Award-winning documentary to premiere at YaleA new documentary film produced by Paul D. Lehrman, lecturer in music, has received a Bronze "Telly" award and will have its first film festival showing later in September.
"Bad Boy Made Good" tells the story of composer George Antheil and an infamous piece he wrote called "Ballet mécanique," considered by many to be one of the most influential works of the early 20th century. The piece was never performed in the way its composer envisioned until 75 years after it was written. The "Telly" awards give recognition to outstanding non-network and cable commercials, film and video productions.
Lehrman's 71-minute film, directed by Los Angeles filmmaker Ron Frank, will premiere at the Film Fest New Haven at Yale University's Center for British Art on September 21.
Antheil was a brash, ultra-modern pianist and composer, a kid from New Jersey who found himself the toast of Paris in the 1920s, but whose career soon took a nosedive from which it never recovered. His magnum opus, composed in 1924, was "Ballet mécanique." The piece called for seven or eight percussionists, two pianists, a siren, a rack of electric bells, three airplane propellers and 16 synchronized player pianos.
The problem was that the technology to synchronize multiple player pianos didn't exist at the time, but Antheil didn't know that when he composed the piece. When he realized the impossibility of performing the work he envisioned, he re-arranged it for one player piano and multiple human pianists. That version premiered in Paris and was a huge success, causing fights in the concert hall and riots in the streets.
When Antheil brought "Ballet mécanique" to New York's Carnegie Hall, it was a total flop, and the composer was literally laughed out of town. His reputation shattered, he managed over many years to regain some stature as a composer of concert and film music. But he never came close to matching his early fame, when he was known as "The Bad Boy of Music," also the name of his 1945 autobiography. He died in 1959 in relative obscurity.
In 1998, Lehrman, a composer and music technologist, was contracted by G. Schirmer, the music publisher that owned Antheil's catalog, to help publish a performable edition of Antheil's original concept for "Ballet mécanique." Lehrman's primary job was to take the player piano parts and convert them to "MIDI files," which could be played on multiple Yamaha Disklaviers or other computer-controlled player pianos, using a standard desktop computer and off-the-shelf MIDI composition software. He supervised the piece's world premiere, performed by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Percussion Ensemble, and since then, the work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall, with the San Francisco Symphony and in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Montreal and British Columbia.
The film actually started out in fall 2000 as a project of the Tufts Video Lab, under the direction of Howard Woolf, co-director of multimedia arts at Tufts, and funded by a grant from the Spaulding Potter Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Education. Students participated in all of the filming and editing. The Video Lab's 25-minute version of the documentary was shown on campus in April 2001.
Antheil's music initially was supposed to accompany a film of the same name by Cubist artist Fernand Léger and photographer Man Ray. But again, the technology wasn't up to the artists' vision, and the two works were premiered and since have existed separately. In 2000, Anthology Film Archives of New York, hearing of Lehrman's work for Schirmer and in possession of a pristine, recently discovered print of the film, asked him to use similar modern technology to help marry the film and the music for the first time. The combined work premiered in May 2001 and is touring the world until 2005 as part of a large collection of early avant-garde film called "Unseen Cinema."
The film was shown in its current form for the first time at a George Antheil conference in Trenton, N.J., in March 2003. The New Haven event will be its first public screening.
For more information about Antheil, visit http://www.antheil.org