The Unknown


"The Unknown" was my first contemporary score for a classic silent film. Commissioned by The American Museum of the Moving Image, it premiered there in 1993, and has subsequently been performed in Boston, Philadelphia, Rome & Hoboken, as well as at The Knitting Factory in New York.
The score was originally performed by Big Trouble, featuring Joe Ruddick, Dave Hofstra, Kevin Norton, Bob DeBellis, Steve Swell and myself; we recorded it for Avant (see Recordings) the next year. For subsequent perfromances I added Allan Chase and Bill Ruyle, and conducted, rather than playing the sax part myself.

On August 6th, 1998, a new arrangement for The Transparent Quartet was premiered at the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival in Prospect Park. It was subsequently performed at The World Financial Center, produced by John Schaefer and WNYC-FM's New Sounds. This arrangement is now available to presenters.
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Don't step on it -- it might be Lon Chaney! ran a popular 1920s gagline. Known as the man of a thousand faces, Chaney was the Robert DeNiro of the silver screen. He would be armless in one film, legless in the next. For THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA he distorted his face into a skull-like mask with the aid of dangerous mechanical contrivances. In THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME his spine was so twisted by a disfiguring hump that filning could only progress when he was able to withstand the pain. Chaney's reputation was made by impersonating twisted minds trapped inside bodies, and in THE UNKNOWN he even gets to play with the disturbing notions that such acting inevitably calls to mind....

THE UNKNOWN is perhaps the most unpleasant of all Chaney's collaborations with director Tod Browning, a man whose intense interests in the grotesque surpassed even Chaney's. The intense focus on the unwholesome relationship of a small group of characters, a Browning specialty, was sometimes diluted by subplots and snappy romances in other MGM productions. THE UNKNOWN, however, burns with an intensity all too rare at that studio. Irving Thalberg must have been out to lunch when this picture went into production.

- Richard Kozarski, Head of Collections and Exhibitions, American Museum of the Moving Image


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