But Watts recently discovered that the “Intolerance” Boister has been playing to has been shown at the wrong frame rate, resulting in a running time that’s about a half-hour too long. When they perform with the film at the Freer Gallery a few weeks from this rehearsal, it will be a considerably sped-up version of what the band has meticulously perfected over months of playing together.
When Watts lets the musicians know of the impending hustle, the reaction is nearly unanimous. “Woo-hoo!” says guitarist Warren Boes. “Told ya!” opines trombonist Craig Considine. All they know is that the 3 1
2-hour gig they have been playing (Considine began calling it “Intolerable”) will now wrap up a half-hour early.
A week later, Watts meets for breakfast at a restaurant in Roland Park, a few blocks from where she spent her teenage years. She and the band rehearsed again last night, this time with the properly timed version of “Intolerance,” and she’s pleased. The faster frame rate, she said, has resulted in a swifter film and tighter musical experience.
“It just now has this forward momentum that wasn’t there before,” she explains, adding that before, “you’d languish on a subtitle, you’d languish on a scene change. That’s gone.”
Watts, a fixture on Baltimore’s burgeoning music, theater and arts scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s, formed Boister in 1997. (The band just finished recording its seventh album, produced by Dischord Records’ J. Robbins.) Around that time, Watts received a commission from the Walters Art Gallery to compose an original score for Buster Keaton’s silent film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” The resulting composition was an exhilarating mash-up of Watts’s original compositions — redolent of Kurt Weill and Weimar-era cabaret — and riffs from Queen, Harold Arlen and the Doors, giving Keaton’s physical daring and soulful expression newfound poignancy and edge.
Since the success of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” Boister has been the region’s go-to band for lush, witty, wildly inventive accompaniment to silent films. “Intolerance” was commissioned by the Maryland Institute College of Art where Gerald Ross, exhibitions director, curated a show last year called “The Narcissism of Minor Differences,” about personal responsibility for collective strife. “It was not a happy exhibition,” Ross recalls, “and I was looking for something else to go along with it.” He approached Watts to contribute a musical element, and together they hit on the idea of screening Griffith’s film, which depicts four historical eras and corresponding modes of oppression — religious, political, social and sexual. One chapter depicts the conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.; another the life and crucifixion of Jesus; another the massacre of the Huguenots in 1572 and another the early 20th century conflict between workers, capitalists, the police and progressive reformers.