Live scary music at Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead, Enchanted Tales and Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror
'My big surprise watching Night of the Living Dead was, in fact, its poignancy.' So says Ben Singer, half of musical duo Modern Robot and perhaps one of only a handful of people ever to describe a zombie movie as poignant. In fairness, he's as surprised as anyone. 'It's not what I thought it would be, and that's a reason I now enjoy bringing this film to people so much.'
He's discussing Modern Robot's Fringe show, Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead, an edited version of the classic horror film accompanied by a new live score. This Fringe run of the show may end up being even more poignant than Singer originally intended: the film's director, George A Romero, passed away just last month.
'With George Romero's death, I think people will come out of curiosity and with some amused nostalgia,' says Singer, 'and I believe many will find the same surprise. If I can bring out this part of Romero's work, then I think I've have honoured his life well.'
The show is also bound to attract at least a few from the film's cult fan base – some of whom might understandably bristle at the phrase 'edited version'. Living Dead-heads can rest easy, though – Singer is sensitive to the source material's appeal, and has made cuts out of pragmatism, not ego. 'As a practical matter, I knew a 60-minute show would be a better fit for a Fringe performance. That's a tall order, coming from a 96-minute film. I was concerned that I would lose the pacing, some core parts of it, or disappoint fans of the movie.'
However, while he praises leading man Duane Jones' 'excellent performance', Singer recognises that 'some of the acting is, indeed, not very good. So these are the parts I began editing out. I removed a section with some aggravated scientists and government officials, a staple and trope in horror films that I felt didn't advance the plot, and kept going from there.' The end result, believes Singer, is 'sharper, and makes more clear the story that George Romero was trying to tell.' The new soundtrack even incorporates elements of the original score – Singer describes the process as 'a bit like sampling' – and he's taken pains to ensure Romero's original dialogue and sound effects remain audible.
That tricky consideration has been deftly sidestepped by two other live film events at the Fringe. Both Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror, by Tess Said So, and Enchanted Tales, by Lizabett Russo and Graeme Stephen, use silent movies as their starting point. The former is an unofficial Dracula adaptation by German expressionist director FW Murnau; the latter, a selection of filmed fairy tales from the early 1900s, including a take on the Snow White myth. 'Lizabett has created a new fairy tale by combining these films,' says Stephen, whose previous re-scores include Metropolis, Faust and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. 'It's a great journey!'
Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror He continues: 'I think everyone is fascinated by fairy tales from childhood. It's amazing how these stories stay with you and the many ways they can be interpreted. They seem so innocent sometimes, yet have so much depth. The way they reflect our own lives and have so many meanings personal to us all. Hopefully this show will take the audience on their own personal journeys.'
That sense of deep-rooted fascination is shared by Will Larsen of Tess Said So, the band behind the Nosferatu screenings. 'My brother had a poster of Nosferatu up on his bedroom wall when we were young. The imagery of that poster intrigued me even as a kid, so when it came to choosing a silent movie, Nosferatu was a natural choice. It has very distinct, evocative characters full of depth and hidden agendas.'
Attendees of A Symphony of Horror will have the added thrill of watching the film on sacred ground. The show's venue, St Vincent's Chapel, 'was built in 1857, around the same time Nosferatu is set,' says Larsen. 'So not only do the Gothic architecture and high arched windows match the buildings in the film, but the chapel will be perfect for setting the mood both before and during the performance.'
For anyone who fears that a silent film from the 1920s might have limited appeal today, think again. 'Even though I've seen the film literally countless times, I'm still not bored with it,' says Larsen. 'I still can't quite reconcile how Nosferatu was made in 1922, when film was such a new art form, with the way the movie is edited and the way all three acts of the film are so well paced. It's a remarkably well composed, sophisticated piece of storytelling. I imagine it's still compulsory viewing for any budding filmmaker, but even for people who just appreciate film, Nosferatu holds up remarkably well.'
Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead, ZOO, until 28 Aug (not 16), 10pm, £10 (£8); Enchanted Tales, The Outhouse, 15–16 Aug, 10pm, £10 (£7), Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror, St Vincent's Chapel, 18–22 Aug, 8.30pm, £10 (£8).
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