June 2017, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Music in film

KUHLE WAMPE ODER WEM GEHÖRT DIE WELT?, 1932

The connection between music and film goes back to the very beginnings of cinematography. Apart from film narrators, musical accompaniment of early films was an integral part of the film experience, an exciting relationship that has remained till today. In June's Magical History Tour, we are presenting 13 examples that illustrate how varied the theme of "music in film" is and giving an insight into the significance and function of music in film (and in society) with film scores, portraits of music(ians) and bands, concert films, filmic mise-en-scènes, sampled soundtracks and musicals. We would particularly like to point out the four silent movie events, which will be accompanied by the pianist and composer Eunice Martins. On 15th and 28th June, we will be talking to her about accompanying and composing for silent movies.

KUHLE WAMPE ODER WEM GEHÖRT DIE WELT? (Slatan Dudow, D 1932, 1. & 4.6.) Hanns Eisler's "Composing for the films" (first published in English in the US in 1947) is one of the pioneering texts about the theory and aesthetics of film music. It is an appeal to compose for and to a film and a critique of the traditional tendency to double the dramaturgical level with film music using atmospheric and superficial music. Eisler's score for KUHLE WAMPE - as discrete as it is fascinating - seems to be an early practical example of the positions that he later formulated. In one of the few communist films of the Weimar Republic, the director Slatan Dudow depicts a working-class family whose members cope with unemployment and poverty in a very different and at times dramatic way. The rendition of Eisler's "Solidarity Song" in a subway tunnel is unforgettable.

ALEKSANDR NEWSKII(Alexander Nevski, Sergej M. Eisenstein, USSR 1938, 2. & 7.6.) This epic about the eponymous national hero who repelled the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century was the eighth film to be made as part of the lifelong artistic partnership between Eisenstein and cameraman Eduard Tissé. For their work on Alexander Nevsky, they found an ally in the composer Sergei Prokofiev so that they could implement their concept about the unity of image and sound/music. The film was in part made according to existing musical sketches by Prokofiev but he added sound to the later scenes. The music that emerged, Prokofiev later said, was Russian but a contemporary version: "We decided not to reproduce it as it sounded at the time of the Battle on the Ice seven centuries ago but to adapt it to the modern ear."

TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese, USA 1976, 3. & 9.5.) Bernard Herrmann was one of the most influential composers in Hollywood. He composed the music for Citizen Kane and other films by Orson Welles, but his most consistent cooperation was with Alfred Hitchcock for whom he composed no fewer than nine scores. His last work was the atmospheric, jazzy, melancholy score for TAXI DRIVER, for which he eschewed his more classic, Hermann-esqueorchestration in favor of at times dissonant and brass-heavy musical groans and rumblings. His score echoed the bleak and hopeless cosmos of the Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) driving a taxi through the New York night. After an unsuccessful love affair with the campaign worker Betsy, Bickle is overcome by a mad missionary zeal to rescue a child prostitute (Jodie Foster) and accumulates an arsenal of weapons with which to free the city of "scum" and "trash".

CHRONIK DER ANNA MAGDALENA BACH (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, FRG/I 1968, 5. & 8.6.) depicts music as a daily struggle that has to be defended against resistance of all kinds. Based on a (fictional) diary by Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, the film centers on the impact of working conditions on a marriage. "The point of departure for our chronicle came from the idea to try to make a film in which music was not used as accompaniment or as a commentary but as an aesthetic material. One of the films attractions will be that we show people making music, we show people really achieving something in front of the camera." (Jean-Marie Straub)

ICH BEI TAG UND DU BEI NACHT (Ludwig Berger, G 1932, 6.6.) is one of the highlights of operetta films. Without knowing each other, the night waiter Hans and the manicurist Greta live in the same room that is rented out by a business-minded landlady - he sleeps there during the day, she at night. Then they meet. "In this situation comedy about a poor couple which takes turns sleeping in the same bed, Berger was ironic about UFAs pompous decoration style. He confronts modest illusion - both lovers assume the other is rich - with great deceit. While the film portrays luxurious UFA glamor and the Comedian Harmonists sing to beautiful cinema, Bergers camera crosses walls and presents the dingy environment of Berlins backyards." (Hans C. Blumenberg)

MOULIN ROUGE (Baz Luhrmann, USA 2001, 10. & 24.6.) A cross between melodrama and musical, pop history and postmodern film: Luhrmann's furious samplings and quotations range from Jacques Offenbach to Elton John, John Lennon to Madonna, Sting to Freddie Mercury, to name but a few. Like a spider map, number after number depicts the tragic love affair between the poor writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) and the star dancer and courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman). Kidman and McGregor themselves sing and dance in this extravaganza about a legendary Paris night club at the turn of the century. Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge is flashy, full of stimulation, artificially sparkling and superficial.

