Cinema’s First Nasty Women Compilation Soundtrack, Vol. 1
Dana Reason, the co-lead with Terri Lyne Carrington in scoring the 99 films of Kino Lorber’s Cinema’s First Nasty Women collection, sent me the new album that’s come from the project, Cinema’s First Nasty Women Compilation Soundtrack, Vol. 1. Here’s an overview!
CW: many of the films included in the collection involve slapstick violence, as well as other kinds of abuse; ableism; and death.
During the silent film era, women made up the majority of cinema musicians, particularly once the United States entered World War I and it only makes sense that women composers and performers were chosen by music consultants Dana Reason and Terri Lyne Carrington to create the music for Cinema’s First Nasty Women (Kino Lorber, 2022), an outstanding collection of almost one hundred mostly comic silent films featuring, written, and directed by women. Now, twenty of the pieces commissioned as accompaniments for the films have been assembled into Cinema’s First Nasty Women Compilation Soundtrack, Vol. 1. Reason and Carrington have done an excellent job of bringing together composers and performers from a variety of musical backgrounds—and their own musical contributions are terrific. The first piece on the album, the “Laughing Gas Suite” by Carrington and Edmar Colon sets the mood perfectly with an up-tempo piece that begins in the style of a 1910s or 1920s two-step and takes excursions into the blues and jazz, all genres used in the cinema.
Numerous other pieces make use of period styles, instrumentation, and novelty sounds: Rebecca Sabine and Aaron Ramsey’s gorgeous “Le Désespoir de Pétronille/Pétronille’s Perils” and Alicia Svigals’s “Non Tu Ne Sortiras Pas Sans Moi” pay homage to silent cinema’s violinists, who usually had classical training and needed to be knowledgeable of popular musics and who had to be nimble and quick in order to play for the pictures. Gonca Feride models her piano score on music for mysteries, suspense, and thrills in her accompaniment for “Greve Des Nourrices/A Time to Resist,” which has a novelty sound at the very end; Ivanna Cuesta Gonzalez does much the same in “The Dairymaid’s Revenge,” with hesitations, changes of meter and tempo, and changes of tone handled perfectly to match the film. Reason’s second work on the album, “Rembrandt,” with Peter Valsamis, is a great representation of how a small cinema orchestra can work together in accompaniment, as well as how combining musical styles of the past and the present can make for effective and fun scoring. “Les Ficelles de Léontine,” scored by Veronica Leahy also falls into this category: Leahy writes, “decided to go with sounds that felt more authentic to the silent film era — rather than something overtly contemporary — to honor the traditional feel of this movie.”
Also modeling their work on period musics are Renée T. Coulombe, whose accompaniment for “Rosalie et son Phonographe” is guided by musical notes given in the film itself, calling for a waltz, polka, and mazurka. Coulombe researched the classical repertoire used in the silent cinema to create what she calls “essentially a photoplay score—one with all the characteristics of film leitmotifs from classical music while representing a unique and original work,” resulting in a charming score. Similarly, Lorena Ruiz Trejo and María Fernanda García Solar’s music for “The Night Rider” draws on music used for silent Westerns, creating a terrific score for piano, violin, and percussion.
Other composers included here take on different approaches to their film accompaniments: Naomi Nakanishi uses alto sax and piano in unison for “How Bridget Served the Salad Undressed;” Reason’s fabulous jazz accompaniment for the excerpt from The Snowbird, “Taken for a Ride” features a fast, exciting opening with percussion and baritone sax, then moves into a stately wind band presentation of the theme before returning to the frantic percussion and sax to close. In her music for “Amour et Musique reimagined,” Dee Spencer melds jazz and harmonies redolent of pastoral moments like those from anime films; Esin Aydingoz’s “Taming a Husband” is much the same. In “Fud (Cunégonde Jalouse)” by Tracy McMullen uses a jazz band and gives herself a prominent sax line in a free-flowing and evocative accompaniment for the eponymous film.
“Mary Jane’s Mishap” by Karen Majewicz with Dreamland Faces is a great example of how texture and novelty sounds can work together for film accompaniment. Catherine Lee’s “Ventilateur Breveté” is a charming, dance-based set of variations for oboe d’amour and piano. “A Bad (K)night,” Nakaniski’s second piece on the album, is a fast and furious duet for two pianos in which chaos reigns until the final beat. Reneé Baker and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project provide a score for “Mixed Babies” relies on techniques that might have been considered avant-garde at the time of the film’s release and are best heard when watching the film. For “Eugenie redresse-toi,” Camila Cortina Bello offers an accompaniment to the film that tries to lighten its ultimately dark content (ableism and violence), and while this isn’t a film I would have wanted to accompany, I do love the score’s low-register rumblings and adept changes in tempo and mood. The final track of the album is Reason’s “Lovers Theme” for The Snowbirds, a warm and fuzzy jazz bit.
Cinema’s First Nasty Women Compilation Soundtrack, Vol. 1 is essential for aficionados of new music for silent films and scholars of the same. One of the great things about the film collection is the attention paid to the music for every movie; this recording offers just a taste.