Austin Cinema Owner Mixing Classic Albums and Classic Films for Silents Synced

Blue Starlite's Josh Frank working with Radiohead, R.E.M., more

Silents Synced, the new project from Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In founder Josh Frank, will link classic silent movies and the back catalog of bands including Pearl Jam, Radiohead, and R.E.M. in a new program available to art house and independent cinemas

Josh Frank, founder of Austin’s Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, is launching a new collaboration with some of the biggest names in rock, including Radiohead, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Pixies and more, intended to bring new energy to silent movies.

The project is called Silents Synced, pairing classic albums with classic films. The series will be made available to independent and drive-in theatres starting in the fall via Blue Starlite Entertainment (the new content arm of Frank’s company) and distributor CineLife Entertainment, a division of Spotlight Cinema Networks.

Frank called the series “a dream project” and described it as a way for independent cinemas to expand beyond repertory screenings into “something exciting and new.” Not only is the series intended to appeal to film fans, but he also hopes that it will allow music fans “to experience the music in a way that they never knew they would, and it makes it new again.”

Frank announced the series last night at the Music Box in Chicago during the Art House Convention, the trade conference for independent cinemas. Kate Markham, Managing Director of organizers Art House Convergence, praised what he’s created, adding that "what Josh Frank has accomplished with Silents Synced exemplifies the creativity, DIY ethos, and commitment to cinema as an art form and a culture that defines the independent film exhibition landscape.”

CineLife EVP Bernadette McCabe said she was “thrilled” to be partnering with Blue Starlite “because we believe in the power of event cinema combined with alternative music’s most enduring artists. This is a concept that should work equally well for independent, indoor and drive-in cinemas as it offers attainable event cinema that will appeal to multiple generations of current patrons, as well as music fans.”

The series will begin in fall of 2024 with a fusion of two groundbreakers, as Radiohead provides the soundtrack to the original 1923 version of Nosferatu. The music will come from Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), creating a new context for both the sound and the images. That opener will be followed up by a new release of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. with a soundtrack by R.E.M. Bertis Downs, manager of R.E.M., said, “The guys thought it seems like a good idea and they like the uncanny way their music and Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. match up — kind of perfect. What a great and unlikely way of presenting great art.”

Silents Synced is a melding of Frank’s two biggest obsessions – films and alt-rock. After all, aside from resurrecting the drive-in in Austin and helping reopen the Eastside Cinema at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, Frank is also co-author of Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies.

However, it’s a project that has been gestating since he founded the Blue Starlite in 2009. One of the first events he hosted was a screening of The Golem (1915) with a new score by Pixie’s twisted genius Black Francis. Around the same time, by sheer accident, Frank discovered that The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails synced up surprisingly cleanly with Metropolis. However, he only started to experiment during the pandemic. By day, he was busy with the drive-in (at that point, it was the only open cinema in the city). However, he added, “Late at night, I couldn’t sleep, and so I started playing around.”

He didn’t want to completely re-edit either the film or the music. Rather, he wanted to find sound and visuals that merged naturally. The only changes he made was in occasionally cutting how long the dialogue cards were on screen. “By doing that, I found I could make certain things hit really awesome.”

Frank credited Henri Mazza of Trifecta on Third, himself a pioneer in exciting cinema events during his time with the Alamo Drafthouse, for pushing to reach out to the management of the bands, and said he was encouraged by how quickly and enthusiastically they replied.

The plan is to release a new pairing every four months. After Nosferatu (which will receive a special world premiere ahead of being made available to other theatres) and Sherlock Jr., there will be collaborations with Pearl Jam, Brazilian composer Amon Tobin, They Might Be Giants, and more. Pete Smolin, founder and president of Upward Spiral Music, the management firm representing They Might Be Giants, said, “There is something strangely appealing about syncing modern music to an old silent film — it brings a whole new perspective. I like to imagine Buster Keaton moving around on set with a 1927 version of They Might Be Giants bouncing around in his head. It's a perfect combo.”

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