Though a lauded horror film influential enough to prompt a reinterpretation by Aleksandr Sokurov in 2011, the importance of immersion to the genre is the difference between appreciating something on an intellectual level and being genuinely frightened by it.
A silent black and white movie from almost a century ago, while you can still appreciate the masterful cinematography and acting in the original, its limitations and more dated aspects are immediately apparent and distracting. Even Timothy Brock’s soundtrack he composed and released in 1995 sounds unmistakably of the ‘90s. The orchestral score was lauded at the time, but to today's ears distracts more than it enhances. So when German electronic composer Thomas Köner attempted to once again breathe new life into this classic, I understandably limited my expectations.
How wrong I was.
The underlying ambient evil that Thomas created from the offset had more in common with ambient drone composers such as The Haxan Cloak, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost than John Williams or Timothy Brock. I was taken back by how effective the otherworldly sounds suspended reality enough to draw you into F.W. Murnau’s world completely. Even relative light-hearted moments such as the frivolity of the townsfolk before the plague arrives have the pending doom emphasised in a way that draws sympathy for the characters before anything bad has even happened. Such is the minimalism of Thomas’s soundtrack, you can almost forget it’s there, just the resulting discomfort re-framing what’s happening on the screen and building the anticipation of what’s coming next.
Thomas has a long history of creating soundtracks for silent movies, hoping to make them more accessible to another generation who may otherwise miss out on masterpieces that have no modern comparisons. In a limited attention span era, the dream-like state that the limited effects budget created in 'Faust' arguably wouldn’t have happened if the technology existed to literally interpret the events on the screen. Thomas first started composing live electronic film soundtracks to accompany old silent films for the Louvre Museum, Paris back in 1994, with 'Faust' making its debut there in 2013. It’s a labour of love and one that may be a difficult sell on paper, but to experience it first hand has the ability to reboot a franchise in a way far more tasteful and engaging than to simply reimagine it in a modern day setting with lashings of CGI and explosions. “Sound and image have a different expiry date”, says Köner. “Music seems outmoded to us, much quicker. A chanson from the 1920s compared to todays production appears almost antique, in contrast to the images of a Fritz Lang or F.W. Murnau, which are still exciting today.”
The inner-skeptic is understandably wary of such an approach, it’s one that can so easily go wrong, with the compounded effect of disrespecting the original and embarrassing the composer. However Thomas Köner has met and surpassed expectations with 'Faust', the gamble paying off entirely. He believes that “each generation has the right and the duty to recreate the music time and again,” and in hands as capable as his, I couldn’t agree more.
AUDI FESTIVAL OF GERMAN FILMS
Sydney – until 28 May (Chauvel Cinema and Palace Norton Street)
Melbourne – until 31 May (Palace Cinema Como and Kino Cinemas)
Brisbane – until 28 May (Palace Centro Cinema)
Canberra – until 26 May (Electric Cinema)
Adelaide – until 31 May (Palace Nova East End)
Perth – until 31 May (Cinema Paradiso)
Byron Bay – until 30 May (Palace Byron Bay)
Hobart – 29-30 May (State Cinema)