Last friday night, with blue uplighting the towering Gothic vaults and red light flooding the choir behind the screen on which Cesare the somnambulist lay dormant, St. Canice’s was ready for KAF’s first film screening and live score. One of Ireland’s most significant composers and organist of Waterford’s Christ Church Cathedral, Eric Sweeney and seven piece post-rock ensemble, 3epkano collaborated to compose and partly improvise the score for The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, which is regarded as the first true horror film.
Directed by Robert Wiene in 1920, Das Kabinet der Dr. Caligari is seen as the most influential of German Expressionist films and one of the best horror films of the silent era, cited as being the first film to use the “twist ending” (which was only used because the producers thought the original ending was too macabre!).
Cesare the somnambulist
The story is told through a flashback by the narrator, Francis, who describes the horror of the events that followed Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesare’s arrival at the town carnival with the characters constantly struggling with appearance and reality.
Both Sweeney and 3epkano are known for performing live silent film scores, and while their film choices overlap with the likes of Murnau’s Nosferatu, their styles differ greatly as Sweeney uses a more traditional approach with the church organ and 3epkano bring modern instrumentation and inventive percussion to the films. Sweeney’s skillful playing on the famous church organ and the full, deep sound of the ensemble had an often gigantic effect with the acoustics of the cathedral. Echoing some of the ideas from the original orchestral score (at least the version on the 1996 edition), the ensemble incorporated clattering bows and pizzicato, fluttering organ keys and a wide variety of techniques for various effects while the dynamics of the score ranged from warm and sentimental strings to thunderous drums and organ drones with some startling and tense moments. The organ and the ensemble sometimes felt separate like the organ was the classic background while the ensemble played quietly over it while at other times both elements merged and swelled.
An example of 3epkano’s previous work on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari:
Having been working through “Best Silent Era Films” lists this summer, I was familiar with some similar works of the time, leaving Dr. Caligari for last since I’d seen it on the bill for the festival. I’m delighted that it turned out that the best was left for last as the film itself stands out visually for its abstract set of painted card, it’s unusually decorative intertitles and method of storytelling. Everything down to the tinted lighting of the cathedral fitting the two tones throughout the film of warm and cold enhanced the show. The score brought a modern gothic horror sound to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, updating the cinematic tension for today’s audience (a couple of jumping heads in the crowd) and I think really enhanced this iconic film. For me, this was one of the best KAF events I’ve been to yet and I’d love to see a collaboration like this again at future festivals.