Written by Randi Hair
On Tuesday, March 15, my boss was kind enough to lend me a San Luis Obispo International Film Festival media pass after I expressed interest in the kickoff event, a showing of “Nosferatu”. My prior knowledge of the film was limited to a reference in a “SpongeBob” episode; yeah I’m 21 and watch an excessive amount of children’s cartoons, that I didn’t catch. In my defense all I heard was “blablablaaaablooooo” instead of “nosferaaatuuuu” while a creepy impish man- whom I didn’t even recognize as being a vampire -flicked the lights on and off.
So I strutted in to the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly feeling like one of the elite with the fancy, laminated media pass and sat down, not really sure what I was about to point my face at for the next 84 minutes.
Before the lights were dimmed, Markus Horn, a German pianist, introduced himself and told us that this would be his sixth time performing this show. I was relieved that not only would the show be accompanied by music but it would be a live pianist. As a millennial, silent films aren’t super appealing. I looked forward to the rustic, hipster feel, but, admittedly, was a little wary of sitting through an extended period of slow-paced outdated plot. Despite this, I had a fairly open mind as the film began, mostly due to the live music.
So it began. We were thrown into an ominous, lighthearted love story with occasional hints of the terror that was soon to come, both by the film and the partnering music.
The movie progressed and I was hooked. As I became more and more immersed in the film, blind to my real-life surroundings, I was sometimes brought back to reality by the silent film’s delayed text. When watching a scene most occurrences could be interpreted, but dialogue followed in old time-y text taking up the whole screen. You may be thinking “duh, that’s how silent films work”, but often this clip would go on much longer than the time it took me to read it. While this could be perceived as annoying, I was actually thankful, for each time I became aware that there was a man who was providing a live soundtrack the entire time.
This amazed me. It was obvious that he is very talented, not just playing the music but playing the sounds the movie would be making. From the slamming of a door to birds flying he managed to create sounds with his piano all the while maintaining the music that reflected the emotions of the characters and tension or foreboding calmness of the plot.
As an ex piano-player (I wouldn’t say pianist), these were sounds I didn’t even know a piano could make. He did so by manipulating the chords and various other techniques that my childhood piano lessons definitely did not include.
Although this film is nearly 100 years old, the audience still laughed or gasped in unison, myself included, as I assume was the case when the 1920’s German audiences saw it.
Yes, it was difficult to be scared by 1920s costume makeup when nowadays we have things like “Saw” but the eeriness of the spooky music, and the grainy black and white made up for it. No, I didn’t scream. But I was entranced by the unsettling nature of the film, much like how “Psycho” can still frighten me today.
This showing was an amazing way to kick-off the SLO Film Fest- if it weren’t for finals I would be attending every other event.
Randi Hair is a SLO Chamber of Commerce intern and has an elitist preference for a good “fulfilling” movie over a scary movie.