Let's Talk About Art: Piano music and silent films


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This is a biweekly series about art and artists in the region. Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts serves the community through arts education, exhibitions and artist resources.

When watching a movie, it's easy to get wrapped up in the visuals and forget the effect music has on the viewing experience. A good movie score complements the plot without distracting from it and intensifies the emotional response the viewer has to the narrative.

Even silent film directors knew this. Live music, usually played on the piano, helped to create atmosphere and match the mood of what was on the big screen. By the peak of the silent film era, accompanying films was one of the largest sources of employment for musicians. Once recorded sound entered movies, live accompaniment quickly became a thing of the past.

Fortunately, there are still a handful of musicians who compose and perform original music for silent movies. The art is alive -- but you have to look for it.

Philip Carli of Rochester, N.Y., has accompanied films since age 13, and he has created piano compositions for more than 50 silent films. He tours extensively throughout the United States and Europe and offered a memorable performance in Pittsburgh in 2011 with "The Adventures of Prince Achmed," presented as a part of the Three Rivers Film Festival.

He returns next weekend -- at the invitation of Pittsburgh Filmmakers -- to play along with a screening of the 1923 comedy "Safety Last!" starring Harold Lloyd.

Lloyd, who was a popular and prolific silent screen star, plays a small-town guy chasing success in the big city but settles for work as a department store clerk. He comes up with a wild publicity stunt to draw attention to the store that gets him started on his climb to the top. Full of comic mischief, impressive stunts and endearing characters, this classic is both thrilling and a trip back in time.

"Safety Last!" with Mr. Carli's live piano performance will be shown at 2 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Regent Square Theater in Edgewood. Tickets are $5 for children and $9 for adults. They can be purchased in advance through showclix.com.

For more information about Pittsburgh Filmmakers' film exhibition program, go to theaters.pittsburgharts.org. To learn more about Mr. Carli's visit philipcarli.com.

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