SON OF THE SHEIK
Release Date: 1926
by George Heymont, San Francisco-based Arts Critic
Whenever it seems as if the world is about to crumble like a cookie (or be transformed into a pile of ash), it helps to embrace wretched excess. Like a religious deathbed conversion, wretched excess may be the antithesis of everything a person stood for in his sane, tightly disciplined life. But there comes a time when giving in is a better option than merely giving up.
Valentino's lithe and athletic stunt work as an equestrian is a pleasant surprise (many people forget that he worked in San Francisco as a ballroom dancer/escort for several years).
Vilma Banky's dancing ranges from campily seductive moves to some pretty fancy footwork.
The costumes for the two romantic leads are gloriously designed and an absolute joy to behold.
But while Valentino and Banky were impressive stars during the silent era, this restored print (completed by Ken Winokur and Jane Gillooly's distribution company, Box 5), adds another star to the legacy of The Son of the Sheik -- a brand new score composed and performed by the Alloy Orchestra.
Music was -- and always will be -- a key component of silent film. A great score (or performance by talented accompanying musicians) can bring an audience to its feet with a standing ovation. Poorly-matched musical choices from what's available for free (most likely because the music has entered the public domain), can sap the life and blood of a silent film experience.
Those who have attended Roger Ebert’s Film Festival in the past are familiar with the delights that emanate from the Alloy Orchestra's instruments. Starting with their first collaboration in 1991 (a new score for Metropolis), they have since composed scores for 25 silent classics ranging from He Who Gets Slapped, The General, and The Phantom of the Opera to The Black Pirate, The Lost World, and Nosferatu.
The trio, which consists of Terry Donahue on junk percussion, musical saw, and accordion; Ken Winokur on percussion and clarinet; and Roger C. Miller on keyboard, describes its work as:
".... a three-man musical ensemble, writing and performing live accompaniment to classic silent films. Working with an outrageous assemblage of peculiar objects, they thrash and grind soulful music from unlikely sources. An unusual combination of found percussion and state-of-the-art electronics gives the Orchestra the ability to create any sound imaginable. Utilizing their famous 'rack of junk' and electronic synthesizers, the group generates beautiful music in a spectacular variety of styles. They can conjure up a French symphony or a simple German bar band of the 1920s. The group can make the audience think it is being attacked by tigers, contacted by radio signals from Mars, or swept up in the Russian Revolution."
The thrilling key to their new score for The Son of the Sheik is a heavy percussive element, whose desert drums cover everything from the pounding hooves of Arabian steeds (although the film was shot in Yuma County, Arizona) to the passionate pumping of blood through a handsome young stud's heart.
Hearing their new score for The Son of the Sheik could completely transform your feelings about silent film. The following three clips offer appetizers of how Allow Orchestra's new score sounds:
Cast & Credits
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Rudolph Valentino - Ahmed (The Son)/The Sheik (Ahmed's Father)
Vilma Banky - Yasmin
George Fawcett - Andre
Montagu Love - Ghabah
Karl Dane - Ramadan
Bull Montana - Ali the Mountebank
Bynunsky Hyman - Pincher the Mountebank
Agnes Ayres - Diana, The Sheik's Wife/Ahmed's Mother