New Music Makes Silent Movies Sing

Michael Zahs with a film reel in a still from “Saving Brinton,” the documentary about his discovery. Photo courtesy of  Barn Owl Pictures.

Writer: Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

A few years ago, Michael Zahs, the beloved history teacher and legendary pack rat from Washington, Iowa, flew to film festivals all over the world to help promote “Saving Brinton,” a documentary about a box of century-old film reels he’d discovered in a farmhouse basement.

These days, he’s touring closer to home for a spinoff project. Zahs is narrating “Brinton Surprise,” a multimedia concert series that Red Cedar Chamber Music is touring through May 15 throughout eastern Iowa (with a May 7 stop farther west in Winterset). It’s the third program the Marion-based group has developed around the Brinton Collection, with a new batch of world premieres.

Performed live with silent movies and magic lantern slides, the music for violin, cello, flute and guitar pays homage to movie pioneers like the Lumiere Brothers, Thomas Edison and the barnstorming impresario Frank Brinton, who screened moving pictures in theaters and tents across the Midwest in the 1890s and early 1900s. So it’s fitting the new concert tour started last week at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival. Surely Brinton was there in spirit.


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