Gallery5 and A Silent Music Revival presented The Adventures of Prince Achmed with Dave Watkins this past Sunday, August 29 – the latest entry in a monthly silent film screening accompanied by a musician who has never seen the film. The premise is intriguing, and Sunday’s result was brilliant.
Before the show, as another film played noiselessly over the screen, audience members filed in. Soon all the seating, the standing room in the back, and the floor were all filled, and the audience was tangibly energized for the show.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a 1926 film by German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger, was completed after three years of intricate and painstaking labor in stop-motion animation, with cut out images on color tinted glass frames – yes, the film was in color. Reiniger was inspired by Indonesian puppetry, and also drew from the 1001 Arabian Nights, though dialogue title cards are in her native German.
“It was really beautiful,” said Brookes Finnie, a student in the cinema program at VCU. “I didn’t really read the subtitles. … I was really just paying attention to the movie. It told a really great visual story.”
One of the oldest full-length animated films, Prince Achmed’s 65 minute duration presented a challenge for featured musician Dave Watkins, who provided the live soundtrack for the film with his gorgeous custom-made dulcitar and killer pedal setup. In keeping with the rules of Silent Music Revial, Watkins had never seen the film before Sunday night’s performance, with the exception of some screen stills.
Watkins was able to watch the film and to take visual cues from it – the resulting music depended a great deal on looping and amplification technology, and therefore maintained a hypnotic rhythm and mood throughout. In moments of intense action, Watkins would surprise the audience with sharp acoustic accompaniment, but would soon revert to his steady pace.
Members of the audience were sucked into the continuous loop of Watkin’s accompaniment. “The next day the music was still in my head,” says VCU student Caitlin Blomstrom. “It held my attention amazingly through the whole thing, and I wish I could see more.” This feeling seemed to be felt by much of the audience, but they’ll have to wait until later this month: Silent Music Revival next returns to Gallery5 on September 26, with The Low Branches accompanying Jean Epstein’s 1947 film Le Tempestaire.
For more information, check out Gallery5 at gallery5arts.org, or A Silent Music Revival on their Myspace Film page, http://www.myspace.com/silentmusicrevival.