Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It Came from Outer Space - in 3D

Life, and death, intervened last week to prevent any scrawling on this site. Amidst a manic week of house clearing (countless visits to a recycling centre, charity shops and a tip, all topped off with a big cathartic bonfire) I managed to see It Came from Outer Space at Warwick [University] Arts Centre in Coventry.
This was not any old showing of the film. No. This had a live soundtrack performed by the most important band of the last thirty years, Pere Ubu. It's a band driven by a man with a vision. A man who looks, and sometimes sounds like late period Orson Welles. Listen. See. Be amazed. This review of an earlier night sums things up but this night did not have the early lights up. This night was good.
We’re here to experience the band improvising a soundtrack to the 1953 B-movie It Came From Outer Space. There’s nothing new about musicians providing live accompaniment to films, but this is something different. For one thing, tonight’s movie is being shown in its original 3D format, with the splendid result that the sold-out crowd, all wearing those fantastic 3D spex, suddenly look like authentic drive-in hipsters. “Red lens over the right eye,” Thomas warns. “If you put the green lens over the right eye … your brain will explode.”

For another thing, rather than simply making new music, Thomas is performing a virtual act of reconstruction. The movie – about a spaceship which crashes in Arizona, piloted by benign aliens who replicate locals to repair their craft – was originally written by Ray Bradbury, but the film’s producers did their best to remove the brains and strangeness of his treatment. For instance, Bradbury wanted his aliens to remain unseen, but the studio insisted on big rubber monsters. Through the combination of music and an occasional voiceover to replace lost dialogue, Thomas, who considers the movie a “critique of post-war racial isolationism”, is attempting to tease out whatever remains of the original vision.

It works wonderfully well. There are moments when what the band is doing could be generously described as “aimless noodling”, but in the main the soundtrack focuses your attention in a way that allows you to enjoy the 1950s-kitsch shlock surface and also see beneath it. Director Jack Arnold composed 3D intelligently and the effects stand up – you’re almost ducking as the hero scientist swings his telescope in your direction – but tonight’s performance is more like X-ray vision.

Ubu’s prowling noise highlights the film’s authentic desert feel ...

Built around repeatedly explored figures and from melodic bass throb, guitar scrape, intuitive drumming, on-the-spot dialogue samples and Theremin quivers ... one that builds across the night into a monumental thing, a dark, drilling, interstellar-overdrive groove as intensely urgent as Ubu’s Heart Of Darkness of 30 years ago.
This was the perfect mix of music and film. This is the last ever showing of this 3D film. We want more. More 3D films. More Ubu.

No comments: