UTSA hosts Silent Film Classics with Strings Attached on main campus


Violinist Anton Miller playing his violin during silent film. Benjamin Shirani/The Paisano

Ben Shirani

On Friday night the UTSA Recital Hall, located in the Arts Building, hosted an evening of silent films accompanied by live stringed instrument performances from The Miller-Porfiris Duo.

The event was cleverly titled “Silent Film Classics: With Strings Attached.” The Miller-Porfiris Duo composed of violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris, a married couple, put on a wonderful event. According to Porfiris, the duo started to pair films with their music as a means to promote their albums.

The duo inverted the recital hall: they set up forty chairs on the stage facing out, set up a screen between the chairs and the auditorium seating and stood in the middle of the audience to create an intimate viewing setting.

The duo opened the evening with a brief introductory set. They faced the audience in all black with their sun red and light brown instruments for the overture. The overture climaxed with the pair plucking wildly at their instruments in a southern sounding tune.

The duo moved to the center of the audience for the rest of the event. The first film was a silent classic “Great Train Robbery” and was brought to life by the duo’s performance. They filled the scenes with what they called “hurry music.” The tempo of the music indeed felt hurried.

Silent film music played by The Miller-Portiris Duo.
Silent film music played by The Miller-Portiris Duo.

The set was broad and varied. Their set flowed with the film in big cycles, drawing the audience into the picture. The film itself, with its wildly exaggerated gestures, was hilarious.

The second film, a tragic comedy, featured two apprentices both vying for the hand of a woman in marriage. The set opened with an almost brooding tune. It soared to lofty heights at a charismatic tempo, but never quite reached a pinnacle in either direction, always leaving the listener wanting more. By the end of the film, the duo had paired the music perfectly with the picture so the actors’ movements were in step.

The final film, “Ballet Mecanique,” was by far the most challenging, and the duo prepared an equally challenging set. The intricate fingering and the opening scenes introduced the circle and semicircle as the primary symbols for the viewers consumption. The symbolism quickly escalated into a dizzying assortment of shapes. The film and the music taught the audience about the cyclic nature of production, consumption in their relationship to human happiness.

No silent film viewing would be complete without Charlie Chaplin. The duo brought scenes from the later stage in Chaplin’s career. The duo played quietly, blending the strings with rare recordings of the late Mr. Chaplin’s vocals. The evening ended applause as the duo exited stage right.