What is so delicate that even saying its name will break it? Silence. And on February 29th the silence will be obliterated by Seattle Rock Orchestra’s performance of a new score to an old classic. Wave your lighters in the air and thank Stewart Copeland for bringing the noise.
A former drummer for The Police, Copeland pivoted his musical career in 1982 when he began composing for film. In addition to the numerous film scores he’s now got under his belt, he has also composed for videogames, ballets, and operas and even took on film editing. He’s further honed those editing chops by condensing the very old, very damaged reel of Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ from 143 minutes to a family-friendly 90 minutes. He was then able to score the film and take it on tour. The chariot awaits you on the big-screen as Seattle Rock Orchestra performs the score live with Copeland himself keeping the beat on drums.
Ben-Hur is the most expensive silent film ever made and the iconic chariot race scene has inspired numerous copy-cats, including the pod race in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. It’s the story of Ben-Hur, who is the childhood friend of a powerful Tribune who later betrays him and his family. As a slave, he meets a certain carpenter’s son (Hi, Jesus!) who offers him kindness and… well, I can’t give away the ending.
Ben-Hur will be closing out the Silent Movie Mondays “Silent Treasure Series” at The Paramount Theatre on Monday, February 29th at 7pm. Tickets are $25. There will be a post-movie VIP Q&A with Copeland at the theatre.
Rachele Hales: I understand that you got to enter the Warner Brothers cold-storage vault to fish out a very damaged “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ.” Can you describe what it was like being inside that vault?
Stewart Copeland: Well I never actually went into the vault. We just had to wait for over a week for it to defrost. I now regret not personally attending the telecine either. It would have been spiritually uplifting to handle the actual celluloid.
RH: Can you talk about some of the unique challenges with the “Ben-Hur” project?
SC: The opportunities outweighed the challenges by far. The silence allowed complete freedom to drive it all with music. No dialogue or sound effects to dodge! The operatic acting style and the enormous scale of the images gave license to set the orchestra to full rage. Figuring out how to tell the tale in ninety minutes did take some careful consideration and cleaning up the dust and scratches, repairing damaged frames, sorting out the varying frames per second (which depended on who was cranking the camera that day) and refining the color (technically b&w but they used color washes) all could be described as work but it sure was fun!
RH: You jumped into solo film scoring while still with The Police. Was it a nice break from the thrill of being in a rock band or was it a different kind of thrill for you? What was the impetus for the new musical focus?
SC: It was a nice break from the miseries that we inflicted upon one another in the band! Although the humble film composer is a mere craftsman in the service of the director’s art it was liberating to only answer to a non-musician. It meant that I could be the non-negotiating god of music in the studio and be judged at the end rather than during the process.
RH: You’ve collaborated with many other musicians, including Tom Waits, Snoop Dogg, and Adam Ant. What have you learned from those artists and have those collaborations influenced your solo work at all?
SC: Oh yes, I try to learn from everyone and everything. From Tom Waits how to look in a different direction from the obvious, from Snoop how to give everything a try, and from Adam, um, I never did quite get his knack for coolness.
RH: What would the soundtrack of your own life include?
SC: Jimi Hendrix, Stravinsky and Ravel would cover most of it although you might need some Wagner in some spots and Donald Duck in others.
RH: You’ve composed operas, ballets, film and television scores and, of course, been a mega rock idol. What is next for you?
SC: Stay tuned. I’ve got a whole ‘nuther deal coming up…(hint)…if the network buys it.