|Review||As the Earth Turns (1938)||Director||Richard H. Lyford|
|Writer||Richard H. Lyford|
|Cast||Barbara Berger, Alan Hoelting, Edwin C. Frost and Richard H. Lyford|
“I’m a scientist, not a butcher” – PAX
Here’s an official outline which appears before the film starts:
In 1937, in Seattle, a twenty-year old budding filmmaker had already created 50 plays and 9 never released, award-winning films, using his own equipment. This director would go on to work for Disney, and eventually create an Academy Award winning documentary in 1950. Richard H. Lyford’s films have developed a following among film-historians around the world. His early “amateur” films are some of the first “indie” films ever created outside of Hollywood. Lyford experimented with special effects and models, and was developing as a director. His final film of this era was “As the Earth Turns”. It was filmed in the Pacific Northwest, around Seattle.
In “As the Earth Turns”, a 45 minute sci-fi film, we find that Europe is at war. An ambitious journalist, Julie (Berger), desperately wants to get her hands on big stories and she complains about her ordeal to fellow colleague Arthur (Hoelting). They go meet the editor and he hands her a potentially worthy assignment when he sends her to a Naval radio station to look for stories as messages are flooding in. A message sent by a person who calls himself PAX grabs her attention; PAX demands peace or else he will increase the length of day by five minutes. He isn’t taken seriously but not only does PAX change time but he also delivers on promises of earthquakes and weather changes. This gets him noticed and the nation’s leaders are afraid.
Julie and Arthur have been doing their own investigation and eventually stumble upon PAX’s headquarters and come face to face with the man who’s willing to destroy great many things in order to achieve peace.
Beforehand I was ready to like “As the Earth Turns” for the simple reason that it was made with passion by a wannabe filmmaker who had only himself, some friends, his own equipment and resources to rely on. That, in itself, is such an accomplishment that what eventually unfolds on screen will be looked at with forgiving eyes.
No such pity is required as the film, no matter how rough-around-the-edges it inevitably is, is a remarkable accomplishment all on it’s own. In terms of storytelling and pacing, visual and practical effects, acting (well mostly), cinematography, writing and directing and overall cinematic entertainment the film gets more than a passing grade. Lyford goes big with effects needed to create drastic weather changes, earthquakes and floods and stages plane and train crashes with admirable results. There’s some very impressive model work on display and the finished product certainly disguises the film’s apparently zero budget. The pacifist message is also quite noteworthy as the world was literally on the brink of war.
The character of PAX is interesting. While he’s kind of a madman he’s not played as a caricature and director Lyford portrays him remarkably well. This is a silent film so facial expressions and dramatic gestures count for a lot and Lyford really creates a sympathetic character who makes an impression. His backstory is well done and rounds out well his, ultimately destructive, quest for peace.
The musical score for the film was done by composer Ed Hartman who is also the restoration producer for “As the Earth Turns”. The score beautifully compliments the film and simultaneously sounds modern and retro – if that makes any sense.
Q&A with Ed Hartman
I was curious to know more about the film’s composer and the recently unearthed director Lyford. So I asked Mr. Hartman if he could answer a few questions about the film, the director, himself and much more and he was up for it.
How did you become involved with “As the Earth Turns” and ultimately becoming the film’s composer?
How I got the project is as wild as the film itself. In 2013, there was a discussion on Classic Horror Film Board (https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/two-1930s-amateur-monster-movies-from-monster-cras-t51463.html). On a DVD released called Monsters Crash the Pajama Party by Something Weird Video, some film historians and industry people began to research a few mysterious, uncredited scenes in the video. They figured out that the director was Richard H. Lyford (1917-1985). A few years later, they were able to contact the great niece of the director, Kim Lyford Bishop. Working with the son of Richard Lyford, she began to digitize the 16mm and 35mm films of the director for safe keeping.
Flash to 2017. I teach percussion in Seattle. I had taught a student years ago. His mom was Kim, and later she, herself, began to take private lessons from me. I had mentioned that I also score films. I played her a video of a Buster Keaton scene I had a track under for a demo (https://youtu.be/osBEEpcCVHU). She asked if I could score one of the films. It was “As the Earth Turns”. It took me about a month to score. I became increasingly involved in the project. I even found some missing scenes, that were key, and helped edit the film. We mixed the music track professionally and it came out very well. Together we started to promote the films to festivals, and it became very successful. I became a producer and over the next year and a half the film was in 121 festivals. We even did a 7-day LA Theatrical run and entered it into the Oscars in 2019 (to get more eyes on it). In 2020, I took over the LLC and film-estate, itself.
