Making the Music to Fill the Silence at Naro Cinema


Naro Expanded Cinema continued its tradition that's over 30 years strong as Norfolk resident Chris Kypros provided original compositions on a full keyboard as live accompaniment to silent films in August.  This year's lineup of silent short films was A Trip to the Moon, The Pawnshop, and One Week.

Kypros, an ODU grad who received his master's degree in music from Juilliard, prefers the music to not overshadow the films.  "I love it when people tell me they forgot I was playing," he said recently while enjoying a fruit smoothie at Fairgrounds on Colley Avenue.  "I want the people to watch the film and really forget that somebody is playing."

Kypros has been a beloved figure of Hampton Roads for decades.  A young woman who was a customer at Fairgrounds stopped to say hello and tell him how much she appreciated his teaching at Norfolk Academy, where he was a music instructor from 1982 until 2001.  He currently teaches music for St. Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk, where he also performs annual recitals of classical pieces on the piano.  He also has an extensive list of local theatrical credits, including the recent Double Dog Theater production of Reefer Madness: The Musical, in which he demonstrated his comedic and singing versatility as The Lecturer.

Kypros very rarely, if ever, has his music score completely composed when he sits down to perform at the screenings for the Naro.  "I have one main [musical] theme that I've decided on, and from that I get ideas for other scenes," he explained.  "It's a stream of consciousness kind of thing.  A third of it I know what I want to do, and there's another third where I kind of have an idea, and the other third is just whatever comes out."

For the first short feature, the 1902 French sci-fi fantasy A Trip to the Moon, Kypros is considering fusing the crooner classic "Fly Me to the Moon" with the feel of something from French composer Claude Debussy.  The film, inspired by the Jules Verne novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon is the most commonly known out of the hundreds of films from filmmaker George Méliès.  A restored version of the film was screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival with a new soundtrack from the French band Air, and Ben Kingsley portrayed a fictionalized version of Méliès in Martin Scorsese's 2011 film Hugo.

Sandwiched in the middle of the series is Charlie Chaplin's The Pawnshop from 1916.  One of the more popular shorts he produced for Mutual Film Corporation, it's filled with the slapstick humor and underdog-hero storyline Chaplin was famous for.  "I've done The Pawnshop before but I have no clue what I played," Kypros admitted.  "I don't tape them or write them down.  Sometimes I think I should write them down, but then I realize it'll be different every time so it doesn't really matter."

The final selection is Buster Keaton's One Week from 1920, the first picture Keaton made without the collaboration of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  It focuses on two newlyweds who have received a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift.  Keaton has probably been featured more than any other filmmaker during the silent film series at the Naro.  For a while, it was commonly referred to as "Keaton & Kypros," a period of time that Kypros remembers fondly.  "That was cool when they did that," he added laughingly. "I loved seeing my name up on the marquee."

Keaton's The General was screened two years ago, and remains a personal favorite for Kypros, as far as the film itself is concerned.  He remembers the first year he performed at the Naro, composing original scores for a double bill of The Phantom of the Opera for which he wrote a traditional score, and Nosferatu for which he employed a more campy style.  One of his favorite experiences was scoring D.W. Griffith's 1915 infamous Civil War drama The Birth of a Nation. "I loved it because I could really make statements with the music.  The place was packed with everyone from little kids to people in their 80's.  One lady, I remember, said she had seen it when it first came out, and it was a completely different experience.  [Seeing it again decades later] was more emotional, and she felt bad.  It was very moving."

Kypros has never had a hand in selecting which films will be screened (he leaves that to Thom Vourlas who has been running Naro Expanded Cinema with Tench Phillips since 1977) , but hopes that one day he can take a stab at Fritz Lang's sci-fi epic Metropolis and revisit The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Lon Chaney.  


Ondine - Gaspard de la Nuit. by Ravel (Christopher Kypros, pianist)

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