Dallas — The Saturday evening performance of the Dallas Winds at the Meyerson Symphony Center featured a screening of James Whale’s 1931 film Frankenstein, accompanied by a performance of Michael Shapiro’s Frankenstein-The Movie Score (2002). Originally conceived for orchestra, the score was transcribed for a trimmed-down wind ensemble. The composer conducted.
As a prelude to the film, Shapiro’s very brief Musical Chairs (2012) for brass quartet was performed. The piece worked well to introduce the film, opening the ears of the audience in anticipation of a haunting classic. But what the opened ears heard was about a minute of imprecise playing without a definite intention of communication. If its purpose was merely to calm the audience to a point of focus, it was successful.
The youthful audience was highlighted by an introduction from the stage of various groups of students. The Dallas Winds should be praised for their ability to bring in such an audience.
Disappointing, however, was the treatment of Frankenstein. While it is understandable that a Halloween-themed family concert should be met with a bit of fun, the film is itself is of a fairly serious nature. There was no effort to put the film in any other context than a cheesy relic of a distant cinematic past. As an art piece, Frankenstein does have more substance than the amount for which it is given credit here.
At the beginning of the film, the original sound of the film’s opening credits was blasted into the hall. After a few moments, it became clear that the enormous volume was intentional. With a few exceptions, the film sound contained no more than dialogue and sound effects. Throughout the remainder of experience, the constant hiss of the film’s background noise fought against the musicians performing onstage. At one moment, the live music would cover an already difficult-to-discern monologue only to be completely obliterated by an ear-shattering howl of wind in the next. How much more enjoyable the evening would have been if Frankenstein were creatively reimagined as a silent film with the music guiding the listener entirely. In this setting, Shapiro’s score could do little more than serve as an incidental background to the visual action.
The music itself was not inappropriately suited to the overall structure of the film, but there were at times very evocative visual elements and themes which could have been better amplified by the music: the sheer wildness of Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster used music of much the same mood as the scene from the lecture hall. All this while the brilliant scene of the farmer carrying his dead daughter into the wedding celebration, transforming jubilation into a mass intoxication of fury, was left without a musical commentary altogether. These are moments where the music could have said far more than sound effects or dialogue.
The concept of presenting live music with film is a worthy pursuit, especially when it brings a new light to a forgotten film or completely transforms the way an audience perceives a familiar classic. Unfortunately, presenting Frankenstein as the familiar and outdated horror flick so tame that it could be mistaken for a comedy, combined with the effect of listening to somewhat washed and noisy film sounds at maximum volume, were less than satisfying. There were certainly present the ingredients of a meaningful artistic experience, but a considerable tweaking of the proportions was needed.