Silent film actor Buster Keaton in a publicity still from "Sherlock Jr." Credit: Provided/Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

THE LOOP — Silent film “Sherlock Jr.” won’t be soundless when it plays Wednesday at Guarneri Hall.

Instead, it’ll be accompanied by live performers.

Guarneri, a 60-seat performance space that aims to make classical music into a “chef’s tasting-like experience,” will screen “Sherlock Jr.” 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 11 E. Adams St. The film, which came out in 1924, stars silent film actor and director Buster Keaton as a young projectionist who dreams he’s a detective.

For the Guarneri Hall screening, a string quartet will join pianist and composer Stephen Prutsman to play a lively score highlighting the movie’s hilarity. General admission tickets are $40 and can be purchased here.

From the beginnings of Guarneri in 2018, founder and Artistic Director Stefan Hersh said he knew Prutsman’s performances would fit his vision for the musical venue.

Credit: Provided/Guarneri Hall

“When Guarneri Hall was founded, there was a group of a few kinds of events that I thought would be ideal for the space, and one of them was to have Stephen Prutsman in to do his incredible scores for silent films,” Hersh said. “So this is kind of a culmination of a long-held ambition.”

A violinist, Hersh said he was drawn to the combination of jazz and classical styles in Prutsman’s work. The composer has been scoring silent films for about 20 years — and “Sherlock Jr.” was his first.

Prutsman said he finds comedy films the most rewarding to create scores for, and, in his eyes, Keaton’s movie is the genre’s gold standard.

“Every frame is amazing,” he said.

To weave together his composition, Prutsman began by listening to song after song from the 1920s. Imitating that style, he wrote out recurring musical themes for the characters and scenes of “Sherlock Jr.” He’s tweaked the score repeatedly over two decades, hoping to evoke specific reactions from the audience.

“First off, they’re gonna be laughing their heads off,” Prutsman said. “And then I hope they take away how the music really complemented the movie.”

Credit: Provided/Guarneri Hall

The intimate space of Guarneri Hall will help listeners appreciate the sound, Prutsman said.

The small hall has another benefit, Hersh said: Visitors can get to know one another. To facilitate that, Guarneri is hosting a party after the screening for attendees to enjoy themselves. It’ll be themed around silent films, of course.

“Because … it’s just a small crowd assembled, when we have a party afterwards, you can become on a first-name basis with everybody in the room,” Hersh said.

University of Kansas film professor John C. Tibbetts will talk before the screening, making the argument that Keaton was the best American filmmaker of the 1920s. 

Even for people who don’t love silent films, Hersh said Guarneri’s “Sherlock Jr.” event offers plenty of new experiences and learning opportunities.

The audience will “learn that silent films aren’t really silent at all,” he said. “The live music aspect of it is something that’s been lost in the era of cinema since the silent films, because now ever since then, music’s baked into the film. But there’s a kind of a beauty and thrill in the notion of a live performance.”


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