Even before the 1927 premiere of the first "talkie," The Jazz Singer, sound was integral to the flicker of celluloid. Pianists would accompany serials at matinees, and pit orchestras would provide ambience and emotional heft to otherwise "silent" films. F.W. Murnau's Faust (1926), a pinnacle of German Expressionism, deployed such live instrumentation in its tale of an alchemist who gladly barters his soul for knowledge.
Perfectly suited for a holiday wherein demons and angels are at play in the inky night, the Halloween screening of Faust will be accompanied by a live soundtrack from the Willem Breuker Kollektief. Dutch saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Breuker has been a force in European jazz since the start of his career. He teamed up with freewheeling firebrand percussionist Han Bennink in the mid-'60s, recorded an ESP-Disk free-jazz session, and was in the ranks for German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann's incendiary and epochal Machine Gun album. His ensemble tempers such roots with a decidedly more playful strain of group improvisation. (Unfortunately, Breuker's recent health problems mean he won't be appearing.)
Some 43 years on from Faust, Czech New Wave filmmaker Jaromil Jires' bizarre coming-of-age fantasy Valerie a týden divu (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) became a cult film despite spinning a befuddling story about a teenage virgin's first menstruation, which occurs amid lecherous priests, vampire-bit grannies, and a heroic boyfriend. While Lubos Fiser's haunting bell- and choir-heavy soundtrack is a classic, recently a Philadelphia collective (comprising members of Espers, Fern Knight, and Fürsaxa, plus guitarist Jesse Sparhawk and cellist Charles Cohen) has taken to providing its electrifying soundtrack for the film under the name of the Valerie Project. A CD version of this new interpretation will be released on Drag City next month.
The special San Francisco events surrounding Faust and Valerie a týden divu make for an invigorating week of experiencing just how sound and vision continue to interact through the decades.