On Saturday, I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see a screening of Karl Heinz Martin’s 1920 film, Von Morgens bis Mitternacht, with live music scored by the Alloy Orchestra. It is a German Expressionist film, and it is a gorgeous example of the style. I saw the Alloy Orchestra do an excellent job with Metropolis at the Somerville Theatre in 2011, so I was happy to see them do another film of the same genre. Actually, I used to be a bit of a film buff, and I always loved German Expressionism – so combining that with live music pretty much makes my night!
I have been to a number of concerts (both traditional and non-traditional presentations) at the ICA, but this was the first time I’d seen a film there. The room is certainly adequate for a film screening, but since they have to darken the room and curtain off all the windows, you lose a lot of what makes it such a special room – namely, the view of the harbor and the natural lighting coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Alloy Orchestra is known far and wide for their silent film scores, and they’ve performed music with a variety of films, from horror to slapstick. Von Morgens bis Mitternacht would probably fall under the genre of psychological horror – the plot (which I found a bit hard to follow in spots) was basically that a bank teller robbed the bank he worked for, and was subsequently plagued by fear and guilt everywhere he went while trying to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. The extreme stylization of the film set and special effects were my favorite part – everything is angular, stark, and strange, while having the rudimentary feel of a stage set rather than a film set. (I didn’t take any pictures for obvious reasons, and it’s difficult to even find stills on the internet, but here is one I found to give you an idea: click here. Note how the lamp, door and background detail look like they’ve been drawn in chalk!)
The music was all very well done, although most of the time I tended not to think about it too much as it was meant to be an accompaniment to the film and not something taking center stage. One touch I particularly enjoyed was that whenever the bank teller’s daughter (I think it was his daughter, anyway) was playing the piano, the Alloy Orchestra’s keyboard player would play loud and discordant random-sounding crashes of keys. It gave much darker and less-sane feel to the scene, which would have seemed a lot more homey if she’d been playing some lovely Chopin or Debussy piece.
I strongly recommend catching one of the Alloy Orchestra’s performances if they come to your town – not just for their music but for the interesting films they choose to score. I’ve seen them four times and I’ve loved every one! You can see their touring schedule here: http://www.alloyorchestra.com/tour-schedule
And you can see some samples of their work here: http://www.alloyorchestra.com/media