Oct. 18, 2015-Turner Classic Movies airs a different music for 2nd showing of Houdini's "The Grim Game" than Rick Schmidlin's repetitive music for Houdini's finest movie.


Critics and experts most common critique of the restoration as supervised by Rick Schmidlin was that the music was repetitive.

Richard Kirkham A Movie A Day"It is done in the style of the times and it had a old fashioned tinny sound to many passages. It is certainly an authentic representation of music at the time but it seemed a bit repetitive to me and although it was well played and synced to the story, there were passages that seemed ill used and some dead spots during the film."

Sheri Linden a Los Angeles-based film critic. "Brane Zivkovic's apt if sometimes overly repetitive score, performed by a quartet of violin, cello, piano and an alluringly throaty clarinet, captures something essential about Houdini in its shifts between Old World flavor, lightheartedness and a mournful strain - and in the way it doesn't fear silence."

John Cox at Wild About Houdini said:"Make no mistake, his music is beautiful, and it works incredibly well in places. But this is Zivkovic's first score for a movie, a specialized skill, and he makes a few unconventional choices for a silent film, such as occasionally using no music at all, by the end of the film, his four compositions were starting to feel repetitive. I'm hoping TCM allows a little more work on the score-perhaps having Zivkovic compose a few new pieces and bringing in a music editor - before the movie hits the TCM channel... It will be interesting to see if they do a little more work on the score."

Anne M. Hockens Review of Houdini events-Turner Classic Movies Festival; "The Grim Game is presented by two magicians-The female Houdini-escape artist Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz who founded the Houdini Museum. Dietrich performed an impressive straitjacket escape in less than four minutes. * Impressive and fun-conductor and composer Brane Zivkovic's score for Grim was a disappointment, full of repetitions and awkward silences."

Since the restoration, the film has had several showings and for whatever reasons they decided to have their own live piano accompaniment instead of the score Rick Schmidlin provided. A few examples follows;
Sun. July 19, Composer/Pianist Reuel Meditz accompanied the film with his original score at the historic Paramount Theater, Austin, TX.
Sept. 16 Northbrook Public Library in Northbrook, IL, It was screened twice with live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin.
Oct. 11, 2015 Performed with live piano accompaniment by Neil Brand at Barbican Cinema 1 in London.
Dec. 5 Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin at Castro Theater at The San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Most telling is Turner Classic Movies themselves having silent movie pianist Steve Sterner add a new score to the 2nd of the screenings on Oct. 18. They're also using the music for trailers and clips of the film. It is not a score in the classic sense as according to Sterner much of it was ad libbed, and included tidbits from other of his works as well.

Steve Sterner "Piano Man of a Silent Screen" "one of the last remaining silent-film accompanists" The New York Times 2013
Steve Sterner Pianist Composer The Grim Game
The new piano work created at the direction of Turner Classic Movies ( TCM ) that will substitute for the score made under the supervision of Rick Schmidlin will not be a new score in the full sense of the word. According to Steve Sterner he created four unique new themes for the movie. In August he recorded the music for the 71 minute movie changing it as he went along, improvising and changing tone, keys, speed and mood as he went along and added bits and pieces from other works of his as well. He felt this kept it from being repetitive, which was the main critique of the music as supervised by Rick Schmidlin. None of the themes are any more than about 10 to 32 bars so it is not a score. Steve, being an accomplished silent film accompanist was able to weave these throughout as the film moves along.

We feel if Rick would have brought us in on this as it moved along, this problem would have been avoided. His decision to use Brane Zivkovic, his friend and an NYU professor who had given Rick work in the past to lecture at NYU to write the score was never run by us. We were not brought in as the new score was developed. When we were invited to see the results we directly told both Rick Schmidlin and Brane Zivkovic in the presence of others from NYU and Houdini expert and close friend of Larry Weeks, Fred Pittella, that although the music was very good, we felt it was repetitive. We thought it should be more varied and several more themes added. We told them we felt this would be noticed by others when the film came out. This was the only time we had input as to the music. After earlier scenes, the music is no longer directly tied to the action. Even at that late date this could have been addressed by varying the pace and the tone of the music as the movie progressed. Our advice was passed by. Brane's music is beautiful and elegant in places. The problem is he stopped syncing and varying it to the action early on. As it turns out this would be easy for a solo pianist. Adding to Brane's score would have been a bigger task, but that's what Rick Schmidlin should have overseen in our opinion. Brane clearly has the talent to do this. In our opinion, it was the producers job to recognize this and give Brane whatever was needed. More advice, time or money, etc. In watching the movie, where Brane did this, it was wonderful. Like the first time the kitchen bell tinkles. The next time it is passed by. Later toward the end in the plane crash scenes the music syncs to the movie again to great success. Some of our other input was used, such as to make the caption cards darker and the slowing down some of the chase scenes.

