Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Silent but Mighty: Movies at Paramount

Sitting at the organ console below the screen at the Paramount Theater is Jim Riggs, a mild-mannered Midwestern music teacher whose calling is to accompany silent film screenings across the country. His favorite instruments are the enormous organs built by Wurlitzer in the heyday of silent movies, 80-plus years ago, invariably referred to as "Mighty Wurlitzers." (There's a local non-profit devoted to the restoration of the Wurlitzer in Seattle.) Riggs improvises melodies as he watches the on-screen action, accenting the visuals with warbles, trills, clangs, and sighs. Last night it was Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 epic "King of Kings," which mixed interludes of reverence (it's Jesus, after all) and villainy (the money changers), grandeur (the Temple) and playfulness (goats, children). DeMille's casting included an Austrian matinee idol named Joseph Schildkraut as the turncoat Judas Iscariot (I couldn't help flashing forward by three decades to Schildkraut's turn as Anne Frank's father); cowboy star H.B. Warner plays an exceedingly well-coiffed Jesus. 

All this was the final installment in the 2012 season of Trader Joe's "Silent Movie Mondays," which resume next May. Seattle, says organist Riggs, is a great silent movie town.

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