CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Tim Carless performed live shows every Saturday of the month. Carless has live performances on the first Saturday of each month. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
Silent films are a relic of old filmmaking, and after the first movie with sound, Don Juan, they grew obsolete. However, at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, silent films are making a resurgence thanks to the work of Tim Carless.
Carless, a career musician, is writing scores for silent films and playing them live the first Saturday of each month. Carless had been performing live shows at The ArtsCenter, but he has now moved his performances online due to the pandemic. His main intent is to preserve and elevate the bygone era of silent films.
“I think that the silent film era, along with the big band era and a number of other American cultural treasures, should be celebrated in our collective culture,” Carless said.
Carless wrote the scores for comedic films, starring masters of the medium like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. After each film, he plays either original work or a piece from a different jazz musician.
Even after hundreds of years, audiences still connect with silent films. Adults often enjoy the events, though younger audiences are also drawn to the performances. The magic of the old films in conjunction with Carless’s live scores creates something new and interesting for all audiences.
“Children both with physical shows and with streaming seem to be really enjoying the live-scores,” Carless said. "Under 10's appear to love Chaplin and Keaton."
Patrick Phelps-McKeown, the marketing director at The ArtsCenter, is determined to continue the series with Carless, though he questions what the series will look like post-pandemic.
“There are lots of things people like about being able to stream something on their TV versus going out in public and physically attending the show,” Phelps-McKeown said.
Phelps-McKeown reported that The ArtsCenter has not yet decided whether the series will stay completely remote, transition back to live shows only or proceed with a mix of the two. In any capacity, the show will go on with Carless at the helm.
Phelps-McKeown believes that the series is a valuable experience for anyone interested in either music or film.
“To me, it’s like you’re watching a movie and then you’re watching someone create art about the movie in real time,” Phelps-McKeown said.
Barbara Stenross, a Carrboro native, has been following the series ever since it began. She followed Carless in his early career, and now she tries to attend every live scoring event. She believes that Carless raises the films to a higher standard.
“The creativity of the film is matched or exceeded by the creativity of the music Tim comes up with,” Stenross said. “(The music) really enhances the enjoyment of it and it really is transporting, and I’m grateful to The ArtsCenter for putting it on.”
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