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IT’S ALIVE!

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"He’s just resting. Waiting for a new life to come."

So proclaims the mad scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein of his ungodly creation in director James Whale’s oft-imitated horror classic of 1931. The same might be said of the movie itself, which, although regularly remade, is known to the general public primarily through black-and-white film clips of Boris Karloff lumbering and growling or the famous sequence when the doctor chillingly screams, "He’s alive!"

Now comes the resurrection. Composer Tom Nazziola and his BQE Project will breathe new life into the historic fright flick by performing an original score live at a screening for Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park on Thursday, July 29, at 8:40 pm.

"It’s an interplay across time," says Jack Walsh, producer of the performing arts series in the park.

Why "Frankenstein" was initially created without any leitmotifs or tuneful accompaniment is one of the quirks of movie history. Following the birth of talking pictures in 1927, the initial batch of studio films with spoken dialogue had yet to consider the incorporation of musical scores. It was an oversight that didn’t last long.

"By ’33 or ’34," Nazziola asserts, "film scoring was coming into its own."

Preceding that development, however, a brief era of largely unscored works - including cinematic landmarks such as Greta Garbo’s "Anna Christie" and Edward G. Robinson’s "Little Caesar" - had unfolded. While Nazziola contemplated using other monster movies for this particular project, "The Invisible Man" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" among them, he opted for Whale’s masterpiece, because, "There’s not a stitch of music in it except for the intro credits and at the end."

Other factors no doubt include that this cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel of ideas has aged better than many of its peers. Not only does it possess Karloff’s career-defining performance, and some dramatically stylized set pieces akin to German expressionism, but the narrative’s central concerns about the dangers of amoral scientific research and the inconsistencies of justice when confronted by class have remained at the center of public discourse.

The fairly recent Whale bio-pic "Gods and Monsters" and two upcoming television versions of "Frankenstein" - one written by horror novelist Dean Koontz for USA Network; the other, a Hallmark Channel miniseries starring Julie Delpy, William Hurt and Donald Sutherland - emphasize the timelessness of the material.

"Frankenstein" is not the first BQE soundtrack for a talkie. At Celebrate Brooklyn in 2001, the ensemble premiered live musical accompaniment for the Marlene Dietrich vehicle "Der Blaue Engel" ("The Blue Angel"). What differed in that instance was the score (composed with John Florio) was by necessity influenced by the film debut of Dietrich’s theme song: "Falling in Love Again."

In that case, Nazzioli decided that the "best way to handle a movie with source music is to incorporate it into the score." The result, with its lushly, period-sensitive orchestration, provided Dietrich’s signature tune, not just Josef von Sternberg’s gripping drama, with a wholly revitalized sound.

This time around, liberated from such concerns, Nazzioli takes a tack in tune with Philip Glass’ Kronos Quartet score for Tod Browning’s "Dracula" (a movie that premiered, interestingly enough, the same year as "Frankenstein"). Serialism and minimalism inform this BQE score, although neither were the predominant modes of 1930s musical expression.

"It’s aggressive and action-oriented," says Nazzioli of his contemporary classical approach. Plus, it’s been injected with fresh instrumentation via the electric guitar.

What carries through from previous efforts is Nazzioli’s conscientious use of a director’s cut. The celluloid print - projected on the bandshell’s enormous 22-foot tall and 50-foot wide screen - promises the restoration of once-controversial footage excised from earlier versions and even some videos today.

One depicts the confused monster tossing a little girl into the water and to her death; another is the simple reinsertion of one sacrilegious line uttered by the doctor after his creation comes to life.

"Now I know what it’s like to be God."

Opening for the BQE Project’s "Frankenstein" will be a concert by One Ring Zero, a local ensemble that crosses disciplines in its own way. The two leaders of the group, Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst, are long-time participants in Clay McLeod Chapman’s cult-like, Manhattan-based theater series, "The Pumpkin Pie Show."

With the ensemble’s latest CD "As Smart as We Are," One Ring Zero fosters a decidedly literary approach to songwriting. Novelists Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster and Jonathan Ames have each contributed lyrics as has poet A. M. Homes. Like the larger-than-life screening that follows, this concert affords rare pleasures of its own.

 

 

Celebrate Brooklyn presents the film "Frankenste­in," with live musical accompaniment by the BQE Project, at the Prospect Park bandshell on July 29 at 8:40 pm. A concert by One Ring Zero precedes the show at 7:30 pm. Enter at Prospect Park West and Ninth Street. Admission is free, but a $3 donation is requested. For more information call (718) 855-7882 ext. 45 or visit www.celebratebrooklyn.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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