Silent Movie Mondays, returning to the Paramount Theatre this month, includes a new score to the 1925 film “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” by Police drummer Stewart Copeland.
The luster had gone missing from a classic work of art. What to do? What to do?
Call The Police.
Or, specifically in the case of the silent-movie epic “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” call Stewart Copeland, one-third of the rock band The Police.
Silent Movie Mondays: “Silent Treasure Series”
Where: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle.
Films: “The Gold Rush,” Feb. 8; “The Big Parade,” Feb. 15; “Lime Kiln Club Field Day,” Feb. 22; “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” Feb. 29.
Tickets: $10 general admission, with the exception of “Ben-Hur,” which is $25 general admission and $65 VIP. A four-film package to all screenings is $89, available at 877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org.
It was Copeland, co-founder and drummer of the now-disbanded megagroup, who tracked the celluloid print of the 1925 sword-and-sandals spectacular to a cold-storage vault on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. “It took 10 days to defrost,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Then he sat down in an editing room and cleaned up the images using digital technology. “There were many frames that were either missing or had insects pasted onto them,” he said. In one instance, he found a mosquito corpse. “You could see wings and a thorax and a cute little antenna.”
Next, Copeland edited the two-hour, 23-minute monster down to a relatively svelte 90 minutes.
Finally, he composed a score for the picture. And then he took it on the road.
On Feb. 29, the 63-year-old Copeland will bring it to Seattle.
As “Ben-Hur” unspools on the giant screen at the Paramount Theatre, he will perform the score — playing drums — with the 50-member Seattle Rock Orchestra as the concluding segment of Silent Movie Mondays’ “Silent Treasures Series” mounted by Seattle Theatre Group.
The series kicks off on Feb. 8 with a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” and continues on Feb. 15 with a showing of director King Vidor’s 1925 World War I drama “The Big Parade.” On Feb. 22, “Lime Kiln Club Field Day,” made in 1913 and believed to be the oldest surviving feature film featuring African-American actors, will be presented.
“The Big Parade” and “Lime Kiln Club Field Day” will be accompanied by musicians playing the Paramount’s historic Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. A recorded soundtrack will play behind “The Gold Rush.” Only “Ben-Hur” will get the full, live-in-theater symphonic treatment, and that’s thanks to Copeland’s deep involvement with the revival of the picture.
A rocker like Copeland would seem to be an unusual candidate for film-composing duties, let alone film editing work. But not really.
He estimates that in the last 20 years he’s written scores for some 40 to 50 movies (“Rumble Fish” and “Wall Street” among them), TV series (including “The Equalizer”) and video games — not to mention countless commercials.
As for film editing, he put together “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out,” an up-close-and-personal documentary about his band. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. “That’s where I got a lot of my cutting chops,” he said.
Copeland caught the film-composer bug while he was still with The Police. “Francis Ford Coppola got me into it,” he said. “He called me up one day and said, ‘Hey, come on down. I’m shooting a movie called ‘Rumble Fish.’ And once I got a sniff of that he couldn’t get rid of me.”
That was in 1982. Two years later, with in-group dissension at a boiling point, The Police stopped touring. Copeland and bandmates Sting and guitarist Andy Summers went their separate ways to pursue individual projects. (They reunited for a reunion tour in 2007.)
In the years since the breakup, Copeland also composed operas and ballets, including “Noah’s Ark/Solcheeka,” commissioned by the Seattle Symphony. He’s also performed with other musicians, Peter Gabriel and Tom Waits among them.
But film scoring holds a special place in his heart. Copeland said composing for movies was a liberating break from rock-god superstardom. “I came directly from a Police recording” to Coppola and the “Rumble Fish” job, he said. By that point, Police work “was hell. It was absolute murder. We tortured each other. We looked for ways we could hurt each other every which way.”
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At the height of its fame, The Police was “a big monster, that even the three of us are just cogs in the machine,” Copeland said. Still, it wasn’t all hell all the time.
“A stadium show with a big rock band is a particular beast,” he said. There’s nothing in the world that gives you that kind of thrill … that is hard to shrug off.”
Scoring a picture couldn’t be more different.
“It’s much more personal,” he said. When composing and performing a soundtrack, he’s a “complete master of music … no judgment, no negotiations.”
“Freedom!” he said, practically singing the word.
Copeland’s connection to “Ben-Hur” predates his work on the film. He was hired to write a score for and narrate a 2009 arena show based on the 1880 Lew Wallace novel “Ben-Hur,” which spawned not only the 1925 silent picture but also the better-known 1959 movie starring Charlton Heston. The arena show was “a big, live production with hundreds of unpaid Ukrainian extras,” he said. “It involved a lot of hollering and sword-waving.”
That was the beginning of the mission — a mission that led Copeland to the 1925 film, exhuming the print from the vault, trimming it to a manageable 90 minutes and getting permission from Warner Bros. to score it. The whole process took about two years. Then he took it on the road.
How long can he see himself touring with the movie?
“Until they take these sticks from my dead hands!” he said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of fun.”