Scorsese film fest pairs flicks with classic influences — and a piano

Scorsese film fest pairs flicks with classic influences — and a piano
Warner Bros. Pictures / Photofest

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is kicking off its latest film series with a very quiet bang.

From March 12–26, BAMcinematek will screen a series of Martin Scorsese films, each paired with flicks from early New York City filmmaker Raoul Walsh, who Scorsese cites as a major influence. But the series opener will add a third local film fixture to the mix — expert movie accompanist Steve Sterner, who will provide the soundtrack for Walsh’s 1915 silent film “Regeneration.”

“There aren’t that many venues that still do these performances,” said Sterner, one of the few New Yorkers who still specializes in the dying art of silent-film accompaniment. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s always wonderful to play a good film there.”

Sterner has played the music for over 300 mute movies in his career, which started in the early 1980s, and each has been a one-off event. He prepares for each performance by watching the film, and taking notes on the action. Then he writes a musical theme to accompany each scene, and practices at home. But when the projector starts humming, it is all off the cuff.

“I go to the theater and I improvise,” Sterner said. “If I have to play the same film more than once, it will never sound exactly the same.”

“Regeneration” is an early gangster movie set in lower Manhattan that used actual locations and people to depict the gritty reality of immigrant life and organized crime in Walsh’s era. The characters, streetscapes, and violence are all elements Scorsese picked up early on in his career, in films such as “Mean Streets.”

“Under the Influence: Scorsese/Walsh” features 12 films, six from each director. The festival’s curators hope making a connection between the two will expose more people to Walsh’s work.’

“We hope to bring Walsh’s movies to a new audience by pairing them with the work of one of his greatest admirers,” said Nellie Killian, a programmer at BAMcinematek.Sterner, however, is just happy to expose people to silent films in general — no matter who made them.The musician worries that moviegoers are afraid to go see silent films these days, and hopes events like this film series will get people interested.

“Some of the greatest films are silent,” he said. “People should open up their minds and experience the experience.”

“Regeneration” at BAM Rose Cinemas [30 Lafayette Ave. near Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. March 12 at 7:30 pm. $15, $11 seniors and students, $10 cinema club members.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.