The Australian Cinémathèque secret weapon: The Wurlitzer

 

We highlight the Australian Cinémathèque’s much loved secret weapon — the Wurlitzer Style 260 Opus 2040 pipe organ. From 2018 to 2020, QAGOMA will present Queensland’s Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF). The Festival experience comes to life with a range of dynamic events including classic silent films with live scores, a high point the screening of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman 1928 featuring a new live score on the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer organ. This is a rare opportunity to view this silent film accompanied by our Wurlitzer of similar vintage on the big screen as it was intended.

Wurlitzer Style 260 Opus 2040 pipe organ

The Wurlitzer console unpacked at the Brisbane premises of Whitehouse Bros, 1929 / Source: http://www.pstos.org/pipeline/2011/PSTOS-Pipeline-2011-04.pdf
Installation of the Wurlitzer console at the Regent Theatre in 1929 by the staff of Whitehouse Bros / Photography: Howell Whitehouse / Source: https://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Qld/Wurlitzer.html
Staff of Whitehouse Bros inside the main chamber of the organ at the Regent Theatre in 1929 / Photography: Howell Whitehouse / Source: https://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Qld/Wurlitzer.html
Diaphone pipes for the Wurlitzer organ being installed in the ceiling of the Regent Theatre in Brisbane, 1929 / Courtesy: Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Regent Theatre, Brisbane

The interior of the Regent Theatre, Brisbane, c.1955 / Courtesy: State Library of Queensland
View of the auditorium inside the Regent Theatre in Brisbane, c.1969 / Courtesy: Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Interesting facts

The Wurlitzer, originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929 (at a cost reported in the press of £25–30,000), was the last instrument of its type installed in Australia. It was housed in the Regent until 1964, when it moved to a private residence in the Blue Mountains before it was negotiated back home to Brisbane for the Gallery of Modern Art’s (GOMA) opening, and rechristened in early 2007. It is now used regularly to score classic silent films of all stripes under the fingers of talented organists.

Wurlitzer console installed at GOMA

Installation of the Wurlitzer console at the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Installation of the Wurlitzer console within the central lift below the stage in Cinema A, 2006 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
The Wurlitzer console installed at the Gallery of Modern Art / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA

Two chambers beneath Cinema A contain the organ’s many components, including musical instruments, sound effects and (literal) bells and whistles that are pneumatically operated from the console — the model now housed in the Cinémathèque incorporates more of these elements than any other theatre organ in the country. The organ’s largest pipes stretch back under the seating to give audiences a visceral audio experience. The instrument has been barely altered over the years: even when the organ chamber was
partially inundated in the 2011 Brisbane floods, it was repaired with hardly any parts needing to be replaced.

Dan Cameron is Senior Communication Officer, QAGOMA


BIFF 2018 classic silent films with live scores

Live score The Cameraman

Production still from The Cameraman 1928 / Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward Sedgwick / Image courtesy: Roadshow Entertainment

Ninety years young, The Cameraman remains one of Buster Keaton’s finest films, a towering achievement of action choreography and silent comedy.

In this 1928 silent film, Keaton explores the art of cinematography and the rollercoaster of romance. The last film in which Keaton had full creative control and one of the final films of the silent era, The Cameraman — shot on the streets of Los Angeles — is full of technical innovations, physical acrobatics, on-screen romance and an exuberant monkey. A love letter to the movie camera and silent cinema, this delightful comedy finds Keaton at his very best.

Organist David Bailey playing the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer organ / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA
Organist David Bailey playing the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer organ / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA

The film screens with a new live score on the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer organ by David Bailey, who brings his jazz sensibilities to this remarkable film.

USA | 1928 | 78 mins | Silent, with English intertitles, live musical score | All Ages | Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward Sedgwick | Scriptwriters: Clyde Bruckman, Lew Lipton, Richard Schayer, Joseph W Farnham, Byron Morgan | Producers: Buster Keaton, Lawrence Weingarten | Cast: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey | Rights: Roadshow Entertainment

11.00am | Saturday 20 October | GOMA | Tickets now on sale


Live score Teiji Ito: Music for film

Production still from Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon 1943 / Director: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid / Image courtesy: The National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.

Brisbane International Film Festival and Liquid Architecture present a world premiere performance celebrating the film soundtracks of the late composer Teiji Ito.

Ito (1935–1982) collaborated with key figures of the 1950s–80s New York underground culture, most significantly with legendary experimental filmmakers Maya Deren and Marie Menken. Much of Ito’s work was not scored, but driven by a set of guiding ideas, making performances of his work today incredibly rare.

For this unique event, researcher and musician Michiko Ogawa has transcribed Ito’s original recordings in detail, and assembled a group of musicians to realise a worldfirst live performance of six of Ito’s most well known film scores with screenings of 16mm films. Screenings will include Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon 1943 and The Very Eye of Night 1958, alongside Menken’s Dwightiana 1959.

Film prints from the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.

6.30pm | Friday 12 October | GOMA | Tickets now on sale


Live score The Passion of Joan of Arc

Production still from The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc) 1928 / Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer / Image courtesy: Gaumont

Regularly heralded as one of the greatest films ever made, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s monumental silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc is a tour de force depiction of the trial of the teenage Joan of Arc. Utilising the historical court transcripts for the basis of its drama and shot almost exclusively in expressionistic close-up, this transfixing film also features perhaps the single most astonishing screen performance ever recorded in Maria Falconetti’s portrayal of the doomed heroine. Ninety years on from its initial release, Dreyer’s uncompromising film remains a cinematic experience like no other.

Members from hazards of swimming naked, accompanying silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928 / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA
Members from ‘hazards of swimming naked’, accompanying silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928 / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA

The stunning intensity of The Passion of Joan of Arc is matched with the tour de force live performance by Brisbane post-rock band, hazards of swimming naked. A five-piece ensemble originating from Queensland’s tropical far north, the band infuse their composition with the vibrancy of that region culminating in a sound which shares all the cinematic grandeur of artists such as Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mono.

France | 1928 | 114 mins | Silent with English intertitles, live musical score | PG | Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Scriptwriters: Joseph Delteil, Carl Theodor Dreyer | Cast: Maria Falconetti, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud, Michel Simon | Rights: Gaumont

7.30pm | Thursday 18 October | GOMA | Tickets now on sale

Be part of BIFF 2018 at QAGOMA — the new home of Brisbane’s flagship film festival.

Explore the Australian Cinémathèque’s ongoing program of film and video / Delve into our past programs

Artistic Director for BIFF 2018 is Amanda Slack-Smith, Curatorial Manager of QAGOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque.

The festival is supported by the Queensland Government through Screen Queensland in association with the Australian Federal Government through Screen Australia.

Feature image: Organist David Bailey playing the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer organ / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA

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