Fights over Rachmaninov

by Brad on December 21, 2012

So this happened:

Andrei Gavrilov refused to play the Rachmaninov D minor in Moscow last  night. The audience was told that he was not feeling well. Gavrilov posted something else on his Facebook page:

They didn’t play the Rachmaninoff. They played the notes that did not even reminded me of Rachmaninoff. It was playing at the level of sick chickens, incubator imitating nightingales.

In the end Alexander Ghindin took over for him, because, he was in the audience, and… why not?

More melodrama and a response from the orchestra at the link.


Vesti La Giubba – Enrico Caruso (1907)

by Brad on December 20, 2012

Laugh Clown at your broken love.
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart.


Bird-man from illuminated manuscript

by Brad on December 10, 2012

Not certain about the source.


The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

by Brad on December 8, 2012

Lon Chaney’s phantom is a creature that Shakespeare’s Richard III, would have been comfortable with. Someone who, because he cannot prove a lover, is determined to prove a villain. But his villainy is not in pursuit of power, but rather in pursuit of truth, an artistic truth so blindingly real that the woman he loves would have to bow down and admire him.

The film is appropriately operatic, both in Lon Chaney’s performance, and in the little touches of scene and scenery. The ballet dancers twirl in fear, the underground chambers are dramatic labyrinths, and one gesture from the monster is enough to make his enemies cringe. The peak of the film – a chase in a horse drawn carriage that ends with the entire contraption being flipped over – is stunningly shot without special effects.

I should also correct my previous claim that the Black Cat was the first film to use Bach as horror music. I learned from the organ player at this showing that the first time Bach was used for a horror movie was at the London premier of Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera in 1925.

I saw this film at the Stanford Theater.


Lady of the Saxon Court as Judith with the Head of Holofernes, Hans Cranach, 1537

At the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

My favorite part is the bored teenager expression.

For more in this series.

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Book from the Sky

by Brad on October 31, 2012


Frankenstein (1931)

by Brad on October 30, 2012

Frankenstein (1931) is a film about a young black man who is lynched, risen from the dead, and then lynched again.

That Frankenstein’s monster was black – if not literally so, at least metaphorically so* – is widely overlooked, but it is quite clearly in the film. There are references to the American tradition of lynching in the very first scene, where Frankenstein (the scientist) recovers a body that has been hung up and abandoned in the graveyard. The brain is one that a phrenologist has determined is abnormal. Then, of course, the climax is a straight forward lynching, which would be more or less recognizable to anyone in America at the time. There was also an existing literary tradition relating the literary character of Frankenstein** with the condition of African-Americans in the early 20th century.

The filmic Frankenstein seems to be a model for Lenny from Of Mice and Men, a novel that discusses lynching of both black and white Americans. Which is reportedly used in the state of Texas as a standard as to who is fitting to face the death penalty. Which is evil.

(I saw this film at the Stanford Theater)

*Because the story takes place in Germany it seems unlikely that the brain was from an African, but the phrenological reference suggests otherwise.

**The novel Frankenstein was very different from the film.



The Raven (1935)

by Brad on October 25, 2012

Bela Lugosi plays a doctor obsessed with death, who has a large collection of torture devices modelled off the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. He saves the life, and then falls in love with, a girl engaged to be married. When he tells her that he loves her, she spurns him, leaving him brooding in an anger descending to insanity.

Torture shows up in a lot of Bela Lugosi works, and he’s quite good at it. He gets a gleam in his eye when he is performing the inflicting of pain. The house is more reminiscent of H.H. Holmes than Poe.

The best part of the film is the relationship between Lugosi and Karloff, who Lugosi has deformed but claims he can restore back to his original appearance. Karloff’s treatment at the hands of even the supposed “good people” is heartbreaking, like if Richard III was not determined to prove a villain.

(I saw this film at the Stanford Theater)


The Banshee, Henry Cowell

by Brad on October 23, 2012

The banshee is a feminine spirit that foretells death, usually through her wailing. She occasionally takes the form of a hooded crow.


The Black Cat (1934)

by Brad on October 19, 2012

This is up there on the list of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen.

Inspired, but in no way based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, the Black Cat begins with a newly married couple meeting Bela Lugosi on a train to Hungary. The trio then get on a bus to their final destinations: for the married couple, a romantic valley honeymoon destination, and for Bela Lugosi, a modernist mansion owned by Boris Karloff and built on the ruins of a World War I battlefield. (there’s a complicated backstory here).

Long story short, the bus gets in an accident, and they’re trapped at Boris Karloff’s house, who is a devil worshipper, and somehow embalms women standing up, or conducts female taxidermy or something (see picture above). Boris Karloff wants to use the young wife as his next human sacrifice, but he’s foiled by Bela Lugosi. There’s a gruesome torture scene, brought on by more backstory, and then Bela Lugosi is killed by accident.

This film owes a lot to old German expressionist film – in general, one of the themes of this season’s Stanford Theater program is the impact of German cinematography and design on Universal films. Besides the ultra-modernist design and bizarre embalming techniques, the movie was unusual for having an almost constant musical score. I’m fairly certain it was the first movie to point out that Bach’s organ music is really spooky. (Correction: It was Phantom of the Opera)

The film also had a fairly gruesome torture scene, which seems to be a theme of the Edgar Allen Poe “inspired” movies – more on that later though.