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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cameron Carpenter & The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (review)



I will be the first person to admit that I don’t get out much.  But that’s just in my nature.  I am an absolutely fervent homebody.  I like my bed, I like sitting on my couch, I like doing my crochet, I like being with my DH and with my cats.  I just like being at home.  I am a creature of resolute contentment and stoicism when I’m at home.  As a result of this, DH (who is also a decadent homebody) and I don’t go out on the town very often.

However, there are certain things for which I will always venture out and about in the freshly wintered atmosphere of my beloved city.  Last night we traversed the slushy streets and strolled in the dark down to the Winspear Centre, to see a classic work in my absolute favorite genre of silent film.

I have been a serious fan of silent film for several years now, and I can say that it all started with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  And while I could wax poetic about its charms, I’ll save that for another blog entry on another day.  

The iconic Mensch-Maschine.

I have difficulty explaining what exactly it is about silent film that I find so enthralling and attractive.  Many would accuse them of being boring or campy.  I think the reason I find them so compelling is their purity.  They are the very roots of all we have come to know as modern cinema, yet less corrupted by modern phenomenon like product placement and overflowing egos.  Silent film is the progenitor of a medium which has come to define and reflect society.  To see cinema at its very roots is very humbling.  Immense efforts were undertaken not only to create the film in those early days, but also the decades (in some cases, quite nearly a century) of efforts to preserve, maintain and rediscover these works.  A silent film is not merely an entertainment, it’s a window to the past and a testament to the enduring importance of the arts.

But I digress (for now…), the film we saw last night was one of the finest works of German expressionist cinema, The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1920).  Musical accompaniment was provided by organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter, who furnished the piece with his own original score.


For anyone who hasn’t seen The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (yet), it is available at the EdmontonPublic Library, which as a sidenote I would like to say has done an absolutely fabulous job of collecting not only the well-known silent films but also many more of the obscure titles from all over the world.  The beauty of this movie comes not only in the surprise twist ending (from which M. Night Shyamalan surely took his cues) but in the fantastic sets, costumes, and overall cinematography.  The expressionist style is so perfectly captured in this film; the themes of madness found not only in the actions and mannerisms of the characters, but within the very construction of their world in the set design.  A right angle is nowhere to be found in the twisted streets and buildings.  

And then there is the soundtrack.  I was very excited to see and hear the Davis Concert Organ, the jewel of the Winspear Centre, in its full glory in the very capable hands of organist Cameron Carpenter.  Carpenter did not disappoint, his warm-up to the screening was a treat to watch, as his feet and hands flew about, creating an amazing spectacle which thrilled the audience.  While I was a bit nervous to find that Carpenter was playing his own original soundtrack to the film, this worry was unnecessary.  Carpenter performed very well, capturing the madness of the characters in the many variations of his theme.  There were times when I forgot that I was listening to a single organ, and believed that I could hear strings, trumpets, and a rumbling bass.  While I’m not sure that anyone could make a difficult instrument like the organ “look easy”, Carpenter’s frenetic playing made it sound like an orchestra and provided appropriate, beautiful accompaniment to the film.

So overall, I’m quite glad I went out last night.  The evening was a delight.  Kudos not only to Cameron Carpenter, but also to the long departed forefathers of film, whose works still draw a crowd, and still invite us to imagine. 

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