About this project
Hi, my name is Andrew Simpson. I’m a composer, performer and conductor who creates new scores for silent films. I’m also a professor of music at Catholic University in Washington, DC. And I’m inviting you, fans, lovers and supporters of silent film, to join me, the Library of Congress, and the University of Southern California, to bring two nearly unknown silent films to DVD for the first time.
The first is WHISPERING SHADOWS, a creepy 1921 feature drama which deals with the occult and messages sent from beyond the grave: messages sent to catch a thief. Directed by Emile Chataud and based on a stage play by Walter C. Hackett, WHISPERING SHADOWS stars Charles A. Stevenson as a businessman who wrongly accuses his future son-in-law of embezzlement before his sudden death. Lucy Cotton, as his daughter, seeks to clear her fiance's name, and seems to receive messages from her dead father to help unmask the real villain. This feature is being made available from the Library of Congress Moving Image Archives; special thanks for Rob Stone and LOC for making this film available!
Those of you who were at the Library of Congress’ Mostly Lost workshop in Culpeper, VA, last year saw WHISPERING SHADOWS and heard my organ score on the LOC's Walker Wurlitzer digital theater organ. It caused something of a stir - mainly, I think, because the film allowed me to a tap into a deep range of emotions and draw on a wider-than-usual range of sounds, textures and colors, which made the film's experience that much more powerful. I feel a strong affinity with this film, and I take the theater organ to some unusual, strange places to express the story of WHISPERING SHADOWS, and I want to share this special sound world with a wider public. Now, with your help, it will be possible to take both film and music home on DVD.
The second film is THE DEVIL’S ASSISTANT, a 1917 short drama about a physician who takes terrible revenge on the woman who jilted him and married another. The film features some fantastic red-tinted images of hell, complete with condemned souls writhing in an infernal lake and a winged demon stirring a huge cauldron of morphine. Come on: who doesn’t want to see a winged demon stirring a huge cauldron of morphine?
Similarly to WHISPERING SHADOWS, the oppressive gloom of THE DEVIL'S ASSISTANT and its fantastical imagery calls for a dark, bizarre sound world in my theater organ score.
THE DEVIL’S ASSISTANT is being made available from the University of Southern California’s Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive. Special thanks to Dino Everett at USC, who turned me on to this film, which makes a perfect, macabre partner to WHISPERING SHADOWS.
So, you may be asking - if these films are that good, why are they almost totally unknown? A good question. One reason is that WHISPERING SHADOWS survives in the comparatively rare 28mm format, developed in France for home viewing, and later manufactured in the US. 28mm was essentially edged out by Kodak’s introduction of the 16mm gauge. Those of you who are collectors know that 16mm became the standard home-viewing film gauge. WHISPERING SHADOWS was, therefore, an unintentional victim of having the “wrong” film gauge. The situation with THE DEVIL'S ASSISTANT is harder to assess. The digital scan was made from a 16mm print (from a 35 mm nitrate) belonging to eminent film historian William K. Everson. There is a degree of decomposition in places in the print, but the overall film is quite viewable.
The production timeline is fast-moving. The goal - barring any unforeseen technical issues - is to have finished discs available to backers in June 2017. Beyond that, I've forged an agreement with Ben Model and Undercrank Productions to have the DVD released to the general public in October, in time for Halloween, 2017.
The film archives of the world hold treasures which only reward us fully when they are SEEN. The Library of Congress and USC are generously making these worthwhile films available for this project. You, the community who care about silent film and its preservation, who seek out rare and unknown titles and spread the word about your finds, are the ones who round out the work of these archives. This is your chance to step in and bring two neglected films back into the light.
Feel free to ask questions about the project. I will update you as things progress. Join us in making these films live again! And, thank you.
Risks and challenges
The two films have already been digitally scanned. The musical recordings require a multi-hour recording session on site. The transfer of the resulting to a DVD-suitable file format must match the timing of the film exactly, and the audio and video must be synchronized.
If there are unforeseen delays in editing or production, I will let you know as soon as possible and provide a revised delivery date.
Ben Model and Undercrank Productions, who are producing and distributing the DVD, have ample successful experience in these areas (including several successful previous Kickstarter campaigns).
This is my first Kickstarter project, but I have had a good deal of experience writing grants and completing projects in my university faculty position.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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