Scoring a silent film is actually one of the great joys of a film-composer. Usually composers have to dodge dialogue and stay out of the way. In a silent film the music is the entire soundscape. It acts as an emotional backdrop, creates suspense, drama, romance, etc. It has to completely carry the film. (Watch a silent film without any music and you will see what I mean.) Also, a silent film, really can’t have much silence in it. Most films have a pretty large portion of the film without any music. Other sounds and dialogue carry the film. If the music stops on a silent film, everything stops, and it can be very uncomfortable. With digital, you don’t even have the noise of the projector, or hiss on the soundtrack to let you know the film is running correctly. This 45 minute film has 45 minutes of music, too!
I found out halfway through scoring that Lyford had experimented with music and sound for his early 16mm films. That’s something that no-one had done. Keep in mind, “As the Earth Turns” was his ninth film, and he was 20 years old! Not having a director to work with is very freeing, but also terrifying. You really don’t know if you are carrying out the director’s vision or not. I did find out through the family that my music choices (period classical and jazz) were very close to his original ideas for music. He had designed a dual-turntable system, synced with a cable to a 16mm projector. He was a DJ in the 1930s! He spun records with music and even attempted some dialogue on the discs (lost, I am afraid!). The sound FX he used was usually live Foley, like in radio (coconut shells for horses, etc.). Lyford had constructed a theatre in his family’s basement, and it had 50 theatre seats! In the end, I am very satisfied with my score. It is released and available online.
Thank you. I am very inspired by the history of film composers. In this film I feel classical music from baroque to romantic influences the style. Themes were created for characters and scenes. That would be something Hector Berlioz and John Williams mastered. Finally, there are some very serious tributes to Bernard Herrmann, who worked with Hitchcock, including some big organ-sounds. I didn’t want to add real sound FX. All of the sound FX are musically accomplished with instruments, especially percussion, by syncing the score very carefully to the action. It can be very challenging. Modern technology makes it possible. I am not sure I could have done this score, even a few years earlier.
The reception has been extraordinary. The film has received 135 awards/nominations, including 34 for best score! I have been to a number of festivals, including a tremendous reception at the Seattle International Film Festival, and just about everyone has loved the film. It is an amazing film for filmmakers to see and can really inspire you. Lyford did all of this early on. He had zero budget, using his friends and family. Many were in High School! He even developed his own film!
When I was young, I got into Super 8 filmmaking (still have the cameras!). Had I not gone to music school in the Midwest I would have absolutely gone to California and studied filmmaking. In the 1970s that would have been a golden era, too! This project got me heavily involved in learning about Richard Lyford. I’ve done a number of interviews (including some in the Mideast where he worked later in life) and a lot of research. I have a short documentary in-progress right now and I am writing a screenplay for a biopic about him. I am hoping to assemble a team and create a film about his early years in Seattle where he made these “amateur” films.
Lyford was a true “indie filmmaker” before there was such thing. In “As the Earth Turns’ he even broke into Seattle’s Gasworks to film scenes. They really are running away from guards, too! My tagline for the biopic is “Orson Welles meets Andy Hardy.” Lyford was nearly identical in age with Welles. Both had early success. Both had their own acting companies to draw from.
The real question is why we don’t know about Richard Lyford? It is a compelling story, and I believe it will be a wonderful film to create. Having the film estate makes it a lot easier to put together as well. I hope to make it in Seattle where it happened. Assuming the pandemic subsides, this could be a tremendous financial help to the filmmaking community as well, using an inspirational story of a filmmaker as the story.
Yes, I do believe Lyford could have had a different outcome. You can blame WWII (he was drafted when he was working for Disney, doing Fantasia, Dumbo and Pinocchio.). By the time he got back, he had changed and Hollywood had moved on. Lyford was also an original and loved to run his own show. In the end I do consider his life very successful though. He made some remarkable films later, including some documentary shorts in the Mideast. One was about the Tsetse Fly and disease. That film was shown with portable projectors in the desert. No-one had ever seen films there, at all. They were so enchanted that they watched these films over and over. That film probably saved thousands of lives.
Lyford was never financially successful. He always recycled his money into his next project. His legacy as someone who influenced society was profound. He did manage to direct an Academy-Award-winning documentary about Michaelangelo, in 1950, as well. I do believe, with different circumstances, he would be known today as a major director. I can only imagine what narrative films he would have created. I do know through interviews that he would have loved to make “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Lyford did write articles for “American Cinematographer” documenting his early filmmaking experiences. He was a teacher, and is teaching me, to this day.
