Patrick Boyle, leader of the UVic Jazz Ensemble, enjoys updating silent films with improvised scores, including the upcoming presentation of Battleship Potemkin, Nov. 17 at the Philip T. Young Recital Hall. Photo courtesy University of Victoria

TALKIE TIME: New sounds for silent movie classic

UVic’s Jazz Ensemble leader has a soft spot for livening up silent films

John Threlfall

Monday Magazine contributor

How do you improve on one of the greatest movies ever made? If you’re the UVic Jazz Ensemble, you “comprovise” a live score for the 1925 Russian silent film Battleship Potemkin.

For ensemble leader Patrick Boyle, updating silent films with improvised scores is nothing new: he’s been doing it for over a decade, jazzing up the likes of Charlie Chaplin shorts and Buster Keaton’s The General. And while the choice of film matters, it’s this idea of “comprovisation” that really grabs his attention.

“Of everything I do professionally, playing live music for silent film is my absolutely favourite thing,” he says. “Because part of it is composed and part improvised – comprovised – it’s different every time we perform it. It’s especially effective with sentimental moments, which you can make more humorous, and vice-versa.”

Best known for its iconic “Odessa steps” sequence – which has been echoed in The Godfather, The Untouchables, Brazil, Revenge of the Sith and Naked Gun (to name just a few) – Battleship Potemkin has long outlived director Sergei Eisenstein’s original propagandistic intentions to become an undeniable cinematic classic.

“Considering everything that’s going on in the world, I thought showing something with a Russian theme would be appropriate,” says Boyle, with a sly smile. “I wanted to see if we could make silent films great again.”

UVic Jazz Ensemble’s Live Music for Silent Film starts at 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 at UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets range from $10-$20, available by calling 250-721-8480 or emailing ticket@uvic.ca.

You can find more information from UVic on the project by clicking here.

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