Doc spotlight

By Karen Choi

If you’ve seen The Royal Tenenbaums, you’ll recall the scene when Margot Tenenbaum and Richie Tenenbaum lock eyes across the bus depot for the first time after twenty-two years of separation. It’s a classic love scene, but what really makes it one of the most magical moments in the film is its ability to make the moviegoer feel the intensity of the moment—that tender, knee-wobbling lovesick feeling. This scene works, partly because of the music involved. When they see each other a hypnotic song swells, filling the theater with sound, just as the camera zooms in on Margot’s and Richie’s faces. The song is “These Days,” performed by the mysterious German singer Nico, formerly of the Velvet Underground. Nico’s distanced, yet sensual and sincere, rendering of the Jackson Browne composition is what makes it a stellar tune. This compelling song, coupled with the image of two people struck dumb by complete love for one another, is what makes this a truly memorable scene. In this case, the music and images state so many unsaid feelings; no dialogue should—or could—do it. In a time when theaters are overrun with movies full of stale dialogue, moments like these should be savored.

Now imagine entire films set only to music. Pretty rare. The Silent Film Society of Chicago, which has been in existence for only four years, is the only venue in Chicago that regularly shows these types of films. A hundred years ago, before the development of “talkies,” silent films were shown in their entirety, accompanied by a live organ player. Originally the live music was installed to cover up the sound of the video projector. But the music soon became an important part of the cinematic experience, as vital as the images projected on the screen. Unfortunately, these days most people’s exposure to silent cinema has been secondhand, from reading about it in film classes or from watching documentaries on television.

Everyone should have the opportunity to try this unique experience, so DOC Films and WHPK have teamed up to present “Pictures and Sounds.” Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 8 at 9:30 p.m., in Max Palevsky Cinema, three Chicago musicians will improvise soundtracks to experimental films. The featured musicians and films will be cutting edge, but the program will still be in complete accordance with the silent film tradition. In previous years “Pictures and Sounds” has featured David Grubbs, the Flying Luttenbachers, and Currituck County. This year “Pictures and Sounds” features Michael Zerang, Plastic Crimewave & the Fake, and Grimble Grumble performing scores to a set of diverse films.

Renowned in the local free jazz/improv community, Assyrian percussionist Michael Zerang will perform to Merian C. Cooper’s, Ernest B. Schoedsack’s, and Marguerite Harrison’s Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925). This beautiful film documents an Iranian tribe’s grueling trek across the rivers and deserts of Asia Minor in search of summer pasture for their animals. 50,000 tribesmen and 500,000 animals face incredible hardships and conquests on this journey. Despite how dangerous this journey was, it occurred twice a year up until 1970. After seeing the film one time, Zerang was completely moved and immediately set to produce a score for the film, but he had to discontinue the project for a few years due to financial constraints. With DOC and WHPK’s support, Zerang will finally have the chance to premiere his original score for Grass. He has enlisted the help of three talented Chicago musicians for this event. The line-up will be Kyle Bruckmann (double reeds), Fred Lonberg-Holm (strings), Jim Baker (electronics), and Zerang (percussion).

Local rock outfit Plastic Crimewave & the Fake will improvise a score for Lucifer Rising (1973). The film was written and directed by Kenneth Anger, a pioneer in the underground film movement whose films were often laden with homosexual themes and considered “too controversial” for the general American public. In Lucifer Rising Anger turns the Devil into a heroic figure, a source of illumination and possessor of cosmic magical powers. The film stars Anger, Marianne Faithfull, and Bobby Beausoleil, associate of the Manson Family. An interesting note is that the film has ties to the Rolling Stones: Faithfull was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend and the film was originally “presented” by Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards’s girlfriend. The Stones had composed soundtracks for other Anger films. Plastic Crimewave & the Fake, themselves Stones aficionados, are a new band who play psychedelic acid rock. Their swirling, mind-bending music will be a perfect accompaniment to Lucifer Rising’s twisted and trippy story of the Age of Aquarius.

Space-rockers Grimble Grumble will provide the score for Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), a short animated film by Marv Newland. Bambi Meets Godzilla is funny and compelling, with an ending more dramatic than the trauma we all went through as children when we saw Bambi’s mother get shot. Grimble Grumble, which features University of Chicago graduate Saleem Dhamee (and guitarist of Hyde Park band Salomé) on guitar, is fresh off a tour of Europe.

The screening will take place at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8. Tickets are $7 general, $5 with a University of Chicago ID, and $3 for DOC Films pass holders. Tickets will be available at the door. For further information, please call DOC Films at (773) 702-8574 or WHPK at (773) 702-8289.