Ivan Richardson - Entertainer Extraordinaire



History of Silent Movies

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 Many men contributed to the development of motion pictures, however the commercialisation of this medium is mostly due to Thomas Edison and his assistant William K. L. Dickson. By October 1892 they produced practical movies on the same 35mm film which remains the cinemaís standard today. Edison & Dickson developed a peepshow movie viewer called a "Kinetoscope". Edison however had little interest in motion pictures and little faith in their future as he believed that profits would be maximised by showing films to one person at a time. The first set of Kinetoscopes exhibited to a paying public opened in New York on 14th April 1894. The Kinetoscope was introduced to Sydney on 30th November 1894.

Whilst Edison was happy to reap the profits from the Kinetoscope, others could see the immense potential of screening pictures onto a large screen allowing numerous people to view the picture at the same time. It is generally the Lumiere brothers of France who are credited with the first public projection of a picture onto a large screen. This public screening with the "Cinematographe" was held in Paris on 28th December 1895. The "Vitascope" debuted at Koster and Bialís Music Hall in New York on 23rd April 1896. Thomas Edison had lent his name to the Vitascope venture although the success of the Vitascope depended heavily on the work of inventor Thomas Armat. All devices for the screen projection of movies however were based on breakthroughs made years earlier in Edisonís laboratories.

The first movie to be projected onto a theatre screen in Australia was at the Melbourne Opera House on 17th August 1896. The popularity of this screening heralded the arrival of an entertainment medium particularly suited to Australia as a conqueror of isolation. Movies were an incredible window to a wider world offering escape, entertainment and education.

Traditions of the "Music Hall" carried through to the cinema in the form of "live" accompaniment to the silent films. Organists, pianists, singers, bands or lecturers were generally billed as an added attraction to the films. The musicians played accompaniment to the film or the lecturer narrated the story as it unfolded on screen.

In country areas "Travelling Picture Showmen" took the movies to the outback enabling these people to enjoy the same entertainment as their city cousins. Silent Movies were an enormously popular and inexpensive form of entertainment. By 1911 Sydney had over 100 permanent and temporary picture shows employing approximately 2000 people. By 1913 in Melbourne, 65000 people were attending city and suburban cinemas every Saturday night.

Australians built up a film industry that pioneered many techniques including the use of the close-up and indoor filming before the age of arc lights. Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Australia witnessed it's few golden years of film production. Between 1911 and 1913 feature films were being produced at the astounding rate of one a fortnight. The film industry continued to flourish into the 1920's until the Americans realised that Australia was a vast untapped and very lucrative market. They moved in to capture the market by putting the movie houses under contract exclusively to their product. The resultant distribution problems combined with a lack of finance eventually strangled the enthusiasm of Australian Film Producers.

At the end of the 1920's sound burst onto the silver screen and the era of the silent movies had come to an end. Of about 250 silent feature films made in Australia between 1906 and 1930, little more than 50 survive in whole or in part today.

Only a handful of Theatre Organists in Australia maintain the tradition of the composition and performance of musical scores which create the atmosphere for some of the greatest silent movies ever screened.

Ivan Richardson is however the only organist in Australia maintaining the tradition of the "Travelling Silent Picture Showmen", bringing the projector, screen, movies, organ and music to you.

Experience the fun of the silent movies as youíre encouraged to "boo" the villain, "cheer" the hero and tap your feet to the live musical accompaniment.

Ivan says "Itís all about audience participation!"

What made the 1920's stand out in history?

The 1920's saw dramatic changes in fashion, hairstyles, music and entertainment, all dominated by America, which had just come out of one of the most repressive eras in its history.

Motion picture entertainment was now recognised by the general public as one of the most powerful factors in modern life. Early in its existence, this industry discovered that its popularity could be aided by grafting to itself the sister art of music. During the formative years of Silent Movies, the musical "accompaniment" had most often been provided by a pianist pounding mechanically on a tuneless instrument, with the same shallow melodies resounding in one's ears whether the screen showed a moment of tender romance or a villain getting his just reward. However, all this changed during the 1920's when major pictures began to be released with specially prepared scores.

Large motion picture houses or "Movie Palaces" introduced the so-called "deluxe" performances with symphony orchestra's to not only accompany the movies but to also be included in short stage presentations as part of all-round entertainment programs which often included singers, actors or vaudeville acts.

In the early 1920's, Jazz dominated the musical accompaniment to movies, but regular movie goers wanted variety in their music which provided the opportunity for popular jazz music to be tempered by classical music both during the accompaniment of the movie and as part of the additional entertainment acts.

Many of the country's finest instrumentalists were now playing in the motion picture houses and in some theatres the cost of music was a third of the total theatre running expenses. Shrewd businessmen seeking the most cost-effective ways of providing musical accompaniment for the movies were the driving force behind the introduction of pipe organ accompaniment. "Church Pipe Organs" were modified to meet the demands of the movie theatre, starting with the addition of "tremulant". The new "Theatre Pipe Organs" were soon capable of producing a myriad of sounds and special effects.

Ivanís stage partner "Harry" the versatile XE-2 Hammond Digital Organ has that wonderful orchestral voices and the distinctive Hammond sound, which is perfect for accompanying Silent Movies.
"Harry the Hammond" - supplied by Australian Hammond
Distributor - Musico


Australian musician vocalist and entertainer - Ivan Richardson