Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
If you’re like me, you really want to like silent films, but you can’t help but think that they’d be so much better if they had awesome music to make up for the discrepancy in stylistic sensibilities between filmgoers of 1922 and today. “This is great,” you might say, watching the silent protagonist silently explore a silent deserted town during a silent night, “But without music I just can’t understand what this guy is thinking right now.”
Even theater buffs and German majors would agree that, as awesome as silent movies are, they take getting used to. So if you’ve been having trouble relating to silent film, you should clear your schedule for Thursday night at 7pm, when Devil Music Ensemble will be playing their own soundtrack to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic vampire movie, Nosferatu, a shameless rip-off of Bram Stoker’s only slightly more famous novel Dracula.
Devil Music Ensemble is a three-person band with classical training and eclectic tendencies, founded by Brendon Wood in 1999. He was later joined by Jonah Rapino and Tim Nylander, both with impressive musical backstories of their own. The group’s repertoire includes soundtracks for other silent films as well as theater and original classical pieces, and draws on a variety of musical genres to create scores that, while they are almost definitely not what the directors had in mind for their films, nevertheless seem to suit them perfectly.
The story of Nosferatu follows a confident young realtor, Thomas Hutter, who is sent on business to the spooky home of Count Orlok, whose odd behavior combined with the superstitious fear of the locals causes Hutter to suspect his true vampiric nature. There is a ship journey, and damsels in distress, a full quotient of plague-bearing rats, and, of course, Max Schreck as Orlok in one of the classic roles in all of movie history.
Accompanied by DME’s unorthodox music, scenes that might have seemed ho-hum to jaded modern eyes gain new drama and suspense. In the clip below, for example, we watch Hutter’s carriage make its way along a desolate mountain track, until the driver refuses to go forward out of fear of what lies beyond. Without sound, one might well wonder what the big deal is. Enter DME: as the carriage jolts along, do we hear a faint note of panic in the fiddle? Did the beat speed up as the horses came around that bend, or was it our imagination? And when the driver tosses Hutter his bags and speeds away, that vibraphone is definitely in the key of Eerie.
Can’t wait to find out what happens to our hapless hero? Eager to welcome silent film into your life? Not ready to let go of Halloween just yet? Devil Music Ensemble is performing their live soundtrack to Nosferatu this Thursday at 7pm in SCI 101.
Nosferatu, 1922, dir. FW Murnau, music by DME