Films & music:the new rock & roll

Music in a film can be a powerful thing. 
John Barry said his music let you know how to feel.  Hitchcock said he was happy to attribute a third of the success of Psycho to Bernard Herrmann who wrote the music for the film.  In the last week I’ve been to see a couple of films where I’d say it was much more than that.  They were films with a live group playing along and they catapulted what were already good films into a new arena. 
The first event was music from folk duo A Hawk and A Hacksaw from Albuquerque. The ex-Neutral Milk Hotel pair played a live soundtrack alongside 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' – an eerie and magical Soviet classic from the Sixties – in the suitably atmospheric setting of St.George's Church on Mappin Street.  Heather Trost played impassioned violin while Jeremy Barnes took to accordion and drums to together further elevate the film's bleak, slightly trippy, evocation of Ukranian peasant life. Here's a trailer.

The more recent gig was the silent film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with beautifully arranged musical melodrama from Laura Groves playing as Blue Roses.  This was a more ‘traditional’ event of a band playing alongside a film that was originally silent.  It still has the power to shock, and the transformation of the good doctor into his evil doppelganger was done with none of the CGI that would no doubt accompany it today, and the addition of live atmospheric music to underscore the menace of Victorian London was just perfect.
We’ve been through an era of unprecedented growth in cinema audiences, and I reckon it’s about time this type of show moved from the ‘arthouse’ into the Cineworld and the Odeon. 
It’s nothing new.  Early films had a pianist, even when being shown in the local memorial hall.  Some of the larger cinemas had an ‘up through the floor’ type organ.  By the way, did you know that (one for the oldies here) Reginald Dixon’s first job was as the cinema organist in Stocksbridge?  Many so-called silent films were actually intended to be shown with at the very least a piano, and in some cases a full orchestra.

All it takes is an innovative approach from the cinemas to approach local groups to arrange this.  I reckon if the ‘mainstream’ cinema audiences were given a chance to see this sort of gig, they’d lap it up.  Go on you Cineplex managers, give it a try.
Incidentaly, the duo from Albuquerque were in part appearing as a preview to what we can expect in the Sensoria festival at the end of April.   There will be lots more music and film combinations and I’ll be letting you know which ones I reckon you should be going to.
Sensoria here we come!

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