By: Greggory Moore
Nosferatu (with live score by the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra)
I was a middle-schooler when I first saw Nosferatu. That walk along the ship's deck, those long-fingered shadows, that startling rise from the coffin–there's a reason those shots are classics. They stuck with me, even as a kid who could not hang with the lack of dialog, static framing, and melodramatic overacting.
Even in our post-MTV world, seeing F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent classic in the century-old Sunnyside Cemetery accompanied by the haunting score of the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra could turn your average tween into a full-fledged cinephile.
In case you don't know, Nosferatu is a spare adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. But if you want story, read the book; Nosferatu is all about imagery, atmosphere, immersing yourself in a nether region of the psyche come to horrifying life. And that life is not just black-and-white, but also chromatic washes of sepia and electric blue.
Led by Ellen Warkentine (co-creator of LOLPERA) and featuring members of Shakti Tribe, The Dovelles, MOVE, The Red River, et al., this is the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra's second pass at live-scoring a film. The first, for this summer's screening of The Artist, was effective–particularly in its playfulness–but it never quite shook of the sense of being a pleasant experiment, a lark, swapping one score for another simply for the adventure of it all (a second-cousin to Gus Van Zandt's choice to re-shoot Psycho). But the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra's Nosferatu–or BACON, as they like to call it–is something tastier.
For one thing, BACON achieves a compelling sonic depth of field, in no small part due to the addition of Daysmel Muniz (guitarist for Mr. Moonshine), whose looping, wispy wails of background atmosphere couldn't have been more perfectly matched to Murnau's moody textures. That depth of field was made all the more dynamic by the fact that there wasn't a player in the dectet whose ego eclipsed tastefulness. A prime example came during a passage where Josiah Miller (Hopeless Romantics, MOVE) and Christopher Lyles (Panther Heart) were playing drums and xylophone (respectively) so gently that you could barely call it percussion.
BACON is a bit lighter on the leitmotif than was Warkentine and company's work on The Artist, but that's no failing. In fact, one of BACON's most flavorful qualities is the number of unique moments to which the viewer/listener is treated. Nightfall in the mountains brings on the distant, plaintive howls of God knows what. When a fitful night of foreboding gives way to the seeming safety of a sunny day, a bit of alpine "oom-pah” sets the tone. And while BACON contains no dedicated foley, a sprinkling of warbles, shouts, and percussive accents to all manner of movement brings the onscreen action in through the ears without ever distracting from the flow.
As with The Artist, the Sunnyside screening of Nosferatu was produced by Long Beach Cinematheque, which is obviously pretty serious about these live-scoring events, over and above otherwise bringing the cinema. Next up: a free screening of Eraserhead on the Los Alamitos Residence Lawn at CSULB. For more info, go to lbcinema.org.