Silent Film Festival + Live Music: Like a Half-Hour Acid Trip

Every year I look forward to the Silent Film Festival not because I'm a fan of silent film but because I really enjoy having good visuals while listening to good music. The DIY version from my college years was Disney's animated classic from 1940 Fantasia and hip hop from the mid-'90s. The film's classical score by the Philadelphia Orchestra would be muted in favor of DJ Shadow's first album Endtroducing. My favorite mash up was the Greek Bacchanalian episode (set to Beethoven's The Pastoral Symphony) and Track Number 2 ("Building Steam with a Grain of Salt"). Oh, the folly of my college years.

Things have gotten a little more high brow these days thanks to said silent film festival. I can now watch a restored silent film ("The Mechanical Man" from Italy) in a proper theater (the Shangri-la Cineplex which indeed has the best sound system of all), scored by a handful of the most amazing musicians around. When I found out that Caliph8, Malek Lopez, Pasta Groove, and Tad Ermitaño were performing at the festival, I made my way to Shangri-la, wind and rain be damned. I'm glad I did because they guys did a fabulous job. Of course.


A clip from the rare silent film, "The Mechanical Man".


"The Mechanical Man" (directed by André Deed) is the story of a female bandit who creates a monstrous robot to terrorize the city. The film was considered lost for many years until it resurfaced in Brazil, less than half of the original survived. But that's okay because what we have left is pretty cool by itself. In 1921–when movies were all about Charlie Chaplin's physical comedy and Valentino's smoldering stare–"The Mechanical Man" was way ahead of its time: the technology versus humanity theme, the battling robots, plus the wily female villain.

And of course who better to score this film but the finest assembly of super talented, top-of-the-heap purveyors of geek chic. The score of Caliph8, Malek Lopez, and Pasta Groove was at once multi-layered and funky, atmospheric and tripped-out in the best sense. The second half, Act 2 so to speak, was Tad Ermitaño's deconstruction of the film into what my seat mate Erwin Romulo likened to "the history of video art". With the music it was enough to blow the cobwebs out of my brain like a wonderful half hour acid trip. I wish I could translate some of Tad's patterns into fabric design–wouldn't that be gorgeous? Too bad there were a few walk outs, I guess some people are lost without narrative. ("Philistines!" said Erwin. "Philippine art is dead," he muttered, a bit prophetically. A few days later there would be a staged necrological service and funeral march for the controversial National Artists Awards.)

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But the music and the visuals only got better and better. Let's keep it that way.

The Third International Silent Film Festival is organized by the good folks of the Goethe-Institut, Instituto Cervantes, Japan Foundation, along with the embassies of France and Italy. Check the schedule here. (I'm particularly looking forward to this week's performance: Nyko Maca + Playground scoring the German film "People on a Sunday"!)

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