The First 100 Years (2007)

for piano solo, 13 minutes


Instrumentation: piano


Film synopsis and musical notes:

This 1924 Harry Langdon film begins with a gloss on the already-familiar devices of silent melodramas.  The first intertitle says, “Meanwhile, Black Mike continues to force his attentions on the girl.”  Thus, in a nice meta-theatrical gesture, we are picking up a previous story, already in progress.  The brief fight scene shows Harry triumphant, vanquishing Black Mike. 


Cut to married life, a very domestic scene and a very tame Harry, helping his wife wash and dry dishes.  Harry and his wife must hire a new housekeeper.  A wonderful turn by Louise Carver, as the frightening, formidable First Cook leads to Madeline Hurlock’s engagement as Second Cook.  Harry is much more pleased by the second, and raises the jealousy of his wife.


Then, an unexpected visitor comes: Frank Coleman (played by Frank Coleman), an old friend of Harry’s.  That night, a thunderstorm knocks out (we think) the power, a mysterious prowler is loose in the house, and Harry is forced to protect his wife and the cook (with not much help from his friend).  All turns out well in the end, however: the friend turns out not to be, Harry is a hero, and other surprises are in store.


I am particularly fond of this piano score, and the film allows for some excellent synching opportunities.  Each character suggests a clear musical depiction, and the scenes are also emotionally and dramatically straightforward (the opening melodrama, for example, invites music which references the earliest silent-film nickelodeon music).  A scene in which Harry breaks dishes, and then his pocket-watch, is particularly fine for this, as is the demeanor of the First Cook.


Other moments involve the thunderstorm sequence, in which Harry must track down the one point, he is handed a pistol by his friend and told to “go get him.”  Harry, shaking so hard that the bullets fall out of the chamber, suggests a perfect musical analogue, as does the golf ball which comes bouncing down the steps (and chasing Harry!).


--Andrew Earle Simpson

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