Silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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 Invincible Czars Invincible Czars perform
   The Invincible Czars, an Austin, TX band, performed their new score for the silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Synducate Lounge on the Southside of Birmingham, AL on April 16
.  The composer, Josh Robins, is shown (standing, far right).

A unique moving-going experience in Birmingham—the screening
of the 1920 silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with live soundtrack

    Dressed in full costume from the London 1880s time period, the setting of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, The Invincible Czars began the ritual of tuning their instruments in the darkened, makeshift theatre at Syndicate Lounge in Birmingham, AL.
    Plush, rose-colored sofas were pushed from the walls to the center of the room in front of a large movie screen and the musicians. First-comers enjoyed these choice movie seats. Others who came later didn’t seem to mind the less comfortable chairs or standing to experience a unique movie-going event for this Southern city—the screening of the 1920 silent film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with live music and sound effects.
    What made the screening so special was that the film has a new score, the product of The Invincible Czars's passion for silent films. Although this type of event most often occurs at large classic film festivals, The Invincible Czars routinely perform their new scores for several silent films during screenings around the country each year. The band has been making a sweep of the Southeast and Birmingham was a last minute add-on to their schedule.
    Josh Robins, leader of The Invincible Czars, an Austin, TX music ensemble, wrote much of the new score for this film, but said it was really a collaborative effort with input from the band’s violinist, Phil Davidson, and Leila Henley, woodwind instrumentalist. It is customary that the band incorporates classical music into the mix
when scoring a film. And this was no exception.
    With Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they explored 20th Century French composers. Eric Satie’s somewhat frantic Gnossienne No. 1 and No. 5 were used heavily throughout the score. Although Satie’s compositions were considered highly experimental in terms of form, rhythm and choral structure in his day, The Invincible Czars’s interpretation and intermingling with their own “class-of-rock” music made them even more so. Composer Claude Debussy’s obscure, but eerily beautiful piece, Footsteps in the Snow, added the contrast that was needed during certain scenes of the film.
    The Invincible Czars’s musical potpourri was wildly entertaining, compelling and sometimes haunting. The blending of different types of music did not seem incongruous at any time and the seques were seamless. Also impressive was the endurance and concentration of the musicians to play for around an hour and still be able to work in the sound effects at the appropriate times.
    It was easy to spot Dr. Jekyll among the group of musicians. Or, was it Mr. Hyde? He was the bassist, Jeff “The Jaguar” Grauzer, who wore a black high-derby hat and flowing black cape. The cape was a fitting symbol for the dual roles, played by John Barrymore in the film.
    Leila Henley played the flute and saxophone at various times during the performance. At other times, she added voice effects, softly and continuously humming “ahhhh-uhh” sounds in the background to heighten the suspense of the film’s story. If she were playing an instrument, the sounds continued through recorded voice loops.
    There have been more than 123 film versions of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. The version shown at the Syndicate Lounge was directed by John S. Robertson and is considered to be the first important American horror film. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, the tinted silent may be one of the closest interpretations.
    Josh began writing new scores for silent films in 2006, beginning with Aelita, Queen of Mars, thought to be the first, full-length sci-fi film. The Bullock Texas State History Museum commissioned The Invincible Czars in 2012 to score the 1917 Martyrs of the Alamo and again in 2013 for the 1928 Lillian Gish silent, The Wind. Other silents with new Czars’s scores are the 1921 Destiny and the 1927 Lon Chaney film, The Unknown. To find out more, go to: http://www.invincibleczars.com .

—Mary McCord, Editor
    Classic Film Watch