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Silent Cinema Soundings: All Dolled Up!

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Cinema’s First Nasty Women Project

Léa Bambola

Lea as a Doll, Italy, 1913

DCP, b&w, silent, 6 min.

In this silent comedy, a woman fools everyone by pretending to be a life-sized doll. As I was improvising during the recording of the film, I got the idea to do a little quote from “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”, written in 1911. Later, as I was doing some research, it was fun to read that this was a common practice during live accompaniments of the silent film era.

“Popular music of the day was also featured in silent film: in illustrated songs during the earliest periods of film exhibition; …in "Follow the Bouncing Ball" sing-alongs, popular in the 1920s. It is not surprising that popular music crossed over into accompaniment.” (Music in Silent Film, Film Reference Forum)

If we could go back in time, what would the music have actually sounded like to the people watching the movie in the theaters of the day? Some of the theaters had a solo piano, but others featured a “mighty Wurlitzer.”

I was telling Aaron Ramsey (the other half of our Violin/Noir scoring duo) that, while I was in Coos Bay, Oregon, I visited the beautifully renovated Egyptian Theatre from the turn of the century.

The original Wurlitzer organ is still there and I had the opportunity to hear it played. Along the side walls of the theater were percussion instruments of all kinds which could be played by tapping the foot pedals of the organ.

In addition to playing the piano and doing all the recording and mixing, Aaron is also an excellent percussionist. After I recorded my violin part, he went through the whole film, adding an improvised percussion track in real-time on the custom cymbal set-up he has devised.

While Aaron recorded the percussion for the Lea Bambola soundtrack, he kept that “trashy” cymbal sound in mind. It really added a lot to have sound effects for all of those crazy pratfalls the “doll” was doing… I laugh every time I see it.

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