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Hilotrons pair silent movie with live music at Picton’s Regent Theatre

By Greg Murphy [3]

PICTON – Picton’s Main Street was a quiet stretch at the centre of a sleepy town, at around 8 p.m. in the evening on Monday.

The swell of traffic on the usually busy street died to a calm, occasional whir. Townsfolk placed candles on either side of pathways cut through floral gardens surrounding the cenotaph. Flanking the grey monument on all sides, young men in pressed military uniforms stood guard, stoic and proud. The candle bearers murmured remembrances among themselves about local boys lost to wars fought far away from home.

It was a small slice of tranquility before Remembrance Day the next morning.

Over at the Regent Theatre [4], a short walk from the cenotaph, things were much different. The auditorium vibrated to the rafters with energy. Ottawa’s indie-pop quintet Hilotrons [5] were in town – but it wasn’t an ordinary concert. For 117 minutes, they performed an upbeat orchestration to the 1928 silent movie Carry on, Segreant! [6]a Canadian film with a local connection that played on the big screen behind them.

“It was a very unique experience. The live music was sensational. Yeah, it was amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Dave Nurse, a resident of Trenton who saw the show with friends.

Carry on, Sergeant!, a film produced by the late Bruce Bairnsfather [7] and starring the late Jimmy Savo [8] and Hugh Buckler [9], was filmed in Trenton, Quinte West, [10] with local Trentonians as extras. It was released on Nov. 10, 1928 and follows the story of a married Canadian factory worker who has an affair with a French waitress during the First World War.

With inspiration drawn from Italian composer Ennio Moriccone [11], Mike Dubue [12], the band’s front man, wrote the score. He’s written scores for other silent movies for the band to play like 1919’s, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [13]. Hilotrons’ guitar player Alex Moxon [14] said Carry on, Sergeant! was an obvious choice for Dubue to score for this tour.

“Sometimes he’s lucky enough to have a Canadian heritage film fall in his lap and this was the one he got most recently. It made a lot of sense on the account of the anniversary of the First World War and all. Especially that we are touring in the time of year Remembrance Day is happening,” Moxon said.

He added many silent films are damaged or “lost” [15] so when the opportunity presents itself for the band to perform an original score to a silent movie, it’s an opportunity best taken.

“A lot of them are lost. The films reels were made with materials that could easily be damaged, and when sound was introduced to movies, a lot of silent movies were considered expendable and were thrown away. So every time that we discover and restore a new one, we try to do something with it. Carry on, Sergeant! is one of the only Canadian silent movies that still exists,” he said.

The band has been on the road since Oct. 28 and will continue on until Nov. 30. Moxon said the tour is split between performing to Carry on, Sergeant!, and performing their usual rock show. For the Carry on, Sergeant! performances, the band is playing at heritage theatres.

“We chose to do these performances at heritage theatres simply to match the esthetic of the music and the movie. We love doing this kind of a show,” said Moxon.

Though it was well received by members from the audience, the theatre was only a third full. Nurse said this was a shame for such a good show.

“To be honest, I’m shocked there was so few people here. Remembrance Day is tomorrow and I’m thinking, ‘oh my god, what a perfect setup,’ and it’s a local movie,” Nurse said.

Craig McMillan, the theatre’s live events coordinator said it’s tough selling tickets for historical movies.

“This is really neat that these guys are giving new life to an old movie, but history is a really hard sell,” he said.

But the small turnout didn’t bother the band.

“There were more people here than we expected. I think smaller towns seem to be more appreciative of a travelling show. The audience was awesome; they laughed when it was time to laugh – they were really into it I think. It’s a good town, we had fun,” Moxon said.

After the applause died down; after the band bid their farewells and packed their trailer; after McMillan shut off the lobby lights, turned off the retro red and green neon signs on the theatre’s front facade and locked the doors, a car squealed at a distant green light – and then a blanketing silence fell over Main Street once again until morning.