The Sunday Intertitle: Hall of Usher

A Halloween special last Saturday at Edinburgh’s grand Usher Hall (above) — The 1920 DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (previously discussed here) was screened with live accompaniment from the Hall’s massive pipe organ, which towers above the screen. Last year it was PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which of course was a very fitting choice. Maybe the audience for this kind of entertainment is building, because it was a sell-out show this year. Many of the punters came in ’20s dress, as per the invitation, which added a festive note. (Maybe next time they should show a movie SET in the ’20s so customers can compare their garb with those onscreen?)

Fiona and I, accompanied by Marvelous Mary, didn’t manage to accouter ourselves in period dress, but Fiona did don her special Halloween top —

Apart from the entire film being projected — on DVD — in the wrong aspect ratio (about 14:9 — not bad enough to be ruinous, but an unnecessary and rather dumb mistake) this was very enjoyable. The crowd started by chortling at every silent-movie mannerism or gesture, but by the time of the first murder, they’d realised, I think, that this was not really a tenable way to approach the movie, which gets pretty horrible…

The score was superb, that ominous rumble really affecting us at a gut level, and on the big screen it was possible to see more clearly the superimposed giant white spider which attacks Jekyll in a dream sequence: it not only symbolizes his evil side, it has Hyde’s face! I’d love to see this scene recreated in a modern version. Seems like a good idea for any dramatization of J&H to include a fantasy scene where the two halves meet and confront one another.

If they do this again next year, what movies would Shadowplayers suggest for screening?

45 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Hall of Usher”

  1. itt was marvellous… and really aboiut a third of the way through I’d forgotten that it was a silent film. I’ve not got a lot of knowledge of music accompanyment to silent films but thought the playing was superb quite seemless. I also enjoyed the bit part actors the landlady was standout.

  2. Sounds wonderful, I’d love to have been there! Bit far for me to travel though, sadly. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. That’s the joy of silents — it’s not that they’re missing sound, they just have more space for the imagination. And a good score bonds with the film like this one did…

    The landlady was great — I wonder if she decided to cackle because she was pleased to get rid of a nasty tenant, or just because that’s what crones are supposed to do?

  4. more space for the imagination ! thats a wonderful description… like they say of radio ‘the pictures are better’!

    humm I can see a blog series with a title like that

  5. Just been looking at the first two Quatermass movies, which use radio ideas beautifully — much of the action is offscreen and the imagination is enlisted to do far more of the work than even in a Val Lewton horror. (Lewton tweaks the imagination in less obvious ways, though.)

  6. Abel Ferrara is currently trying to get funding for a modern day Jekyll and Hyde movie with two separate actors playing each…Forest Whitaker for Jekyll and 50 Cent as Mr. Hyde. Ferrara will be up for it, his version of BODY SNATCHERS is way scarier than the previous films.

    On the other hand considering the genuine chills of Philippe Garrel’s latest film LA FRONTIERE DE L’AUBE, another excursion to the fantastique(the French catchall word for science-fiction and fantasy) seems in the cards. So maybe we can pitch to Garrel a version of the Stevenson story with his son playing both roles.

  7. This is one of my faves…sorry I couldn’t be there.

  8. There was also Ruiz, who wanted to make it in Aberdeen with John Malkovich, an interesting combo. (Malkovich has already played the part/s, but never mind.)

    Ferrara always invites skepticism from me, and that casting… well, I’d love to see Whitaker’s Hyde, and have zero interest in “Fiffy”. He don’t scare me. I could take him. Easy.

    The best reason to use different actors is so Hyde can be SMALLER, like in the book. A shame Gary Coleman is no longer with us.

  9. Christopher Says:

    oh yes..a massive Pipe organ can make a world of difference to your movie experience.
    They should run something short and to the point like HE who gets slapped(if a decent enough print exists)or The Unknown..or even something like Sunrise-A song of two humans or 7th Heaven..

  10. I like the Movietone soundtrack of Sunrise just fine… HE would be a nice one, obviously. The Warner Home Archive DVD-R would do, since they use video projection at the Usher Hall.

    I never much like organ scores on video — too HEAVY, and those Buster Keaton soundtracks get me down, but hearing it live makes a big difference.

  11. Christopher Says:

    I picked up the new Warner’s Archives disc of “HE”..and it looks to be the same thing they ran on Public Broadcasting back in the early 70s…really evocative chamber orchestra score for the most part,but that quirky 60’s tv-Ad music in the circus scenes just dosen’t work for it does the WM.S Hart silents :o))
    I have Warner’s “Mr. Wu” siting here waiting to go into the machine.maybe tonight.

  12. David,
    Don’t tell me you prefer the Alloy Orchestra’s score for Steamboat Bill, Jr. over Gaylord Carter’s.

  13. TCM here ran HE with that same score. Yes, the bits of more modern music are jarring, and the occasional sound effects a little sloppily placed, but overall it’s, as you say, evocative.

    Mark, haven’t heard the Alloy Orchestra yet. Failed to note who scored The Navigator when I screened it last week, but it was a big improvement over the previous organ score. Buster just isn’t an organ man.