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Main Theme All Music Copyright 2015 Steve Sterner. All Rights Reserved

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Main Theme

Though Brane did an inspiring job, others could have been considered as well, since in 2000, TCM started the annual Young Composers Film Competition. It offers the winner the chance to score a restored, feature-length silent film as a grand prize, mentored by a well-known composer, and premiering on the network.

TCM is at the forefront worldwide in encouraging composers to write for silent films. A quick search finds several composers who have a good track record composing for silent films and who have worked with TCM and others.
Vivek Maddala, "a soundtrack composer based in W. LA, has a soft spot for silent films. "His talents have been recognized by one of the country's leading champions of the form, Turner Classic Movies."
"Maria Newman, has scored many classic silent films, as a result of the composer's association with the Mary Pickford Foundation, Timeline Films, Milestone Films, A&F Productions, the Library of Moving Images and Turner Classic Movies.""
"Carl Davis who is best known for creating music to accompany silent films including Turner Classic Movies."
"Ben Model is one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists, and has been a resident film pianist at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since 1984. He accompanies silent films on piano and theatre organ regularly at MoMA, the Library of Congress, the Silent Clowns Film Series (in NYC), and at many theatres and schools around the country. His recorded scores can be heard on numerous releases from Kino Lorber and on Turner Classic Movies (TCM)."
"Donald Sosin conducts Master Classes at the International Silent Film Festival held every year in Oct. in Italy. He performs internationally at major film festivals in America, Europe and China. Sosin is the resident pianist for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Museum of Moving Image, and frequently accompanies silent films at other repertory houses and archives. He has also premiered his orchestral scores on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) ."
"Garth Neustandter was on TCM's radar screen" after TCM's 2007 Young Film Composers Competition.

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Love Theme

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Love Theme

We trusted Rick Schmidlin to work closely with us on this restoration, as he promised during our early negiotions. He acquired the movie around May. After five months passed, we were finally invited on September 30 to see a digitized screening in New York. Many of the decisions had been made. Getting a new score was a surprise to us. We assumed it was for copyright purposes. Additionally, both times we went to NY for screenings we brought with us the rare Grim Game Press Book, as we acquired it, with a wealth of knowledge about the film. It has suggested music cues. He did not want to look at it. We felt it was surprising a movie restoration expert would refuse to look at an original press book for a film. Before Rick Schmidlin even knew Larry Week's name or the location of The Grim Game we told him of the pressbook, its importance, and to search our site for Grim Game info, which also had the music info. The press book is known by Houdini historians to have music suggestion in it from 1919. A search on google would have found references to music cues for the movie. It seems neither Rick or his crew of workers ever searched google for information about Grim Game music. Rick refused to look at the press book at the only 2 meetings we were invited to and dismissed it by saying "bring it to Hollywood". Little did we know at the time, that he would not see to it, as promised, that we would be brought to Hollywood, which was an integral part of our initial agreement.

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Villian Theme

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Villian Theme

The Grim Game was our project from the start. This was one of the most sought after Houdini items - the Holy Grail of Houdini history. Before we confided in Rick, we had every intention of buying the film from Larry Weeks and getting it restored on our own. Without us there would be no project as neither Rick Schmidlin nor Turner Classic Movies had ever heard of Larry Weeks or knew of the existence of The Grim Game. When we confided with Rick about it, he suggested to get Turner involved. When we worked on setting up a meeting between Rick and Larry Weeks in April-May of 2014, we asked to go along. Larry Weeks trusted us with his life and said he wanted us to come along and introduce Rick. Larry was 95 and was afraid to have a stranger come to his apartment. Rick insisted on total control and said that he would only work on the deal if he went by himself. Early May Rick told us, TCM wants to me to inspect the film with Larry so I should go by myself first. We felt it was an odd directive and it took two weeks to convince Larry to see Rick alone as he feared for his safety. Larry trusted us with his life, which is why he agreed to see a total stranger, on our word. Once we connected Rick to Larry, he took complete control and how it would proceed. When the deal was finalized Rick gave us his word, as he had several times prior, that when Turner got the movie for our part we would go to Hollywood for the Turner Classic Movie Festival in March of 2015. Right after Rick got the film neither Rick nor any of the New York people Rick had working on the film contacted us for input. When we called Rick we got no answer and no return calls or emails, or he quickly cut us off. For all the early 5 months Rick did not invite us to any screenings, meetings, music discussions, or even call or email us for any help. We informed Rick we were available anytime, on a moments notice, to go to New York. They all had the movie. Rick wouldn't give us a copy of the film to work on. We even suggested putting a time code on it or a logo on each frame to protect its integrity for TCM but this was refused. In the entire five months it was in nearby New York we were never called in. Once Rick got the film, he took total control and dropped us out of the loop until the very end.

