Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nosferatu (with added Micronormous): A mac event

Bless the mac - the poor old Midlands Art Centre of Birmingham has had a rather rocky road to the present, full of financial challenges, glorious intentions and changed activities (it once housed a squash court!). Like its rather better funded sibling across the midlands [Warwick Arts Centre] it houses theatre, cinema, art, and bar/eating space. What it does that is slightly different to Warwick -- and which mark it out as having a different relationship to its local community -- is that it has a resolutely high focus on arts and performance workshops and activity spaces. I'd also wager that the mac has a rather more distinct interest in fostering its local performing talent within its programme (whereas Warwick seems to do this more by accident than design: a consequence of its location - a major university - and therefore its desire to appeal on a national and not just local level).

It probably says a lot about the challenges it has faced over the years that the architects were originally appointed to work with the MAC 20 years ago. Two major redesigns were blocked due to lack of funding and the current scheme will see the restructuring bill halved compared to both the previous grand plans. Ah well.

Anyway, in a series of grand final flourishes before the location closes in early April 2008, the mac is going out with a bang. One of its final big events was one we attended last Thurday: a screening of Nosferatu with a live music soundtrack.

But this was not any old music soundtrack: no, this was a one-off performance by Micronormous. This comprised members of Misty's Big Adventure performing a new and specially commissioned score, composed by Matt Eaton (Pram, Micronormous) and Grandmaster Gareth (Misty's Big Adventure), for this special event screening of the Vampire classic. After MBA blew away the higher ranking opposition 3 years ago, we simply had to experience this event.

It was, to put it bluntly bloody awesome.

So seamless was the blending of classical instruments (e.g. clarinet, cello) with electric guitars, xylophones and electronic soundscapes that at times it was possible to almost forget that there were live performers in front of you. But being able to occasionally glance at the performers seated below the projection screen was a wonderful thing to do.

I've always thought that the term 'silent film' was something of a misnomer, something suggesting that it wasn't just the film that was silent but the experience as a whole. Indeed I vividly recall my VHS copy of Pandora's Box (the classic Louise Brook's movie) which was indeed provided completely silent with nary even a suggestion of appropriate music to play with the film.

Surely the point of the silent era was that people did not sit in darkened spaces in complete silence: they watched and their mood was guided, the images reinforced, by (mostly) live performed music. I've always really liked the notion of cinemas and peforming spaces showing such early films with live conducted scores - Carl Davies' work in this field immediately comes to mind - but classical style work may not be the only type of music that suits such dramatic movies as Nosferatu. In this instance the thoughtful, sometimes post-rock but also amusingly pop-inflected interventions of Micronormous definitely added new dimensions to the experience.

And it's a bloody good film too.

Funny though that it also makes me want to watch 'Shadow of the Vampire' again!

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