Dead Space Chamber Music, Bava’s Black Sabbath & an Album

Dead Space Chamber Music by Katie Murt Photography 1

Defying Genre, Independence, & Underscoring a Film

The Three Faces of Fear face-to-face with a live three-piece: part performance art, part foley artistry, part improvisation, Bava’s classic terror-trilogy Black Sabbath finds the perfect ambient accompaniment in Dead Space Chamber Music. In an intimate cinematic setting, the music is close and the atmosphere closer, as the closing act of the film is scored by their echoing, neoclassical intensity.

Following the tense, domestic drama The Telephone and the weird and wonderful tale of The Wurdulak, The Drop of Water is the most traditionally terrifying of the trio. The film, lit with gorgeous, incandescent pastels, follows a young woman as she’s plagued by fatal guilt after pocketing a ring from a corpse. Yet, it’s not with the corpse’s fingers that the terror grips tight, but with creeping acoustics: with little dialogue, a droning fly, and the dripping water, a lot of the terror is in the transcendental sound, and it’s something that attracted the trio to the film, says voice artist Ellen Southern.

‘It’s a sonic film, so we took the soundtrack and chose which sounds to keep, fading sound in and out from the original and playing alongside,’ as well as ‘performing the speech not as just a voiceover, but as an eerie sung suggestion of the spoken content, so it sounds more like an incantation, or that the speech is dismbodied, drifting and haunting the proceedings.’ With speech sampled, echoed, and sung-over, the effect is atmospheric, melancholic, and far from simply evoking the scenes in the film, the music, part composition, part improvisation, is existing, elemental and experimental. Continue reading “Dead Space Chamber Music, Bava’s Black Sabbath & an Album”

Review: Kit Monkman’s Macbeth

Original review: Culturefly

Kit Monkman's Macbeth

Ambitious, bloody drama danced on a singularly psychological stage

Along with elegant poetry, gripping prose, and the grounds on which to found great performances, the freedom of adaptation is one of the greatest gifts in Shakespeare’s plays. An adept adaptor, the Bard worked historical chronicles and the King’s writings on Daemonologie into one of his bloodiest and bleakest works, but Macbeth is rich in dramatic ambition. With witches, wars, and natural order overturned, it invites new interpretation of what drives a worthy thane to kill a king – witches, his wife, free will? – and director Kit Monkman’s production is an experiment not only in motive, but filmic form.

‘Nothing is but what is not’ notes the newly crowned Thane of Cawdor as the prophecy that has also promised him kinghood takes hold, and Monkman has taken this as his muse. For Macbeth, the unbelievable is to be believed, and for Monkman, the unimaginable is to be imagined. Continue reading “Review: Kit Monkman’s Macbeth”

Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man Illuminations DVD

Original review: Culturefly

the-car-man.jpg

Passionate and powerful: every bit as searing and sexy as the opera

Carmen is one of most passionate and powerful pieces in the operatic canon, set under a sizzling Spanish sun and ablaze with seduction, sensuality, and Bizet’s striking score. The Car Man, Matthew Bourne’s reimagining, may do away with the nineteenth-century Spanish cigarette factory and matadors in favour of stifling small-town 1960s America and mechanics, but it is every bit as searing and violent and sexy.

Set to a stripped-back reworking of Bizet’s score by Rodion Shchedrin and originally restyled for Bourne in 2000 by Terry Davies, The Car Man is a reimagining stripped back to its gritty, aggressive, grounded origins – there are no Swans or Cinderellas here. The protagonists have no express parallel: Luca, the Car Man, is the seducing stranger, as is Carmen, but, like Carmen, it is one of his lovers, Lana, that’s the beauty who betrays one lover for another. And, as Bourne explains in the informative, informal, interview-focused ‘Making Of’ featurette, much of the influence is owed to film noir thrillers, with the central betrayal and retribution less Car-Man and more The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Thrilling from the off, there’s blood, sweat, and sex aplenty as the languor of a long summer yields to lust: Continue reading “Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man Illuminations DVD”

5 Favourites: ‘Classics’ Reimagined for the ‘Teen Age’

Clueless (1995)

Clueless 1995

‘She was proved to have been universally mistaken.’

‘I was just totally clueless.’

The Classic… Austen’s classic comedy-of-manners, makeovers, marriages and match-making, Emma (1815)

…Reclassified meddling misses Emma Woodhouse and Cher Horowitz both have everyone else’s marital affairs on their minds – so much so that they forget the fancies and affections of their own hearts. The satirical wit of Austen’s slightly spoiled society lady finds a second home in all-American high-schooler Cher, and the high school hierarchy is lampooned with the same commentary on class, society, and the characteristics of the sexes as Emma’s English high society. The meddlesome young women both find their way to a handsome suitor who’s been close to their hearts all along, but Cher’s love is sealed with a make-out, not a marriage. Ugh, as if.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Romeo + Juliet 1996‘…To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.’

