Movie theaters in Las Vegas may be state of the art. But tonight in Henderson, technology retreats 100 years when the Henderson Symphony Orchestra performs the orchestration to a screening of Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights."
Ranked 11th on the American Film Institute's 2007 list of the greatest movies of all time, this 1931 romantic comedy follows Chaplin's Little Tramp character as he courts a woman who is out of his economic league -- but who is blind so she doesn't realize it.
"It's touching, it's simple, but it's very profound," says the orchestra's conductor, Taras Krysa, who recommended the film because he previously performed it with the St. Louis Symphony.
"City Lights" is mostly, but not completely, silent. (Title cards provide the dialogue, but there is a soundtrack with some sound effects, which will be reproduced by the orchestra instead of piped through loudspeakers.)
Nevertheless, by 1931, talkies were the norm, so Chaplin's choice was an artistic statement -- if not a political one against the blind embrace of technology.
"It was actually considered at the time to be almost outlandish for somebody to do a silent film," says Bud Pico, programs manager for City of Henderson.
Just as interesting as the film is its music, composed by one of the most underrated composers in the history of cinema: Charlie Chaplin. Unbeknownst to more casual Chaplinites, he wrote or co-wrote the scores and songs for many of the films he also wrote, directed and starred in. ("Smile," which gave Nat King Cole a 1954 hit, was composed by Chaplin for his 1936 film, "Modern Times.)
"It's quite remarkable because he was an untrained musician," Krysa says. "But he had a very good ear, and he could pick up things easily, and he knew exactly how music was supposed to go."
The orchestra will perform the score with 40-45 musicians. (As far as several historians we consulted could tell, the only other time a silent film was fully orchestrated live in Las Vegas was during a 2000 CineVegas screening of the 1922 film "Nosferatu" that featured the Las Vegas Philharmonic.)
Pretty much all aspects of this production are more difficult than they seem. The special projector had to come from Hollywood and the print from Paris (where the Chaplin estate, which holds the prints tightly, is headquartered).
Then there's the challenge of synching the sound. Only Krysa's eyes will be on the screen; the orchestra's eyes will be on him.
"I have to make sure the orchestra is exactly with what's happening on the screen," the maestro says, noting that the symphony could make time for just four rehearsals.
"It's not like in opera where a singer can wait," Krysa says. "It's a movie. Charlie Chaplin is not gonna wait for us."
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.