Christopher Perry loves old silent movies—so much, in fact, that he has developed a new and intriguing way of presenting them.
See for yourself at the Silent Movie Comedy Festival, taking place at the Rancho Mirage Library at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 30.
The films that will be presented are pure comedy gold, featuring legends like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Charley Chase and Snub Pollard. However, the special treat is not just watching the silent movies—but seeing and hearing the Photoplay Ensemble present an authentic score along with the movies.
Yucca Valley musicians and film buffs Christopher Perry and Henry Lozano constitute the Photoplay Ensemble. Perry, aka “Doctor 3D,” has been fascinated by silent films since he sat in a silent-movie theatre in Hollywood as a third-grader in the 1960s. Fast-forward a couple of years later, when he was the proud owner of the legendary book Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, which fueled a deeper passion into this lost cinematic art. In high school, living in Minnesota, he was already a professional musician accompanying silent movies.
Perry works with an authentic library of music made for silent movies called “cues.”
“There were sailor themes, the ‘Hurry!’ suspense theme, a cue for the action scene, the battle and love scene, as well as cues for the more pensive and thoughtful scenes, where the actor is thinking really hard,” he explained.
Perry uses these as guides to create film scores.
During the silent-film era, musicians would be on set “creating a mood for the actors, thus aiding the actors. Directors called out the directions while filming,” he said. Of course, the audience would never be privy to this, as there was no sound.
Henry Lozano, aka the “Mad Doctor of Sounds Effects,” has been a percussionist since his early teens; he missed the era of old-time radio, but he later became a big fan of it nonetheless. He saw a newspaper ad, placed by Perry, calling out for a special-effects guy in 1999. The rest is, as they say, history.
When Perry was first starting out, he got a surprise call from Hollywood great Ray Erlenborn (1915-2007). “Ray called one day and asked whether I needed any sound effects, and I said, ‘Sure, I always wanted sound effects.’”
They soon became friends. “(Erlenborn) had a career in silent film as a child actor; in the ’40s, he was a radio-effects guy. He worked in vaudeville; he worked alongside Bob Hope and Buster Keaton in the 1950s; he played Spike in the “Winnie Winkle” series, and if ever there was a close-up of Harold Lloyd’s hand, Ray Erlenborn’s hand was the stand-in.”
Lozano was introduced to Erlenborn at the audition to become the special-effects guy for Perry. After the Harold Lloyd silent film, Erlenborn, as the story goes, stood up in the dark audience and said loud and clear: “This man is an absolute treasure; don’t lose this man.”
Perry and Lozano have been collaborating ever since. Catch the magic they create with silent films on Wednesday night.
The Silent Movie Comedy Festival, with accompaniment by the Photoplay Ensemble, takes place at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 30, at the Rancho Mirage Public Library, 71100 Highway 111. Admission is free, and the show is appropriate for all ages. For more information, visit www.ranchomiragelibrary.org.