”Cos I’m kissing you…’

The Classic… Shakespeare’s story of ‘star cross’d lovers’ and ancestral strife, Romeo and Juliet (c.1595)

…Reclassified Baz Luhrmann’s Verona-Beach-and-revolvers reimagining of Romeo and Juliet is by no means the best cinematic version of the unlucky lovers, but it is a trailblazing translation of the traditional to the contemporary. While Roger Ebert egregiously branded it a movie for the ‘MTV’ generation – ‘Young Hearts’ really do ‘Run Free’ in the modern music – the Bard still gets top billing as Luhrmann makes use of the original language, although, with the exception of Pete Postlethwaite’s Laurence, it’s largely missing the metrical poetry of the play. Yet, Romeo + Juliet made stars of DiCaprio and Danes, its ‘star cross’d lovers’, and, to a lesser extent, Shakespeare, introducing his work to a fresh – and very profitable – demographic.

Rent (1996)Rent 1996

‘…if you wouldn’t mind lighting my candle.’

‘Oh, won’t you light the candle?’

The Classic… Puccini’s heartbreaking opera about ailing bohemians in nineteenth-century Paris, La Bohème (1895)

…Reclassified Set almost one-hundred sets of ‘five-hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes’ later than its source in New York’s Alphabet City, Jonathan Larson’s musical is full of allusions to La Bohème. Far from just modernising Rodolfo and Marcello to Roger and Mark and referencing ‘Musetta’s Waltz’, the musical transforms the artists’ outdated wasting disease into a frighteningly modern one – AIDS. Whilst the protagonists aren’t all teenagers, Rent is, arguably, a teenage retelling, reflecting the angst and appealing to the anarchy of a marginalised youth – particularly the LGBTQ+ community – who feel they’ve been failed by a culture that couldn’t care less about them. Larson’s La Bohème is bold and heartbreaking, but it’s also wholly believable.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You 1999

‘Asses are made to bear, and so are you.’

‘I guess in this society, being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time.’

The Classic… Shakespeare’s romantic comedy with his most complicated and unromantic couple, The Taming of the Shrew (c.1590-4)

…Reclassified Katherina, with her cutting taunts and ‘scolding tongue’, is perhaps Shakespeare’s most proto-feminist creation, and so it’s no surprise her modern counterpart features in one of the more feminist teen films of the time. Along with Heath Ledger as a long-haired Petruchio, 10 Things I Hate About You is a teen-romcom-Shakespearean-comedy crossover with a kickass soundtrack. A roller-coaster of those feelings that come with falling in love, beating bullies and playing parley with over-protective parents, the film does as Shakespeare did, just with fewer words and wicked fashion, and explores that universal experience of what to do when we realise we don’t hate the one we love, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

Easy A (2010)Easy A 2010

‘On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.’

‘Perhaps you should embroider a red A on your wardrobe, you abominable tramp.’

The Classic… Nathaniel Hawthorne’s canonised scripture on sexual shame in Puritan-age America, The Scarlet Letter (1850)

…Reclassified Easy A is easily the most accessible of all the ‘classic’ adaptations: it’s the most meta – the kids are studying The Scarlet Letter and Emma Stone even summarises it for us early in the movie – the most comedic, and the most malleable in its treatment of the source material, but it still makes many of the same remarks about society’s response to women who have sex – which is worrying, when you look at the release dates. Protagonist Olive faces many of the same prejudices as Hester Prynne as she tries to fight her way through the high school rumour mill, just as the Puritan townsfolk pass judgement on Hester, but ultimately their kindhearted and courageous character prevails. Although, tragically, only one gets to ride off on a lawnmower.

See this ace post, ‘Classic Lit and Teen Flicks: Why it Works’, for a more in-depth analysis on what makes these adaptations work.

Essay: Escape, Colour and Entertainment in The Wizard of Oz & The Wiz

In his exploration of ‘musicals as entertainment’[1], Richard Dyer writes that ‘two of the taken-for-granted descriptions of entertainment as “escape” and as “wish-fulfilment” point to its central thrust, namely, utopianism’[2]. Utopic tales of escape and wish-fulfilment are no better epitomised than by two adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: MGM’s 1939 Technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz, and Sidney Lumet’s 1979 screen adaptation of The Super Soul Musical, The Wiz, are both utopian fantasies that reflect upon the colour of their cultural moment.

Released in 1939, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz was part of the ‘breakthrough year for the Technicolor Corporation’[3]. Dorothy’s wish to ‘fly beyond the rainbow’[4] is realised when she leaves monochrome Kansas behind for the bright lights – quite literally, as on-set lighting for the Yellow Brick Road needed to be practically dazzling on account of ‘yellow [being] most saturated at a very high level of lightness, […] quickly los[ing] purity when […] darkened’[5]of Oz, a space defined by colour with its Yellow Brick Road, Emerald City, and Ruby Slippers. Furthermore, as Hollywood legend has it, the Ruby Slippers were changed from the silver shoes of Baum’s original novel to showcase and capitalise on the extensive, and expensive, Technicolor filmmaking processes, which, incidentally, it did, as The Wizard of Oz was one of the three Technicolor pictures that made up the ‘most lucrative releases [of] 1939’[6].

