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It's Your Life / People, Places and Things to do. : SILENT NIGHTS : Mood Is the Key for Film Accompanist

August 10, 1995|LEO SMITH

Pianist Robert Barnum figures he has a dozen short musical phrases in his head that he can pound out on the ivories at a moment's notice. Some sound sinister, others romantic, and others conjure up images of chase scenes or slapstick comedy.

Barnum has had plenty of opportunity to call on these tunes in his recurring role as accompanist for local screenings of silent movies. And he will be at it again Saturday night at Ventura's Olivas Adobe, providing original musical scores for the 1925 science fiction film "The Lost World," the 1916 Charlie Chaplin comedy "The Rink" and the 1911 comedy cartoon "Gertie the Dinosaur."

"In silent films, music has to be played every minute the film is being shown. If a movie is totally silent it would drive the audience nuts," said the 66-year-old Barnum, a music instructor in Ventura public schools from 1957 to 1989. "I try to pick up on the mood of the action as well as on the action itself."

Barnum said if he's lucky, he typically will get to screen films in advance of a public showing and will come prepared with a lineup of music. Other times, however, he has to improvise. "I've gone in blind on several occasions, but I know the keyboard really well," he said. "I can watch the movie and play at the same time."

Saturday night's feature attraction, "The Lost World," stars Wallace Beery and Louis Stone in a story of explorers who make their way to a plateau in South America, discovering dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures upon their arrival. They return to London with a brontosaurus, which, as one might expect, ends up wreaking a little havoc on the poor city.

The evening will also feature a silent movie trivia contest and a lecture by local historian Richard Senate, one of the organizers of the evening. Senate will discuss Ventura County's role in silent films. "The Sheik" (1921) was shot in Oxnard and "Robin Hood" (1923) was filmed at Lake Sherwood.

* Silent Movie Night, 7 p.m. Saturdays at Olivas Adobe, 4200 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura; $3 for adults, $2 for children, children under 5 free; 658-4726.

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