Cinematic ensemble set to recreate the thrill and horror of silent movie era
Back before most of us were born, young folk would entertain themselves by going along to their local movie houses to see a silent film.
Now, an enterprising Cornish musician is aiming to resurrect the experience of watching a film while listening to a live band’s interpretation of the drama and action.
Seamus Carey wants to establish regular silent movie nights at venues across Cornwall. A trial run at The Poly in Falmouth last October paved the way for a screening later this month of a groundbreaking German epic.
Seamus explained that The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari caused a storm when it was released in 1920 and is still regarded as one of the most influential Expressionist films of the era. Directed by Robert Wiene, the silent horror was also the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands.
The spooky atmosphere created by the film’s highly-stylised set design will be heightened at The Poly screening by the addition of live musical accompaniment from The Cinematic Ensemble.
Stationed in the auditorium’s orchestra pit, the four-piece band will use instruments such as theremin, accordion, cello, electric guitar, drums, hurdy-gurdy and voices to evoke the weird and wonderful world of Robert Wiene.
“As well as showing this great film, this will be the first outing for this new band,” said Seamus. “I really hope it will be the beginning of a long and successful project which we’re calling The Silent Film Club. The aim is to regularly screen silent classic films in a variety of locations throughout Cornwall, each with its own fresh and innovative live score.
“The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is an ideal starter and is perhaps the first port of call for anyone looking for a slightly more alternative silent film. It’s a very weird tale, which is all the better when it comes to responding musically because it gives us, as musicians, the chance to experiment more freely.
“On this occasion we will be using traditional cinematic instruments such as cello, piano and timpani alongside hurdy-gurdy and a junk drum kit to create a bizarre and unique viewing experience.”
The Cinematic Ensemble is made up of multi-instrumentalist Seamas Carey, who has played with The Busketeers, Bashstreet and Kneehigh Theatre, guitarist Alex Heane, who is a member of Cornish ska band, Captain Skalet, and cellist Rebecca Jackson and drummer Jack Rosewarne, who have both performed with WildWorks.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which is billed as suitable for adults and “brave” children, is considered to be one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era. Using stylised sets, consisting of abstract, jagged buildings painted on canvas backdrops, the effect is to give a semi-theatrical feel. Adding to the strangeness, all of the actors used an unrealistic technique of jerky and dance-like movements. The film is also credited as having introduced the first “twist” ending to cinema.
Apart from magical sets, the undoubted star of the piece is Dr Caligari himself, played by Werner Krauss. An actor who appeared in more than 120 films between 1914 and 1958, Krauss made roughly one a month during the early years of his career. However, he also had a darker side. Openly anti-Semitic, he was a keen supporter the Nazis, was recruited as a propagandist by Goebbels, and appointed cultural ambassador by Hitler himself. Initially banned from performing on stage or screen after the Second World War, he was eventually rehabilitated following a period of de-Nazification.