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BY TRAV S.D. (travsd.wordpress.com) | “There is no new thing under the sun,” went the wisdom of Solomon. And so it is that among the more novel diversions to be had in the city now are silent films, a form that last enjoyed mainstream popularity nearly 90 years ago. From Feb. 17–20, WNYC’s “New Sounds Live” will be presenting “Silent Films/Live Music” at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. Two separate programs will be presented on alternating nights. The showings are free.
On Tues., Feb. 17 and Thurs., Feb. 19, four short avant-garde works by Man Ray will be shown, accompanied by an original live score by SQÜRL, a band featuring the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (“Dead Man,” “Broken Flowers”) and his musical partner Carter Logan. Naturally, SQÜRL specializes in improvised avant-rock, creating soundscapes out of trippy feedback loops, distorted guitars and heavy percussion.
American-born painter, photographer, and filmmaker Man Ray was a key figure in the Dada and Surrealism movements in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s. His films are non-linear, non-narrative experiments. These films are a far cry from the Hollywood product of their day and, in some ways, remain ahead of their time. The viewer is frequently disoriented, through such techniques as skewed angles, double exposure, reverse polarity, slow motion, stop motion animation, soft focus and simple tricks of light and shadow — not to mention his famous “Rayographs.” A special photographic technique of his own, Rayographs were produced by placing common household objects (spoons, pearls) directly onto photographic paper and exposing them to light.
NEW SOUNDS LIVE: SILENT FILMS/LIVE MUSIC
At Winter Garden at Brookfield Place
230 Vesey Street (at West Street)
The four Man Ray films will be the two-minute-plus “Retour a la Raison” (“The Return of Reason,”1923), “Emak Bakia” (1926), “L’Etoile De Mer” (“The Starfish,” 1928), and “Les Mysteres Du Chateau Du De” (“The Mysteries of the House of Dice,” 1929) — which, at 28 minutes, is the lengthiest of the selections. It is also the closest to a narrative film: four faceless people wander around a mansion — swimming in the swimming pool and periodically rolling a giant pair of dice.
On Wed., Feb. 18 and Fri., Feb. 20, the series will present the U.S. premiere of “Blancanieves,” a latter-day Spanish updating of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” set against a backdrop of bullfighting in Andalusia in the 1920s. The Andalusian theme seems most apt given that the most famous of all the classic Surrealist films is “Un Chien Andalou” (“An Andalusian Dog”, 1929), by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali…which connects us back to Man Ray. But other than the Andalusian setting, the comparisons stop there.
Pablo Berger’s 2012 film is a masterful (and magical) piece of storytelling concerning a daughter striving to return to her father and carry out his legacy despite the cruel conniving of an evil stepmother. And believe it or not, the film has seven little people. They actually “went there” — and it works! I thought this film was easily the equal of 2011’s “The Artist” in reviving the art form of silent, black and white storytelling. One can only speculate on (and I have some pretty good guesses) what sort of myopia has prevented distributors from opening the film in the U.S. until this late date. But be glad they are. I highly recommend this film.
As a special treat, the February screenings will include a live appearance by the composer of the film’s original soundtrack, Alfonso Vilallonga, along with his ensemble, the Wordless Music Orchestra.
The programs will be recorded for future broadcast on WNYC radio’s New Sounds Live (an interesting proposition, given that listeners won’t be able to see the films that the music will accompany). The show airs nightly at 11 p.m. on WNYC 93.9FM.