How can going to see an old film feel new again? That was the question Northwest Film Forum (NWFF) asked themselves before they came up with their current film program, Puget Soundtrack. Through the program, NWFF invites a musician from the Puget Sound region to select a film, create a whole new score for it, and perform it live. “This concept of live scoring a film is a curatorial approach, sort of recontextualizing film,” Chris Day, Director for Operations at NWFF explains.
For their show on April 20th, Hair and Space Museum, a musical duo rooted in a lush, textural interplay of analog synthesizer and human voice, performed a live score for George Lucas’ classic cult film, “THX 1138”. No audio. No subtitles. Just pure stunning visuals coupled with sound described by NWFF as “performance that weaves the organic with the mechanical to probe the generative, cosmic properties of sound”.
Chris Day, Director for Operations at the Northwest Film Forum
For someone who has not seen the original film, it’s all too easy to create a plot in your mind by connecting the visual dots and taking cues from the mood of the sound. But the intent seems to be to appreciate the moving pictures and reflect on the emotion brought by the sound. “This is teaching you to view film in a different sense–it’s much more instinctual that way. You are breaking apart the story purely through sound and visuals,” Day elaborates.
George Lucas’ THX 1138
NWFF brought the idea of live scoring to their theaters in 2014. It felt natural for the organization to build the “Puget Soundtrack Series” and add to their repertoire of live show programs. For Day it was taking this approach to the local scene, “There’s such a thriving and diverse musical output here in Seattle.” Finding that intersection between music and film and cross pollination into what we do as a theater just seems organic.”
Live scoring is a very malleable concept. It can mean different things for different musicians. NWFF checks their process but leaves the interpretation completely up to the musicians. Other variations of the live score they have done in the past include, scoring a film that is mostly silent, leaving the subtitles on to give some context, and redubbing the entire film. It’s up to the musician how they intend to recontextualize the film making the experience unique each time.
In this digital age, a massive influx of live video streaming has made its way to almost every screen changing the way we watch movies. As Day shares, “Oftentimes you will hear lamentations that no one likes to go to movies anymore or it’s not enough to sit down in the theater and watch a film.” NWFF has addressed this challenge through a novel idea that preserves the very essence of cinema going. “It brings back the core of why it’s important to be in a movie theater, in the dark with strangers and it’s meant to be an ephemeral experience, a one-time only experience.”
Movie watchers have also found other ways to enjoy films, through 4D theaters that may include rain wind, strobe lights and vibration, mixed reality hardwares and softwares that give a 360 degree view of films, or digital interactive videos that allow viewers to control the narrative of the film. These forms of media are all about adding physical and digital tools to create immersive experiences for their audience. For NWFF an immersive film experience can also mean stripping and breaking down sensorial attributes and just letting the viewer sit down, relax, and enjoy the movies. “For us, our mission is to adapt to all this and to be a community more than anything else and creating a communal space for people to experience this thing that makes movie theaters so special to begin with,“ Day points out.
The Puget Soundtrack Series returns to NWFF theaters this August. In the meantime, they will be co-presenting a live score film at the Seattle International Film Festival in June 1 at the Triple Door. The dark-surf, girl-group noir sounds of Seattle’s Prom Queen meet some of our favorite visuals from the catalogue of beloved exploitation film archivists Something Weird video, creating a unique new experience of B-movie indulgence.
Visit siff.net to find out more details and nwfilmforum.org to learn more about their films.