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Servant Theme

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Servant Theme

Here is what then happened as this all came to a conclusion. Friend Larry Weeks died on October 13, 2014, never to see the restoration, or hear of the outcome. We have heard, when he died, his apartment was ransacked. Then in January 2015, when the purchase of the movie was announced in a press release by Turner to the world, we asked about how we were being set up to go to Hollywood as promised and on January 26, 2015, Rick told us They will provide full festival passes but have no budget for travel and performance.

We asked Rick to use his influence and work it all out as had been promised us. Two months passed and in desperation we wrote, on March 02, 2015;
"Rick; March has arrived, and we have had no word from you, or TCM. Being eternal optimists we had hoped we would hear from you, or TCM on arrangements for attending the TCM festival. No event tickets have arrived. We have no word of arrangements for our going to LA as promised to us. That was repeatedly assured by you when we negotiated with Larry Weeks to meet with you regarding The Grim Game. This project wouldn't have happened without us. You know that. Now what? When we first told you about the lost Houdini film, you got very excited. You had no idea that it existed. How many times in your life has this kind of opportunity come up. We first figured that we would buy the Grim Game from Larry and have it restored eventually. There was no urgency on our part to get it done quickly. Our only priority was to get the film before it's too late. We felt we could trust your advice on how to proceed. You touted Turner Classic Movies because they treat everyone right. You told us for our part that TCM would bring us as their guest to LA for the premier at the TCM Classic Film Festival, that they would put us up in Hollywood. That was not a maybe, you said that's what Turner promised. We never questioned your integrity. We took you at your word. Needless to say, we are quite dismayed and disappointed that promises and assurances repeatedly made by you and in the name of TCM have not come through. It seems once you got everything you wanted, that would not have happened without us, that we are being left behind to hang in the wind. We are hoping that this is not how you are going to end this. That you will make this right the way you had said many times. Our main concern was that we would be given the respect due us for our part in making The Grim Game available as was promised and assured to us by you."

He responded that he had previously told us on January 26, 2015 TCM have no budget for travel and performance

Upon receiving this rejection from Rick at such a late date we instantly contacted the higher ups directly and within minutes, we got an email from TCM Mar 2 from that made it clear to us, they did have a budget, and that Rick had not really worked on geting us to Hollywood. It turned out TCM directly brought us out, rewarded us handsomely with top notch travel, expenses, and a stay at Hollywood's best hotel. They even booked Dorothy to do a straight jacket escape to a standing ovation and a demonstration of Houdini's trick vest. *See pictures below.

We have concluded in these dealings with Rick Schmidlin, that in our opinion, from our experience, things he says or promises can not be believed or trusted.

Quote from TCM website; "The introduction was done by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, curators of the Houdini museum and magicians themselves. They did a very entertaining straight-jacket escape routine which made it one of the best intros of the whole festival." *
dietrich TCM straitjacket escape * dietrich TCM vest

All this said, we are very happy the world will finally see "The Grim Game." That was our main goal in convincing Larry to sell it to Turner. We are forever grateful to TCM for their part in restoring and releasing the film to the world so all will see it rather than it be lost again which was always our main goal. Because of this, more people will see Houdini, than saw him in his entire lifetime!

As Houdini said in the pressbook, which would have been a good introduction to the movie:
"The present generation can see me in person, but I want my most thrilling feats perpetuated on the screen, so people in later years can assure themselves that I actually did them. That's why I have saved the most sensational stunts I have ever done for this picture and have worked my head off to make them as successful as possible." HOUDINI

All Music Copyright 2015 Steve Sterner
All Rights Reserved. All facts and opinions are to the best of our knowledge accurate at the time of this writing.

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