  14. The weirdest Jekyll/Hyde film I’ve ever seen (even stranger than Borowczyk’s BLOOD OF DR. JEKYLL) is one called MI NOMBRE ES SOMBRA (MY NAME IS SHADOW) a modern-day version by Spanish director Gonzalo Suarez.

    His best-known film is probably ROWING WITH THE WIND, a High Romantic biopic of Byron and the Shelleys – in which Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley are actually good!!!

  15. Grant has been kind of good quite often. The problem is more the kind of nthing he chooses to be good in. Maybe next Halloween I’ll do a Mary Shelley Week just to compel myself to finally watch RWTW.

  16. Alloy has been my silent film score bête noire for years, and their score for SB, Jr. is one of my least-liked (it’s very jokey, featuring banjo and whistling). I can’t imagine an organ score for most of Buster’s pictures, but in a riverboat film it does seem to fit.

  17. I just find Hugh Grant totally unbearable under any and all circumstances -but maybe that’s just me?

  18. Really? Even in Lair of the White Worm ?

  19. Hugh’s unbearability, and sense of comic exaggeration, work very well in Bitter Moon. Polanski specifically wanted that sense of English awkwardness when faced with untidy situations.

    And he fits pretty well into the madness of Lair of the White Worm — he probably relaxes the viewer by letting them know it’s OK to laugh.

  20. As live musical accompaniment goes, my most memorable experience was a Pacific Film Archive screening of AELITA accompanied by a small musical group that included a theremin for the Martian scenes.

  21. Christopher Says:

    I enjoy the Hugh Grant character..he does the comedy of embarrassment very well..Impromptu is one of my fave early Grants where he gives Chopin the hugh grant treatment.

  22. Ooh, I’d love to see a theremin played live!

    Grant does sleaze well in An Awfully Big Adventure.

  23. IMPROMPTU is stolen for me by the splendid Julian Sands as Liszt. I thought Hugh Grant as Chopin was a total non-event.

    As for BITTER MOON, I remember the chorus of cheers when Kristin and Emmanuelle finally dumped their unbearable men and got it on together. As one woman shouted out: “What took you so long?!”

  24. It is a remarkable feature of Polanski’s work, considering the kind of guy he appears to be, that it pushes the viewer towards feminism. Or lesbianism.

  25. Put it this way…if Polanski were the only option, I’d become straight!

  26. His remarkable run of luck with the ladies is pretty well mysterious to me, even if he IS a millionaire movie director. Can someone of the fairer sex enlighten us?

  27. Well speaking as a member of the unfair sex it should be pointed out that Emmanuel Signeur was discovered by famed directorial babe-magnet Jean-Luc Godard — who also discovered Mrs. Sidney Poitier.

  28. Judy Dean Says:

    The awfulness of the Alloy Orchestra is a perennial theme of contributors to the busterkeatonfans site. The Orchestra members are well aware of this but nothing seems to deter them and they continue to perform live accompaniments to Buster’s films (and others) of unrivalled insensitivity. Could someone please clone Neil Brand.

  29. you are being scarcastic about mr p david ? she says anxiously. His run of ‘luck’ appears to be due to him having a) power as a diretor and b) careless about consent

  30. Plus his conquests’ brains aren’t always fully matured. But still, there are adult, non-stupid women like Jackie Bissett on his virtual trophy wall. Still, most of them are actresses, and therefore a certain amount of venality might be involved.

    Neil Brand is amazing, a benefit to any silent screening.

  31. god cant spoll … I have goss about mike leigh though just in time for the opening of his next joyus offering to the film going public – cough

  32. “Scarcastic” is a pretty evocative typo though.

    Ooh, can you reveal the Mike Leigh goss publicly?

  33. I will email you and see what you think … cackles off computer

  34. and meanwhile i’m trying to get my friend R to see the Mike Leigh film as she’s a leading UK expert in wait for it… Singleness Studies its a new and emerging area of the academy and from what I gather about the way single people are portraied v smug couples she will be APOPLECTIC you might even hear her in Leith

  35. My parents went to see it and my dad loudly agreed with Jim Broadbent at one point in the movie. So it’s found its audience.

  36. good heavens !

  37. I have no idea when they started seeing Mike Leigh films. Looks like they were drawn to this one out of a sense of identification, something which I always assumed was a myth — the idea of people going to see films about people like themselves. If that’s true, why wasn’t Agora a big hit? Violently inclined religious maniacs would have flocked to it.

  38. I’m ashamed to say that my mother is a big fan of….. ken loach… looks like we all have hideous family secrets. Perhaps we can start a support group? AFFS Anoymous Film Famly support?

  39. we can have meetings where we meet in darkened rooms watch suitably obscure unobtainable films on illegally copied DVDs with large bottles of wine and bars of chocolate

  40. I’m starting to wonder if early Loach maybe has some interest. Before he decided exactly what kind of bore he wanted to be. Will watch Black Jack and report back.

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