Play It Again, Hamm
When a playwright called seeking advice for a drama set in an art house cinema, the Screening Room proprietor forwarded one question to “our musicologist."
That’s a grossly inflated word for a most informal task, or “Much Andrew About Nothing” as I call it.
The task fell to me because I am a musician—a street-musician for whom a “day job” is actually a night job, which is why I’m a projectionist in the first place.
Before films, we often feature the CDs of local musicians, engaging patrons in conversation, with liner notes available to show.
Meg Rayne has so many friends among Friday night regulars that the scene in the lobby can be mistaken for one anticipating her concert. This week she opens the show for Philomena starring Judy Dench, another fave of that same crowd.
Best laugh was the look on Justin Quinn’s face when he finally realized he was hearing himself—quite surprising for someone introduced as “internationally famous from coast to coast” at Glenn’s Cool Bar on any given Sunday.
And I always raise an eyebrow while telling patrons the title of Cheryl Hoenemeyer’s Crowded Bed.
Classical music is also well represented in our modest, random, eclectic, and pointedly eccentric collection because so many art-house films are period pieces.
This caused my panic attack when we opened Wings of the Dove.
Set a century ago, it ran with the lush Cimarosa Oboe Concerto. The music plays until the coming attractions start, so it was off well before the feature began.
Or so I thought. Hearing the oboe again, I bounded back up the steps into the booth looking for a malfunction.
Then I realized: Cimarosa was the soundtrack for the feature’s opening credits. Wish I could claim that great minds think alike here, but this “great mind” sprained a foot because he didn’t believe it himself.
Sometimes a film’s main character is a musician, or the soundtrack highlights a composer. We served Chicken With Plums, about a violinist, with Bach violin concerti. Dangerous Method about Freud and Jung shined with Rachmaninoff piano psychoti.
We tag directors and actors. The soundtrack for Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?”keeps us on the sunny side during more recent, darker Coen Bros. films. Last year Jeff Bridges released a CD that adds a white Russian flavor to any film he’s in.
Adaptations of Shakespeare are measured with my fellow minstrels from King Richard’s Renaissance Faire who tempest for tips, though Hamm Lynn, as they know me, labors to be or not to be Baroque.
Ethnicity and geography are well mapped. “The Descendants,” set in Hawaii, picked Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele. Films by Spain’s Pedro Almodovar strum John Tavano’s guitar.
And titles: For The Big Year we played The Secret Language of Birds. I don’t speak bird myself, but I do know that, as Steve Martin’s character insists through clenched teeth: “It’s called birding, not bird watching.”
Yes, I favor flutes: What flautist would not relish having people hear Jean Pierre Rampal, Jethro Tull, Frans Bruggen, Herbie Mann, James Galway, Matt Malloy, Charles Beaulieu, Sarah Bauhan, Roger Ebacher, then do a double take and ask: “Is that you?”
In response, I immediately, invariably change the subject.
We pay tribute: Rampal joined the French resistance, so his jazz albums with pianist Claude Bolling accompany films set in WWII Europe.
When drummer Levon Helm died two years back, we played The Band's boxed set. For Beasts of the Southern Wild we timed "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to be the last song heard.
And an occasional pun, such as The Beatles’ Help!”with Sister, a French film set in an Alpine ski resort.
Finally, we reason with season. Christmas and Klezmer music wage peace in December. Minstrel Tom O’Carroll will “tog go bog e”--that's Gaelic for "take it easy" and the title of one of his CDs--next week through St. Patrick’s Day, and cellist Kristen Miller will haunt Halloween.
Hope she takes that as intended. I swear I channel her whenever I play Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” That sorcerer’s favorite works so well on the street that I ought to send her royalties.
But not to Grieg ‘cause he’s dead.