Steamboat library to host silent film series |

Steamboat library to host silent film series

Nicole Inglis

— Before movies had sound­tracks, there were silent films.

But movie theaters were far from silent places because in each theater, a live orchestra would play along with the movie, expressing in music the exaggerated emotions of hope, fear, happiness, silliness and romance playing out on the screen.

Rodney Sauer, a silent film historian and musician in the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra based in Louisville, has spent the past 20 years re-creating those emotions from the century-old library of silent film scores.

"There's a different approach when there isn't sound on the film," Sauer said Wednesday. "In some ways, it's like going to a concert. You're listening to music that isn't interrupted by sound effects and talking. You're watching the emotional life of these people through their faces."

Silent films, and the music that goes along with them, will be brought back to life this winter at Bud Werner Memorial Library during the Silent Nights at the Library film series.

Kicking off the series Thursday is Four Funny Films, a mini-film festival of short, slapstick, silent comedies that will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday's event will feature Sauer on piano and his daughter, Molly Sauer, on trumpet as they play their own versions of the music for the four short films that feature the comedic stars of the time: Charley Chase, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

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Library adult programs coordinator Jennie Lay said she was inspired to call the Mont Alto Orchestra and launch the series because of a recent revival of silent films in mainstream culture. She alluded to two critically acclaimed films in 2011: the silent film "The Artist" and "Hugo," which is about a silent filmmaker.

"This is just not stuff that is usually at our fingertips," Lay said about the films being shown during the series. "It's remarkable pieces of film history, and a lot of those old films have disappeared. These are ones not only still living, but we get to see them come alive with live musicians."

"The Mark of Zorro" will screen Jan. 30 with a score recorded by Sauer and the 5-piece Mont Alto Orchestra. On Feb. 23, the library screens "The General," also with a score compiled and recorded by the orchestra using music from the silent film era.

In the series' grand finale March 30, the Mont Alto Orchestra will travel to Steamboat to accompany live the film "Sunrise."

Sauer said all the films shown through the series are accessible, exciting and engaging for all walks of life.

"In a way, watching a silent film can be a bit of a disorienting experience if you're not used to it," he said. "But these are movies that are very easy to get into even if you've never seen a silent film before."

Sauer began to delve into the wide realm of silent film music in 1994, when he and his vintage ballroom dancing music ensemble were looking for more music from the early 1900s.

While exploring a library of music from silent films, Sauer learned about the lost art of scoring. It was the job of each movie theater, he discovered, to compile short clips of sheet music arrangements, with names like "storm music" or "battle music," from a library of tens of thousands of pieces.

In the four filing cabinets Sauer now has packed full of music, there are themes to fit any scene from an amusement park setting to a love scene.

Sauer was struck by the feeling that this aspect of film and music history could fall by the wayside.

"It's so rare, that going through these collections, you really got the feeling you were discovering something that was once familiar but is now forgotten," he said.

"It's a very satisfying, creative endeavor to re-create this music."

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

Film series schedule

Thursday: Four Funny Films with live score from Rodney and Molly Sauer

Jan. 30: “The Mark of Zorro” screening with recorded score from Front Range-based Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Feb. 23: “The General” screening with recorded score from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

March 30: “Sunrise” screening with live score performed by the full Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

When: All events are at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library

Cost: Free

Online: Film descriptions are available here.

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