Whilst not the commercial nor critical success of The Wizard of Oz, 1978’s The Wiz did reflect on one cultural colour that MGM’s musical and its moment of production did not: black. From the era of Blaxploitation cinema in the ‘70s, The Wiz was part of a bigger picture that painted ‘black America’s […] need [for] an escape from the brutal reality of the past decade’[7]; a decade characterised by Civil Rights, segregation and assassination. The Wiz facilitated that escape by ‘creating a fantasy world on the big screen where black men and women were the heroes’[8], like Diana Ross’s Dorothy and Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow.

Dyer too discusses ‘The Colour of Entertainment’, and argues that it is a ‘given of the fundamental performance elements of the musical – dance and song’[9] – to illustrate the ‘relation both to physical space and to the cultural spaces of other peoples’[10], and thus this study will seek to explore how these two musical texts use dance and song to reflect on the cultural colours of their moments of production. Continue reading “Essay: Escape, Colour and Entertainment in The Wizard of Oz & The Wiz”

5 Favourites: Films from Studio-Era Classical Hollywood Cinema

Rebecca (1940) rebecca-blog

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

Starring Laurence Olivier as the charming but troublesome leading man, Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the meek, mild and unnamed second Mrs de Winter, Judith Anderson as the scene-stealing, spine-tingling, ever-faithful servant Mrs Danvers, and more monograms than you can imagine.

The Story in 6 Words sinister slow-burn about absent ex-wife
(ex-wife is one word, right?!)

3 Reasons to See 
The unflinchingly faithful adaptation from Daphne du Maurier’s novel, especially the opening monologue as we glide up through the grounds of Manderley, all the ways the absent Rebecca is ever-present, from passing mentions to burning monograms, and Anderson’s performance as the faithful-to-a-fault, devoted Mrs Danvers who haunts our heroine like a vengeful shadow.

It’s a Wonderful Life wonderful-life-blog(1946)

‘Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.’

Starring James Stewart as suicidal, generous softy George, Donna Reed as his wonderful, rallying wife Mary, Lionel Barrymore as the villainous banker of the piece, Mr Potter, and Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody, Angel, 2nd Class, eager to earn his wings.

The Story in 6 Words what life is like without you

3 Reasons to See
The debt that director Capra owes to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and its many adaptations for the audience’s willing suspension-of-disbelief when an old, white – whether ghostly or angelic – man materialises to show the hero the error of his ways, George’s poignant ‘show me the way‘ prayer for hope amidst the hustle and bustle of the bar that pulls us in both literally with a soft zoom and figuratively with such depth of feeling, and its equally heart-wrenching-and-warming quality.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)sunset-blog

‘I am big… it’s the pictures that got small!’

Starring William Holden as fall-guy Joe Gillis, Gloria Swanson as faded star and fantasist Norma Desmond, Erich von Stroheim as her committed employee Max, and so many silent film stars out of retirement you’ll be surprised when there’s sound.

The Story in 6 Words meta-cinematic masterpiece about damaging Hollywood stardom

3 Reasons to See
A whole host of real silent film stars in cameo roles, among them Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton, Swanson’s stellar performance, especially her monologue as she descends like a deranged madman down the staircase in the closing scene, and the subtle subversion of gender stereotypes and generic tropes in the central relationship.

singin-blogSingin’ in the Rain (1952)

‘She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.’

Starring co-director Gene Kelly as all-acting, all-singin’, all-dancing Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as chorus girl Kathy, Jean Hagan as the ‘triple threat’ having trouble transitioning to talkies, Donald O’Connor as sidekick clown Cosmo Brown, and Moses (Supposes).

The Story in 6 Words ultimate movie musical spoofs talkies’ transition

3 Reasons to See
O’Connor’s mesmerising, ridiculously impressive ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ routine, the ‘Broadway Melody’ music and dance divertissement starring a seductive, black-bobbed Cyd Charisse, and all the knowing – and nail-bitingly funny – nods to the mammoth task of transitioning from silent films to talkies, from secret dubbing to hiding microphones in bushes.

vertigo-blogVertigo (1958)

‘One final thing I have to do… and then I’ll be free of the past.’

Starring James Stewart as Scottie, a flawed professional with a phobic predisposition, Kim Novak as his – and Hitchcock’s – icy blonde(s), Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge, Scottie’s long-suffering friend, and Hitchcock’s trumpet case-carrying cameo.

 The Story in 6 Words obsessive acrophobe follows blonde too far

3 Reasons to See
The disorientating dolly zoom (spoilers!), infamously first used in this film to capture the feeling of vertigo, the Master of Suspense mastering the suspenseful spiral narrative by reflecting the themes – obsession, possession, and regression – in the film’s opening and closing scenes, and the cool, calculated composition of everything from shot composition to costume to colour, particularly the use of complimentary colours red and green in the film’s palette.