One of the short scenes that started all of this, from the video I mention above, was a mummy film called “Ritual of the Dead”, that he did in his teens. His early films won some amateur awards and that probably got Disney interested in him. I am seriously on the hunt for more of his early films. I do have a list, but sadly only have “As the Earth Turns” and two of the scenes that were in the video, that I got the original footage from the company that made the video. They had no idea about Lyford, themselves. I can tell by the titles that most were horror.
Horror, to this day, seems to be something that draws early filmmakers. Lyford became very good at make-up and special effects. In “The Scalpel”, Lyford plays a character that goes through a “Jekyll and Hyde” type transition. I do know that that effect took six-hours to film! He loved explosions and miniatures. You see those in “As the Earth Turns”. One film that I would love to have was a film he made right before “As the Earth Turns”. Lyford was going to submit that film to a film competition but knew it wouldn’t get done in time. He managed to create “In Search of Adventure” in around 1937, and played 5 of 6 parts, directing, editing, etc. All of this was done in 48 hours and that includes developing the film! This may have been the original “48-film challenge!” You can see why I want to make a biopic of him. Some of the titles I am looking for are “The Phantom of Terror”, “The Goddess of Mars”, and “The Mystery of Huxley Inn” – that film has a similar transition to Scalpel.
The film is now in distribution (on Amazon, etc.), and will be on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the fall of 2020. I am working on a DVD with extras, including the two film scenes that started this project, with new scores and my mini-doc as well. There is a newly found scene from “As the Earth Turns” that will fascinate anyone that has seen the movie (It was too late and I am still not sure Lyford wanted it in the film). I am hosting screenings (online for now) for film-schools, retirement homes, silent-film organizations, film collectors’ groups and any other groups interested. The pandemic has actually made this a little easier. I can show the film and then do Q&A via Zoom. In the future I hope to personally show the film on the road along with other assets. This film on a large screen with good sound is an entirely different experience!
Many of his other films were for other companies, so I don’t own them. I am working with other owners to at least have access to the films (I do have scans of many of them). A lot of his work was commercial films, although they are all very interesting as well. I have a wonderful colour film Lyford did for the African Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. I believe it is the only existing copy. He did do a lot for Disney, including some “Magical World of Disney” films about animals in the 1960s and 70s that were very popular. His Mideast work was for another company and I have just made good contacts with them and am waiting for final footage and licensing for my doc. That took two years to figure out! You have to be a serious detective to do this kind of work.
My blog mostly covers cult films which veer pretty much into horror territory. Have you ever scored a horror film? Are there any different set of rules a composer adheres to when horror is concerned?
I have done a number of horror films. It seems to be a favourite genre of indie filmmakers. A really interesting film that has done very well is “The Son, The Father” by Lukas Hassel (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6860566/), a tremendous filmmaker and actor. My music was pretty sparse, but the film is a classic and has won many awards. Horror can have just about any kind of music in it but tends to nowadays be more electronic. For me, it is generally easier, that full-orchestral music. I tend to over-score a film, and let the director get rid of the excess. I figure it like shooting extra scenes, that you don’t use.
Scoring any film is an exercise in patience and communications with the director. I’ve scored the same scene a dozen times before the director approved of it. You have to have a very strong “mental-armour” and realize the music has to service the film. You can write an incredible score but that doesn’t make it right for the film. In the end only the audience truly decides if the music is successful. Many of the best scores are the ones you can’t remember. The music disappears in the soundscape. All you know is that your emotions have been toyed with. For all of the major themes that John Williams has created for “Star Wars” there’s a huge amount of additional music that you can’t identity, yet it is essential to the entire film experience.
Silence is golden in horror, too. Nothing matches it. It’s what happens before and after is what sets up the suspense and pay-out! For me the best horror has always been psychological. My favourite horror film is the 1960’s version of “The Haunting”. That has a hell of a score, too!
PS: Speaking of horror, I write tracks that get placed in film and TV (not necessarily the score). I just got a 1950s Muzak-style track in Twilight Zone Season 2 Episode 10* available now (Released 6/24/20), on CBS All-Access about 7 1/2 minutes in. Watch for the “Immolation Station” scene. The video below is something I created at the beginning of the pandemic for folks watching films at home. It’s a theatrical short, a la “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” in a theatre! Watch the video, and then watch the Twilight Zone to see the usage. As I said, horror needs ALL kinds of music!
Track: The Springs in Your Step
Sadly, no. But I assume I would be asked “If heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”
My answer would be, where is Richard Lyford?
Many thanks to Ed Hartman for taking the time for this Q&A.