Award-winning horror filmmaker and fan of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Ashley Thorpe popped along to the Exeter Pictureshouse to take in Minima’s contemporary musical accompaniment to the silent Gothic classic
It’s difficult to convey in this age of media proliferation the importance of a film like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), whether you take into consideration its effect on film design, its impact on early horror or its reaching effect and inspiration upon all of the arts. Like I said in my previous adoration for D+CFilm: ‘It’s where all the good stuff starts.’
Films themselves are constantly shifting, constantly evolving -whether it’s from thought to script, performance to edit, the film is infinitely malleable, nowhere more so than that point wherein sound meets image. The Silent films of yesteryear are obviously in a curious position within this debate as whatever conceptions that the creators had for their work’s soundtrack (if any) have long since been lost in the mists of time. Approaches over the years have been infinitely varied. Anything from a tango (Un Chien Andalou) through to the ‘knock knock who’s there, knock knock who’s there’ of Philip Glass…
Enter Minima, whose live accompaniment for Caligari featured this week at the Exeter Picturehouse. Their ambitious score, consisting of cello, drum and guitar opened well (with atmospherics strangely reminiscent of Kurt Weill and the Threepenny opera), evoking much of the sonmambulistic nightmarish atmosphere of the film.
It was this initial textural approach that impressed me. The score did become increasingly ‘lyrical’, using Pink Floyd riffs to evoke ‘character motifs’ (ie recurring themes) and utilising quite contemporary styles. During some sequences this approach was very effective -the fairground and entrance of Dr Caligari for instance, but others less so, the score actually interfering with the power of the image.
The audience seemed to be really enjoying it as the focus drifted from the screen to the band, but sadly, I found a number of sequences a bit ‘funky’, slightly smothering the atmosphere of the film. For example, the seizing of Jane by Cesare and the flight across the rooftops was interpreted, the result being something akin to a sixties cop chase. It’s an interpretation of course -but a misfire to score something so archly gothic -a moment that should be chilling -so toe-tapping.
I can’t help but be a purist of sorts, and for something to evoke the chills of this masterpiece seek out Canada’s ‘Nash the Slash’ (an electric violin / mandolin performer). But for a performance to evoke the approachable aspects of Caligari as entertainment you couldn’t do better than seek out the next performance by Minima.
(image from Minima)
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