Tonawanda News

November 7, 2012

Silent film and score to 'Sherlock Holmes' happening tonight

Silent film and score to 'Sherlock Holmes' happening tonight

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Audiences at the Riviera Theatre will be treated to a rare experience Wednesday — a live organ accompaniment to the silent film, “Sherlock Holmes” — made all the more special by the fact a visiting organist will be performing with an original score to the 1922 film.

Steven Ball, a member of the faculty of the organ/carillon department at the University of Michigan, said creates an original score for all silent films he accompanies, though he also draws from a large collection of music from the 1920s, during the height of the silent film era. Still, Ball said, he fine-tunes it for the more contemporary ear.

“I think American musical audiences in the 21st century, our ears have changed so much because we’ve been exposed to Lady Gaga, for instance. We have moved so far in the last 80 years,” he said. “It’s not an anachronism, it’s about keeping the music and technology up to date with the hope that audiences will receive the same emotional impact they were designed to have” 80 years ago.

And if he’s doing his job right, Ball said, he “should completely disappear in a minute or two” after the beginning of the film.

Film accompaniment is meant to be about the film, not the organist, after all.

Wednesday’s performance will be Ball’s first spin on the Mighty Wurlitzer, though it won’t be his first time in North Tonawanda. As Riviera Theatre Executive Director Frank Cannata has mentioned in the past, the Wurlitzer Factory, and its home North Tonawanda, are something of a Mecca for theater organ enthusiasts.

“I visited North Tonawanda to burn candles in front of the Wurlitzer Factory,” once, Ball said with a laugh. “I’m very much looking forward to this performance.”

“I think it’s really cool you have one of these original machines in its original home,” he added. “Stuff that’s going on like (the filming of 2011’s) ‘The Artist’ is part of the American picture experience.”

Cannata said the Riviera Theatre is one of only a few places in Western New York where audiences can experience a silent film accompanied by the theater’s original instrument.

“To see ‘Sherlock Holmes’ at the Riviera on an organ that was designed specifically to accompany silent films is about as pure as you can possibly get,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s event will be silent film at its “purest form.” 

He expects the show will attract audiences from further away than what the theater normally sees.

Ball’s performance, along with large acts like actor/blues musician Hugh Laurie, country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter and Christian artist Amy Grant, are putting the Riviera on the map, Cannata said.

“I think it speaks to the Riviera progressing from a neighborhood venue to a regional attraction, drawing from various parts of the country,” he said.

The 1922 silent version of “Sherlock Holmes” features actors John Barrymore and Roland Young. Tickets are $10 for adults, and free for students. The performance is at 7:30 tonight.

Contact features editor

Danielle Haynes

at 693-1000, ext. 4116.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Sherlock Holmes" (1922), accompanied by organist Steven Ball • WHEN: 7:30 tonight • WHERE: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda • COST: $10 for adults, free for students • MORE INFO: Visit, or call 692-2413

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.