Some of you may remember Steve Severin coming to Watershed back in November 2010 to perform his accompaniment to Jean Cocteau‘s groundbreaking, surreal and powerful Blood Of A Poet. I say ‘some of you’, in actual fact due to a wee programming malfunction the film was screened on the same day as a Slapstick Festival fundraiser (which the majority of Blood Of A Poet’s target demographic were already committed to attend) so it would probably be more accurate to say “It’s unlikely many of you will remember…”. Anyway, some of ME definitely remembers it – I figured I could probably leg it between the two venues and only miss the first 5 mins of the fundraiser. (Plus I’d already got my ticket for Blood Of A Poet before realising there was a clash).
As one may expect from a member of one of the more original & groundbreaking punk bands (Siouxsie and the Banshees) Severin’s approach to accompanying a silent film flew a tad in the face of what we’ve come to expect from silent film accompanists. Not for him the basking in applause at beginning and end of the screening. As a mark of respect to the film (I’m assuming) he waited for the lights to go right down before he slipped in, played his score, then slipped off out again as soon as the film had finished and before the lights came up. By doing so I’m assuming he was emphasising the whole event wasn’t about the score but was about the film. Any applause should be directed towards it & not him.
Which was a bit of a shame because, like a lot of the audience (as I said, most of the Bristol’s silent film fans were elsewhere so I assumed the majority of the scant audience were Severin / Siouxie fans), one of the reasons I’d been looking forward to the show was his participation in the event & I’d have liked to have given him some signal for his brooding, menacing score, a score that complemented the film brilliantly. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that it seemed a far more appropriate way to accompany a film such as Blood Of A Poet than, say, a more traditional piano accompaniment. I suspect that, had MacBook’s been around in Cocteau’s day, the original score wouldn’t have been dissimilar to the one Severin had knocked up. (Sorry, spent months composing).
Which brings us onto the point of this blog which is to draw to your attention the fact that the next film Severin has chose to work on, Vampyr, is about to begin touring & has two dates in the Southwest coming up in just over a weeks time.
As the name of the film suggests, Vampyr is a reworking of the old Dracula story. For those unfamiliar with Vampyr it is to a large extent inspired by early surrealist works (for instance it’s full of dreamlike atmospherics and has a fragmented structure). Dreyer’s surrealist approach to making the film still stands out as a unique way of telling this story, an approach which for various reasons, works really well.
It’s also interesting to note the inevitable parallels between Vampyr and Blood Of A Poet, there are obvious themes Severin is intrigued by that jump out at you. Needless to say comparisons with his pre-film scoring days as a member of one of the first ‘goth’ bands are also inevitable, though I suspect something he’d rather we didn’t dwell on.
Vampyr follows the fortunes of Allan Gray, a young student of the occult, who takes rooms at a village inn, little realising that the region is cursed by vampires. In the dead of night, Gray receives a mysterious nocturnal visitor, who leaves behind a package labelled ‘To be opened after my death’ – and from that moment on, events take ever darker, weirder turns.
I know some traditionalists have problems with someone accompanying a silent film armed only with a MacBook. Apart from the obvious anachronism, to the ignorant it can appear that all the accompanist is doing is hitting “Play” & that you may as well be listening to a recorded soundtrack. This is obviously twaddle, there is as little chance of you hearing two identical performances of Severin’s score during his Vampyr tour as there would be if he were bashing away at a piano. Just because he isn’t building up a sweat doesn’t mean he isn’t working the score as the film screens.
Another strong argument for encouraging performances such as this is that if we want to spread awareness of silent film to younger filmgoers one of the best ways to do that is to update the parts of the performance that can be updated. By providing a more contemporary score the film can be made more relevant to a younger, contemporary audience.
Anyway, hopefully some of you will get to one of these screenings. If you do please come back here and comment on whether you thought Severin’s “textured, synthesised, highly atmospheric soundscape” (Cube’s program’s words not mine) is the perfect partner to Dreyer’s dreamlike, psychological horror or not.
As already mentioned there are two local screenings of Vampyr. The first is at Chapter Art House on 17th Feb at 6pm. Details for which can be found here
The second is the show at The Cube cinema in Bristol on 18th Feb at 8pm, details of which can be found here
More info can be found from Steve Severin’s website. Sadly it’s one of those kind of outdated websites that were built on Flash so if you want to view it you’ll not be able to view it at from an idevice and if you try to view it from an android device it’ll probably crash. Any which way it is here