ON CONNAÎT LA CHANSON (Same Old Song, F/CH/GB/Italy 1997, 11. & 23.6.) Song lyrics burst forth from the protagonists: Alain Resnais, who liked experimenting with music too, gets his frustrated businesswoman Odile (Sabine Azéma), her husband Claude (Pierre Arditi), Odile's student sister Camille (Agnès Jaoui) and the yuppie real estate agent Marc (Lambert Wilson) to lip sync to playback versions of popular songs and chansons. The playful easiness of this gimmick lays the ground fora complicated and amusing web of relationships that is further complicated by misunderstandings and entanglements that implode at a housewarming party.

FLÜSTERN UND SCHREIENEIN ROCKREPORT (Whisper And Outcry - A Rock Report, Dieter Schumann, GDR 1988, 13.6.) "This film is loud!" sounds a warning at the beginning, a reference to the music film that this "report" is not (only). The positions of the multi-faceted rock scene towards the end of the the GDR are shown in the form of four very different bands ("Silly", "Feeling B", "Chicoree" and "Sandow"). At the center is footage from tours, concert extracts, interviews with band members and discussions with their mainly youthful fans who discuss their restricted lives in the GDR, in an at times incredibly open and critical manner. Schumann wrote: "Rock music as an articulation of daily experiences, dreams, lifestyles. The film describes how it works and thus becomes a transmitter of emotions and thoughts itself."

NOVVY VAVILON (The New Babylon, Grigori Kozintsev/Leonid Trauberg, USSR 1929, 15. & 17.6., on piano and in discussion: Eunice Martins) is the most famous film made by FEKS, the Factory of the Eccentric Actor, which was founded in Petrograd in 1921 by the enfants terribles of the Soviet avant-garde Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg. They developed "eccentricity" as a new form of expression. Set during the assault on the Paris Commune in 1871, NOVYY VAVILON tells of the love story between Louise, a saleswoman at the New Babylon department store and convinced Communard, and Jean, a soldier who has to fight against the Commune. By using highly exaggerated and caricatured characters and décor, a furious tempo and a radical montage, the directors introduced a new aesthetic to Soviet filmmaking.

MAN NO RUN (Claire Denis, F 1989, 18. & 27.6.) Les Têtes Brûlées are Jean Marie, Sansibar, Roger, Martin, Afata, five musicians who   play their version of traditional Bikutsi music, with shaved heads, white body paint and brightly-colored backpacks. Their music is wild, fast, punk and rock, featuring electric guitars and drums. Claire Denis met Jean-Marie when she was making Chocolat. But a mutual project only developed when the Cameroonian band were in France for their first tour. MAN NO RUNshows electrifying concerts, enthusiastic audiences, but also the boredom between shows and the band's confrontation with France, which can be strange and cold, leading to absurd scenes.

YEAR OF THE HORSE NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE LIVE (Jim Jarmusch. USA 1997 | 16. & 24.6.) The US indie directorJim Jarmusch, an avowed Neil Young fan, first worked with the Canadian rock musician for the soundtrack to "Dead Man" in 1995. A few months later, he accompanied him on his "Year of the Horse" tour. He combined Super 8 footage of the concerts and backstage moments with archive material from the 1970s and 80s and conversations with the band members. The result is an unusualmusic film, an homage and a declaration of love.

ASPHALT (Joe May, D 1929, 28. & 30.6., on piano and in discussion: Eunice Martins) Steaming asphalt is trodden down by rows of workers in as rhythmic as painstaking a fashion, before the urban life of shiny cars, horse-drawn carriages, flaneurs and general hustle and bustle takes over the boulevards. The young police officer Albert (Gustav Fröhlich), on traffic duty, tries to bring some order amid all the chaos, while his life threatens to lose control under the influence of the seductive jewel thief Else (Betty Amann). Documentary takes of the city as well as a huge studio set of the street create urban scenarios in which the demimonde meets respectable citizens.

JALSAGHAR (The Music Room, Satyajit Ray, India 1958, 25. & 29.6.) An homage to Bengali music but also a swan-song to the decadence of the Indian aristocracy. A lonely and impoverished nobleman lives in a splendid palace. He is ruined by his love of music, using all that is left of his fortune for in-house concerts and dance performances. "The proud old aristocrat is too far from reality, too fossilized for Ray to critically dismantle, he just sinks into the music, which plays a decisive role in the suggestive idiosyncrasy of the film." (Urs Jenny) The music was composed by Vilayat Khan, one of India's most famous sitar players. (mg)