Archive for the MUSIC Category

The Last Day

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2023 by dcairns

Some more writings on Hippfest will doubtless follow, but for now I will observe that no day that begins with Laurel & Hardy and ends with Anthony Asquith’s SHOOTING STARS is likely to be anything less than marvelous. We skipped the Chinese film, the Ukrainian egg-decorating workshop, and the “Platform Reels” at the Railway Museum, but still consumed quite a fulsome day’s viewing, with not only ANGORA LOVE and BACON GRABBERS and the Asquith, but Swedish comedy HIS MAJESTY, THE BARBER, previously enjoyed via lifestream from Pordenone.

The last two films gave us the chance to compare the accompanying style of John Sweeney and Stephen Horne. The multi-instrumental Horne was playing to a showy film, the twenty-five-year-old Asquith’s showpiece/showcase/showboat, and so flamboyance was not only permissible but demanded. The switches from piano to accordion and flute, and startling moments when two played at once, never pulled one out of the film, but occasionally encouraged one to view it from a kind of high angle. It worked beautifully.

John Sweeney tends to disappear into the film he’s playing for. You’ll never be aware of him in an obtrusive way, and you might forget he’s there. But, particularly in the case of HIS MAJ, the elegance and tact of the approach was a perfect match for the comedy of gesture and attitude.

I can’t decide between the two approaches, and anyway I don’t have to.

We also had a great chat with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius, who played for the L&H double bill and had accompanied THE MAN WHO LAUGHS the night before. The difficulties of the somewhat illogical construction of Paul Leni’s epic were raised, and this led on to the question of perhaps the ultimate silent movie bogeyman, and the question, How WOULD you produce live music for THE BIRTH OF A NATION?

I could say confidently that a justifiable approach would be period-authentic, giving the film the Wagnerian sweep Griffith wanted for it, and trusting the audience to resist being altogether seduced. I think what’s interesting about he film is (a) it’s vile and (b) it’s exciting blood-and-thunder melodrama. So letting it be both, and letting it condemn itself, seems fair. But if it were me — if, as in a dream, I suddenly acquired musical prowess and were ordered to sit at the upright and play along with Griffith’s toxic vision, I doubt if I could do it.

I might be just able to pound out The Ride of the Valkyries for the climax. I would fall stubbornly silent when Griffith is lampooning the Black members of the South Carolina legislature, my fingers stiffened into immobile sentinels at the gates of all that is decent.

Fortunately recorded scores exist. Let them stand. Don’t ask anyone else to musically incriminate themselves.


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2023 by dcairns

IN SPRING — Mikhail Kaufman’s Ukrainian city symphony — is sort of like brother Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (the third brother, Boris Kaufman, went to Hollywood and shot films for Kazan). It’s my Hippfest highlight this year thus far, though THE MAN WHO LAUGHS on a big screen with Meg Morley and Frank Bockius accompanying was epic and Run-Tin-Tin’s WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS was heaps of fun. This year’s dog theme was evidenced by Rinty in a blizzard, Zimba the dog as Homo the wolf, and scores of Ukrainian hounds — dogs on boats, dogs on balconies. I expect those dogs are quite old now, some of them.

Kaufman’s film is more people-centric than his brothers. The shots are consistently inventive and poetic, as are the connections linking them. The only disadvantage it has over MWAMC is that Vertov divides his film into chapters and tells you how many there will be, which helps when your film has no plot or characters. The audience can chart its progress and knows roughly how far in it is at any given time. But IN SPRING is so frenetic (but with beautiful modulations of pace) and is under an hour, so boredom is never an option.

Action is grouped by theme — snow, flooding, flowers in bloom — and sub-theme — dogs in the snow, babies. The sporting action might well have influenced Rienfenstahl’s OLYMPIAD, and it’s madder and better. The live score by Roksana Smirnova (piano)
& Misha Kalinin (guitar) swept things along, perfectly complimenting the rhythmic montage and spirit of optimism.

IN SPRING stars Kiev.

What Happened?

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2023 by dcairns

What happened is this — I hauled myself back to Bo’ness on Friday and saw Dreyer’s MASTER OF THE HOUSE (exquisitely played dry comedy) with John Sweeney on piano (also exquisitely played) and Reginald Denny in WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES, directed by William Seiter and accompanied (98 years later) by Neil Brand (piano) and Frank Bockius (percussion) which was a riot.

Young woman behind me started the show emitting occasional polite little laughs, purely social: as if she was aware the film was humorous and she wanted to show the right spirit. Half an hour in she was helpless with hysteria, trying to HOLD IT IN, for fear that she might be laughing more than the proper amount.

And then there was a party, with the result that, taking into account the difficulties of getting to and from Bo’ness at just the hour one would like, we’re missing a Charley Chase double bill this morning because it’s simply impossible, but we’ll be soaking up multiple shows today.

After thirteen years of Hippfest, Bo’ness has actually gotten even harder to get to. Nearby Linlithgow is dead easy to reach by train, but the buses from there are extremely intermittent and stop in the early evening, so without the festival’s marvelous shuttle bus, there’d be no way for the carless to escape at all. Still, this FORCED me to stay for the party.

WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES is available to buy in one of Masters of Cinema’s Early Universal sets.

Today’s treats include Rin Tin Tin in WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS and Conrad Veidt (and Homo the wolf) in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.