Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies
doesn’t actually remind me of silent movies at all. The musical scores were, obviously, a major aspect of the silent era of film. They worked similarly to modern film scores in that they reflected (or paralleled) the mood of the images on the screen, but their role in the silent era was perhaps an enhanced one. They even served as an indicator of where the movie was from. Hollywood was milked with late romantic motifs and syrupy strings (some things don’t change). Western Europe, particularly France, was dominated with either classical scores closer to modernism than romanticism, or hot jazz. And German Expressionism was just fuc
king weird. Regardless of style the effects were the same; the scores were busy, heavily layered with melody and harmony because they had to fill a void. Silent Movies does not have this full sound. Instead, Ribot’s compositions and arrangements are sparse, with just his guitar and minimal overdubbing. Cinematic, yes, however Silent Movies
is much less reminiscent of the silent era. But what’s in a name?
The album title is not necessarily in reference to the silent era of film itself, but instead a more playful interpretation by Ribot that explores the mind’s connection between sound and image. Some of these tracks are indeed meant to accompany images though. “The Kid” is an arrangement that Ribot created for a live accompaniment to the classic Charlie Chaplin film of the same name. Its gentle finger picking pattern and lovely melody matches both the playfulness and heartbreak that seems to breathe through every great Chaplin film. Other tracks were composed for Natalia Almada’s documentary El General. So while these pieces do not necessary evoke the same grandeur of early musical scores, they do maintain the same array of emotional manipulation. The sound is simply stripped down to the skeletal frames of the compositions. It is here that the melodies become ever so important, and Ribot’s soulful, deliberate technique emphasizes each note, accidental, and ornamental. Even the one composition that isn’t his own, closer “Sous le Ciel de Paris”, the titular piece from Julien Durvivier’s film, is arranged to meet Ribot’s aesthetic.
Ultimately the sparse arrangements push the melodies into the listeners mind so wonderfully that Silent Movies
takes on a narrative of its own. As the feedback intro of “Postcard from N.Y.” washes away into a haunting, yet beautiful melody, the music seems to match my environment so perfectly. Here I sit typing away as I look out my window at the melting icicles dripping of the skeletal frames of the decaying maple trees, the droplets forming small craters in the thick blanket of snow beneath the spires of ice. And all the sound I hear is the isolated but warm guitar tones of Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies
. In fear of seeming overwrought and hyperbolic, l feel this is exactly what Ribot wants. It's a similar ploy to Bill Frisell's 2009 album Disfarmer
. Ribot's arrangements, mixing jazz, folk, and classical, are the opposite of overwrought, and thus he allows the listener to fill in the gap. Just like silent movies.