Last year was hard on Minneapolis. The winter was brutal and unrelenting, the Twins perpetually disappointing. Even Kevin Love’s record breaking double-double streak couldn’t lift the spirits of our Eeyore-esque worldviews, (everybody forgot my birthday . . . ). What we may not have noticed was that we were missing our semiannual outdoor art injections, as 2010-11 was a year without Summer Music and Movies or winter Art Shanties. Well, our troubles are over. Art Shanties plans to hit medicine lake in January of 2012, and Summer Music and Movies 2011: I’ve Got My Eye on You lands on Loring Park next Monday, August 1st.
In tandem with the Walker’s Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870 exhibition, Summer Music and Movies will center on skin-crawling experiences which will have you looking over your shoulder. Doesn’t that group of people behind you (laying on the red blanket, with the bag next to them) have a camera pointed your way? Or is it that man sitting in front of you, he keeps looking back in your direction. He might be waiting for someone–or keeping tabs on someone. Keep your eyes on the screen. Don’t look away. No not down at the band, to see that curious dot on the guitar. It couldn’t be knob or pickup, it’s too large–grotesque, like a frog’s bulging eye. And that woman with the dog, walking by, seemingly just taking a walk in the park, why is she stopping. Why is she reaching into her bag. But you shouldn’t be watching them and again you lock your eyes on the screen, even though you feel their gazes crawling all over you like hot little ants, trying to unpack you, find your secrets, read your fine print. You tighten your jaw and stare and the screen, its images are the only thing keeping tears from dripping down your cheeks to the sides of your mouth. You could run, but then they’d see you; if you move they’ll see you. Sit still and don’t move. And don’t think about not moving, or about how straight you’re sitting, how strange it must look. You just watch the movie.
Summer Music and Movies has always shown classic (read: older) films, from 2009’s Paul Newman series to 2007’s Douglas Sirk melodramas. New movies outside have their place too, and the city of Minneapolis is showing a ton of them this summer in various municipal parks, but the idea of blending music and movies into a social participatory interaction hearkens back to film’s inception. And Spies is a part of that era, a silent film from 1928. Following on the footsteps of his epic Metropolis, Spies would be Lang’s penultimate silent picture, but don’t let that discourage you.
If you’ve never seen a silent film, you’re not alone, and if you’ve never enjoyed one, you’re not alone either, but that may not be your fault. In fact, few of these films were ever really silent. Cinema has always been a medium of moving images and sound, even before they came pre-packaged on the same celluloid roll.
When the Lumiere brothers first developed their photographic film camera and projector (initially these were the same animal), people were amazed. In 1895, when movement was first captured on screen, the audiences would literally scream with delight or fear. A hand-colored shot of ocean waves water-colored blue was enough to send people into a panic (because they might drown) and the uncanny realness of the filmic image could let audiences enter into a “kingdom of shadows”. As you might imagine, audiences were nowhere near as heavily conditioned as we are today (though we may not realize it). When the first narratives danced their way across the shadowy silver screen (yes, it was really silver back then) theater-owners found audiences angry and confused. They simply couldn’t figure out what was happening on the screen, and their lack of screen language made the theater experience totally different. Theaters were loud boisterous, with people yelling at the screen. None of the respectful admiration of the filmmakers’ work/sheeplike absorption of the series of shots (depending on your perspective) was present in early audiences, and theater-owners quickly found that, to combat riots, they needed to hire narrators to explain the action to audiences.
But live music, too, has been a part of film. Most small movie houses had a piano or organ for musical accompaniment, but as the movies grabbed American audiences (before television, or even radio) the music got bigger. Out of America’s relative prosperity (especially compared to [post]-World War I Europe), huge, luxuriant movie palaces sprang up, and most movie palaces had their own orchestras. Movie theaters like the Uptown (although it was then the Lagoon) or the Paramount Theater in Austin, MN would employ dozens of local musicians as accompanists, and sometimes local actors as narrators.
So, back to today, Summer Music and Movies is creating a real throwback, placing a local, live band alongside a classic film. For a real golden-age experience, feel free to behave like an early audience. Let your emotions run free. Feel the fear, the anguish, the joy. Swoon when Grace Kelly graces the screen. Squirm at Dr. Mabuse’s big-brother tactics. Let your jaw drop as David Hemming enlarges and enlarges a frame. And positively, don’t let Spies‘ silent movie reputation drive you away from one of the most terrifying and thrilling films ever made. It never has been silent and it certainly won’t be this time (Dark Dark Dark are composing an original score for the evening with some exciting instrumentation). Best of all, it’s all free, so you really have no excuse to miss it. What else are you doing on a Monday night?