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"Quality Street" Gets New Score at Santa Monica Beach House  

By Melonie Magruder
Lookout Staff

December 12, 2011 -- As part of its Beach=Culture program, the Annenberg Beach House will screen one of the more sparkling silent films made by its former resident, Marion Davies, on Monday night, accompanied by the world premier of an original score by acclaimed composer Maria Newman.

When Marion Davies starred in “Quality Street” in November 1927, Hollywood had just released its first “talking picture” a month earlier, “The Jazz Singer.” By the early 30s, silent pictures were relics of the past.

Davies transitioned smoothly from silent to talking films as an actress and made a score of popular movies and musicals in the 30s, but her silent films revealed a comedienne of uncommon wit and beauty.

Monday’s screening will showcase that talent accompanied by a new musical score by Newman, film historian Elaina Archer said.

“Maria is an artist,” Archer said of Newman. “She just ‘gets’ the characters and time period, and it magically comes out in the music.”

Archer and Newman have collaborated for more than a decade, acquiring, mastering and scoring silent films from archives across the country, including the Mary Pickford Foundation and the Library of Congress.

Newman has already scored such classic silent films as “Daddy Long Legs,” “Tom Sawyer,” “The Gibson Goddess” (a short film that will also be screened Monday night), and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

Newman is the daughter of legendary 20th Century Fox film composer Alfred Newman (Oscar-nominated for best film score a record 40 times and winner nine times), and is known for her classical film composition and her Malibu Coast Chamber Orchestra concerts at the Montgomery Arts House for Music and Architecture.

“Quality Street,” originally written as a play by James M. Barrie, had already suffered damage over the years (silver nitrate film degrades over time) when it was acquired as a digital transfer by film aficionado Robert Board. He donated it to Newman and Archer.

“I actually think the degradation to the original film stock gave it an interesting quality,” Newman said. “It’s like there are little clouds floating through it.”

Newman wrote the score for “Quality Street” so it can be performed with either a string quartet or a full string orchestra. At Monday’s performance, many of the Montgomery Arts House musicians will be performing, including Newman’s husband, composer and musician Scott Hosfeld.

“In the old days, many films didn’t have written scores,” Newman said. “Big orchestras would have stock ‘sad’ music or ‘chase’ music. I try to just capture the different emotional and physical content of each scene.

"Sometimes I’ll use classical composition, but sometimes I’ll do a stylized pop music feel from the day. Actually, the movie tells you what to write.”

Newman believes that, in scoring a silent film, it is “almost like you are interacting with another player in your ensemble. Instead of supporting the action, you are collaborating with the movie like another character.”

Both Newman and Archer lauded the work of Davies in this particular film, directed by Sidney Franklin and co-starring Conrad Nagle, as being Davies’ best performance.

Archer, who has produced a documentary on Davies, said that she “gets close” to the people she studies.

“Besides having such vast talent, Marion Davies was a very generous soul,” Archer said. “She kept her humanity in check and in perspective.

"I think F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best: ‘Marion Davies makes up for the rest of Hollywood.’”

The free screening of “Quality Street” at the Annenberg Beach House Monday night is currently at capacity, but positions on the Wait List can be made at the website Event parking at the Annenberg for Beach=Culture events is $5.00 through the winter.


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