An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu is the quintessential vampire film, crafted by legendary German director F. W. Murnau. Rather than depicting Dracula as a shape-shifting monster or debonair gentleman, Murnau's Graf Orlok is a nightmarish, spidery creature of bulbous head and taloned claws, perhaps the most disturbing incarnation of vampirism ever (from the International Lens program).
Pantheon Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein's first full-length, Strike (1924) is a government-commissioned celebration of the unrealized 1905 Bolshevik revolution. The story is set in motion by a series of outrages and humiliations perpetrated on the workers of a metalworks plant. The Czarist regime is unsympathetic, predictably helping the plant owners subjugate the hapless victims. Finally, the workers revolt, staging an all-out strike. Strike is where Eisenstein's theory of "the montage of shocks" was given its first major workout. The R&P MPO's original score for Strike is where the group's full-fledged orchestral sound is given its first major workout. Brooding strings and tympanic percussion conjure an ominous mood, eventually propelling the orchestra into brass motifs both heroic and violent as workers and authorities clash on screen.
The High Sign
The High Sign, Buster Keaton's first independent short, dashes through the taut and energetic tale of a man trapped in the paradox of simultaneously assassinating and defending the same man. The resultant gags draw on violence, its threat and realization, and create a tension between violence and hilarity that keeps the film moving briskly. We tried to move along at the same pace, pushing our piano and fiddles through carnivals and cop chases, all the way to the protagonist's final decision and its result in a cutaway circular battle that demands a finale of such driving force and tempo we've got to be thankful the film is only two reels long, for our fingers' sakes. We brought in a viola and trombone on this one, to keep the low end bouncing and rhythmic, and to howl along with the fate of Keaton's resourceful and familiar character.
The Last Laugh
For Last Laugh, we employed violins and piano, an old Wurlitzer, a bit of guitar, thundering percussion, and a healthy dose of ambient noise, turning them all to the service of screenwriter Carl Mayer's bitter vision against blind devotion to ostensible authority.
"Last Laugh" is a film made up of objects. The uniform, the trunks and suitcases, a revolving door—so many doors, all swinging shut on our hero's descent into insignificance, old age, and death—all of these are arranged meaningfully in the eye of cinematographer Karl Freund's "unchained camera." So we tried to arrange musical phrases, which are also objects, in the same way, helping to impart the film’s message against defining ourselves too exactly by station or vocation. There's always someone next in line to take up the uniform.
Go West goes a lot of places; the critics say it's Buster Keaton's great experiment in pathos. Fundamentally a romantic comedy about a guy and a cow, it's also a rousing, violent western; a framework for pratfalls; and a poignant story about loneliness.
We watched Go West over and over until it revealed itself to us, then wrote our understanding into music. We didn't feel a responsibility toward historical accuracy: Go West is no museum piece; it’s a living film, still full of relevance today. We worked with the music we listen to—folk, noise, punk, country—all ground together in a mash of fiddles and pianos, tape loops and drums. We could only make music that reflected what the movie made us feel; in that sense it may be a little tyrannical, like a playbill telling you how to feel about a play. But it's a gentle tyranny. After a performance a few people told us they forgot we were there—it was just them and Buster. That's the idea. That's the right idea.