Aporias of Film Restoration


The notion of “film restoration” raises considerable problems for research into silent film music. Handwritten scores with the orchestration intended by their authors are rare; in cases where piano scores have been preserved, these were often produced in a different context and for a completely different purpose. In contrast, a large repertoire of mood music pieces has come down to us from the silent film era, which according to their nature, however, could either precede a “musical illustration” or descend from it a posteriori.

Musical documents of such varied nature, which could represent completely different moments in the compositional process, raise notable problems of interpretation when they are assumed as the starting point for a “film-music restoration”. In contrast to an alleged authenticity, emphatically proclaimed for mostly commercial reasons, it will be noted that even the most historically accurate procedures of film-music reconstruction often require arbitrary interventions in the musical documents, which imply different assumptions regarding the ontological status of the score and the film, as well as their respective authorships.

It is surprising to find a similar level of arbitrariness even in the most celebrated exemplar of a film-music restoration of the last years: Frank Strobel’s reconstruction of Huppertz’ score for the film Metropolis. Despite all declared claims for philological completeness and historical truthfulness, the reconstruction of this silent film score proves rather to be a process of translation and adaptation. The final result of such a procedure is not only historically new and indirectly derivable from the state of the sources, but also completely rooted in the aesthetic expectations of the present era.

Francesco Finocchiaro, Aporias of Film Restoration: The Musical Documents of the Silent Era between Film Philology and Market Strategies, «Acta Musicologica», XCII/2, 2020, pp. 180-199.