Jon Mirsalis is a very talented guy, as anyone who has heard him accompany silent films over the years can confirm. He has even integrated a synthesizer into his work, to make his scores more effective by replicating the sounds of different instruments. Jon has played piano for silents all over the country but his home base is the Niles Essanay Film Museum in Niles, California. To help promote those screenings he has developed yet another skill: video editing.

Like a one-man marketing department, he posts inventive and amusing trailers for silent films in the weeks leading up to their showings. I enjoy them so much I thought I should share them with you.

Jon at the piano

His latest endeavor spotlights Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927) starring Jon’s favorite actor, Lon Chaney. (Jon is a major Chaney scholar, not just a fan.) The screening is February 4, and here is the newly-minted preview trailer

I asked Jon two important questions–firstly, what inspired him to do this? “I actually stumbled into doing the trailers by accident. I got a new audio editing program on my computer and I wanted to try a “multi-track” score as a training exercise. I used my “Suite from Robin Hood” which is essentially the overture music I use for the 1922 Fairbanks film as a test, and so I overlayed about 6 tracks for this 4 min piece of music using my Kurzweil keyboard (which has essentially sampled all the instruments of the Boston Symphony). But then I decided that just listening to the music was boring, so I wanted to put a couple of scenes from the film on top of it so there would be something to watch. As I started to edit it together it occurred to me that this was starting to look like a trailer, so I just finished the job, putting the traditional green-band opening, and the ubiquitous trailer tag line, “In a world…..”  You can see the finished result here. I posted it on youtube and many people commented how much they enjoyed it, so I started making more. Initially I did it just for fun, but now I specifically do it to promote upcoming events I’m playing for, usually at Niles Film Museum.”

Secondly, what’s the best reaction he’s gotten. “Niles ran SUNRISE on the 85th anniversary (to the day) of when it received the Academy Award for “Most Artistic Production.” I had planned to perform the original Hugo Riesenfeld score (something I’ve never ever done before…I always use my own original music for films), and I created a trailer with this music. Kevin Brownlow saw it and said, “I want to hire you as a Second Unit Director to produce trailers for all my restorations!””

If you like what you see, you should definitely check out Jon’s YouTube channel for more

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024