A Conversation with Carl Davis

While there are too many amazing films to choose from in the Festival schedule, I always have a hard time missing the discussions held in Club TCM. I’m constantly impressed by the talent and their insights, and am thrilled to be covering the discussions the next few days. Club TCM kicked off with a bang today for A Conversation with Carl Davis. The composer, conductor, and musician was interviewed by author Jon Burlingame.  Below are a few highlights from the interview:CarlDavis1_470x350


  • Speaking of conducting: “There is the buzz of a live show, you know if you’re a performer, that’s where it all comes together.”
  • “The principles of film and score are the same today. Everything you want to have heard you have to make. It’s the same problem with other forms of art what statement are we trying to make? If I’m faced with something that is complete already, like a silent film, I think about it and decide my approach: What is the genre? Then you might consider the location and period it’s set in – how will music help this? By ignoring it or  joining with it? There’s a kind of basic intelligence.
  • “I’m very traditional. I’m here to help you enjoy this film, and to make an all important bridge to forget about the strange parts. It sounds perverse, but you want people to say I was so engrossed I didn’t notice the music at all. They’re not insulting me, they are completely absorbed in what they’re watching.”
  • Speaking of Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry? (1923), which he’ll be conducting tonight at The Egyptian Theatre, at 7:15pm. It will be the world premiere live performance of his new original score with an orchestra: “Being a borderline hypochondriac, I love that aspect of the film.”
  • “I have favorite scenes. Flesh and the Devil (1926), a Garbo film, very romantic. Actually, quite early when she was not a good girl. There’s a scene where she’s having an affair with the leading man, there’s a ball and they waltz – and it’s me, I am waltzing with Garbo!
  • “When you’re handed a silent film you’ve got to make the sound. Bring out the element of conversation, or the meaning of it, at least. Where as with new films, it’s the third element, because you have dialogue, sound effects and then the score. Sometimes it is more effective not to have music at all. It’s not the most important sound, it’s one of the important sounds.
  • Napoleon (1927) – what we call the British version – is an ever growing film. I dread the phone ringing, and them saying ‘We’ve found another scene!’”
  • During the Q&A an audience member asked Davis if there is a particular silent film he’d like to score that is on his wishlist. His response: “Not really. I used to have them, and I’ve done a lot of the major films now. I can’t think of one right now. There are a few Garbo films, she’s always inspirational. But I’d like to broaden my range.”
  • “For The General (1926) there was a lot of existing music. Before the days of walkie talkies armies had to learn bugle calls. The subject had strong patriotic feelings, and both sides wrote their own songs. It was very important I had the right uniform and songs in front of me. And then you had a hero. Because this was a man who had an obsession with the locomotive – which was the great love of his life. The aim was to get the locomotive back. He had no particular allegiance to one side or the other. Lloyd and Keaton both always do everything with a purpose. The music has to have that drive and energy, so you know we’re on their side.”