunities to play around here.

As things turned out, no local coffeehouses or restaurants were interested in taking in an old piano. (They kept saying they had no room for a piano...not even an 1899 Steinway upright.)

But Film Streams had room...plenty of room.

Rachel, Casey, Maggie, and the rest of the Film Streams staff have been nice enough to let me come in and get practice on the old Steinway at least once a week. (Well, a piano isn't just a prop or just a piece of furniture!)

Today, I went to and saw "The General" in its entirety (for the first time since I saw the film at the Orpheum); a week earlier, I went to that Website and was able to check out 65% of the movie...and only because I ran out of time.

Last week, though, I started working out my own take on that Buster Keaton classic (in spite of the fact that at least two original scores have been written in support of "The General"). And I went off to Film Streams to make sure I can cover "The General's" length- 78 minutes.

And this morning, I finished up figuring out how I want to accompany the film, then went off to practice at another rehearsal spot, Pella Lutheran Church (at 41st and Harney Sts.), with its 1909 Behr Bros. upright. (Practice today went very well...okay, I really felt comfortable.)

I'm really looking forward to cuing "The General" with 16 days left in 2011...and I hope you can come to see one, all, or any number of films in Streams' upcoming silents showcase. If you're already a member of Film Streams, tickets are $8 each; if not, they cost you $12.

And if you'd like more information, call 402 933-0259 and/or visit

I'm Jim Boston, and thanks for reading this blog!