Refreshments will be available for purchase from Puttin’ on the Mitts Dessert Truck!
Join us for Sound and Vision I, our first movie / live music event!
On August 13th, the Lodi Library will be screening the 1941 Horror Classic The Wolfman, starring Lon Cheney, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, and Evelyn Ankers. One of the more successful of the early Universal horror movies, The Wolfman still enjoys positive reviews and has a “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its score of 90% positive reviews is mostly based on its cinematography and use of visual effects, both considered outstanding for the time period.
In the spirit of earlier silent horror films, we’ll be turning off the sound, turning on the captions, and featuring a new score composed and performed live!
Joining us for Sound and Vision I is the electronic music duo High Anxiety Cabaret. Based in Ithaca, NY, High Anxiety Cabaret is the work of Tom Bruce and Rob Snyder, performing using a variety of modern electronic instruments and devices, including synthesizers, iPads, computers, samplers, and drum machines. Their new score for this film blends elements of old-style horror with modern electronica and ambient music into an atmospheric, sometimes scary, and often unexpected musical experience choreographed to the action on screen.
The event takes place outdoors under the stars. The performance will begin at dusk, so plan to be there no later than 8:30. Laurel with Puttin’ on the Mitts will be on site with her dessert truck, and after the screening (the movie is short by today’s standards, approximately one hour in length), Tom and Rob will be available to talk about their approach and demonstrate any of the equipment they used for the performance.
A key characteristic of early silent films was the soundtrack, often provided by an organist or pianist depending on the capabilities of the venue. In larger cities, multiple musicians – up to the size of a small orchestra – might be involved. The scores might have been composed specifically for the movie and provided as written music along with the film reels, but more commonly, the musician or musicians would engage in some combination of improvisation and re-using of common classical music. What we think of as “silent” films were not silent at all; directors and studios knew that music played a crucial role in setting the tone and telling the story.
Although music was an integral part of the silent film experience, sound effects were not. The early horror film audience had to imagine the sound of a door slam, a firing gun, a clap of thunder, or the ominous rhythm of approaching footsteps. Adding sound effects to movies coincided with the first films to have synchronized sound tracks in the late 1920s, although the practice of creating sound effects had already been in use in radio for more than a decade.
And yes – The Wolfman isn’t a silent film, though it does borrow stylistic elements from the silent horror film tradition. Many of the key dramatic scenes neither have much nor require dialog. The use of cohesive symbolism is strong throughout the movie (the silver cane, the pentagram), reinforced by close camera angles and lengthy held shots. The actor’s emotional responses are over-communicated through expressions and actions, needing no words to be easily understood. In these ways, The Wolfman presents as an excellent candidate for the silent film musical treatment.
The Wolfman does have dialog, though, and there are times where the action occurs off screen with only sound effects to tell the story. The musicians will recreate key sound effects in addition to providing the newly imagined musical backdrop. Captions will be enabled, although as mentioned above, much of the story can be understood easily without needing to be able to read the captions.
Tom Bruce is an electronic musician and sound designer working in Ithaca NY. His website with links to more music can be found at https://tombrucemusic.space, and his complete biography available at https://tombrucemusic.space/bio/.
Rob Snyder is an engineer, data scientist, and IT manager by day, musician by night, also living and working in Ithaca NY. He performs solo under two names – Electronic Dog Dream (https://soundcloud.com/robert-snyder-20) and Komorov, the Beast from the East (https://open.spotify.com/artist/2stKwmNA7a1xxOOkTrTPJv).