Robert Sholl - Musical Improvisation

Improvising a Musical Backdrop to Classic Silent Films at
The University of West London, Lawrence Hall
St Mary's Road, Ealing W5 5RF
4.30pm on Thursday 12th

Films:  The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
Films:  Lot in Sodom (1932) 

Online ticket sales for this event are now closed; please still come and pay cash-on-the-door


James Sibley Watson (1894-1982), was a doctor, radiologist, philanthropist and most importantly for this evening, an avant-garde filmaker. This evening we present two of his earliest experimental silent films:

  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), made with Melville Webber, based on the short story of Edgar Allen Poe, and
  • Lot in Sodom (1932), based on the biblical story from Genesis 19.

The first film came to Robert's attention through the work of Charles E. Brewer who has researched and reconstructed Alex Wilder’s original score for the film.

Both films show the marked influence of cubist art, and especially the films of F.W. Murnau (1888-1931). However, they also represent an attempt, through fading, dissolving, and prismatic images to achieve the Surrealist state of dépaysement or disorientation: the sense of being out of one’s element, of being distorted by the unfamiliarity of a situation experienced for the first time. Both films therefore also provide rich grounds for improvisation that work, like Wilder’s score, mimetically with but also outside the narrative of the film. Improvisation in this sense becomes a means of sustaining and defamiliarising, but also, crucially, of resisting the suturing of the viewer’s narrative diegesis. Sibley Watson’s work is therefore a touchstone for complementary serendipities.