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The Silent Film, “Louis”

Nowadays, high-definition video, 3-D films, and instant downloading are the face of the cinematic experience, for better or worse. So when I heard someone was making a silent film, it felt somewhat revolutionary.

And that’s exactly what first-time director Dan Pritzker is doing with “Louis,” his movie about Louis Armstrong that is going on tour this week and has a one-time screening Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore, in Rockville, MD, outside D.C., where I have been the last several weeks.

The film stars Anthony Coleman as a 6-year-old Armstrong and Jackie Earle Haley as a corrupt judge in a mythologized version of the trumpeter’s early years in the Storyville district of New Orleans. When “Louis” premierss at Strathmore, the soundtrack, by L.M. Gottschalk and Wynton Marsalis will be performed live by Marsalis, pianist Cecile Licad and a 10-piece ensemble, including JALC stalwarts Marcus Printup, Sherman Irby, Carlos Henrique and Ali Jackson.

As cool as that promises to be, “Louis” itself promises just as much musicality as the musicians themselves. Filmed on location in New Orleans and on a sound stage in North Carolina, “Louis” has the sepia-toned hues of a bygone era, with flashes of contemporary wit. At once archaic and dynamic, the film’s visual design was conceived by Pritzker with production designer Charles Breen and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.

The challenge, according to the creators, was to make a movie with modern technology and make it look like it was shot in the 1920s. How much is borrowed from past materials and methods, and how much should it look like it was shot today?

I’ll let you know next week how it all goes down.