Kool Kat of the Week: Russ Marshalek Walks with Fire to Reimagine TWIN PEAKS as a place both wonderful and strange

Posted on: Sep 12th, 2013 By:

Photo courtesy of Russ Marshalek.

When TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME was released in 1992, it evoked boos in Cannes and derision from almost all US critics and many loyal David Lynch fans. However, over time, the film, meant to be a hybrid of prequel and sequel to the iconic TV series, has acquired its own cult following who revel in the excessive grotesque, over-the-top symbolism and psychological horror dualism of Leland Palmer and the corrosive Bob. One of these new advocates is once-Atlanta resident/now New Yorker Russ Marshalek, a musician, DJ and looper whose previous project with Sophie Weiner, the Silent Drape Runners, devoted much of its creative energy to re-soundtrackings and re-imaginings of the iconically weird TV series, a precursor to quirky cable dramas of today. Now with his new solo project a place both wonderful and strange, he’s doing a live re-scoring of TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME this Sunday Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Highland Inn Ballroom, and well, while Angelo Badalamenti‘s score was a film high point, maybe the Log Lady injected us with a primal sense of curiosity.

The idea of new fans and a new soundtrack makes me wonder if TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME might have been received better as a standalone feature, in other words, if the series hadn’t existed. I, for one, recall hating it for the same reasons as Quentin Tarantino did – Lynch was so out-Lynching himself that it became almost a parody of the cinematic vision I had grown to admire from ERASERHEAD to THE ELEPHANT MAN to, of course, BLUE VELVET, and WILD AT HEART. TWIN PEAKS was an epiphany when it hit the airwaves, and Audrey Horne (Sherrilyn Fenn) became my role model for how to be all innocence and tease, saddle shoes and maraschino cherries. Alas or maybe for the better, Fenn, along with Laura Flynn-Boyle, skipped the movie, although the pass did not save her career. Lynch also had lost his co-series creator Mark Frost by then, and even Kyle McLachlan sought to minimize his role. Maybe it’s the train wreck aspect also that perpetually fascinates, the longing that something highly anticipated, such as Audrey’s slow knotting of the cherry stem in her mouth, would be better than I remember. Chris Isaak and David Bowie also played roles in it. Yeah, just plain weird. Which also is totally Lynch.

ATLRetro caught up with Russ because I had to ask “why?” I’m happy to report, he left me asking “why not?”

ATLRetro: You and Sophie just disbanded the Silent Drape Runners. How is your new solo project, a place both wonderful and strange, similar or different to your past work? And is that place TWIN PEAKS?

The production work for Silent Drape Runners was mostly me, and when Sophie and I parted ways I immediately knew that I wanted to continue with what I’d been doing, so a place both wonderful and strange is a similar creative vision, but it’s mine. The music is a bit more accessible, I think, and live performances incorporate a heavy visual and dance element. That carries over into the FIRE WALK WITH ME show, which is a bit more theatrical than the SDR shows were. On the whole if you liked SDR, I think you’ll love a place both wonderful and strange.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What was your entree into the world of TWIN PEAKS, and why did it entice you so much as to become such a central theme of your music? Were you already a fan of David Lynch’s work?

Lucy, my friend/current vocalist/then-gf, introduced me to TWIN PEAKS when I bought her the Gold Box for Xmas one year ages ago. It broke the conventions of everything I thought could be done with using images to create a mood – I am, and have always been, more about words or sounds. That was the gateway drug. Combine that with the fact that Lynch’s influence is inescapable in the modern dark electronic music scene, and there you have it.

TWIN PEAKS’ second season was not as satisfying as the first — some say it descended into strange for strange sake once Laura Palmer’s murder was resolved. And TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME doesn’t get a lot of love from critics. What are your thoughts and why if the show didn’t end on a high note does it have still have such a following nearly 25 years later. 

I attended a lecture recently done by this group FEAST OF FOOLS here in Brooklyn, at the occult bookstore Catland, on David Lynch, TWIN PEAKS and the occult. In it, the end of TWIN PEAKS Season 2 was discussed: how when Lynch returned to the show he did so in a BIG way. And I agree – yeah, a lot of season 2 was “eh,” but the end of the show was phenomenal, and that’s what sticks with you. Honestly, FIRE WALK WITH ME is one of my absolute favorite things, and though it wasn’t adored by critics at the time, I think it shines as a terrifying masterpiece.

There have been other re-soundings of TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. What makes yours different and worth coming out on a Sunday night? 

What we’re presenting is a unique vision: we’re not adhering to what Lynch and Badalamenti have laid down as gospel, but rather taking the dualistic playful/terrifying nature of the source material and using it as inspiration. There’s a live performance aspect that goes into it, and honestly if I ever scanned the notebooks of concepting that went into these two hours, it would be enough to drive a sane person nuts. Also, yeah, it’s a Sunday, but you’ll be home by 10 p.m.

Are there specific parts of the film that were especially interesting or challenging to re-conceive musically? 

Laura’s death. It’s easy to treat that with TOO MUCH gravitas, and that’s not what the show is about. Yes, it’s terrifying and emotionally draining and horrific, but it’s also campy and outlandish. The trick was finding a middle-ground. The whole movie, in fact, is like that.

If I understand correctly you did the soundtrack in collaboration with GHOST COP, aka Lucy Swope. What’s Lucy’s part in this? 

Lucy and I actually dated ages ago; we’re just friends now. Lucy’s GHOST COP project is really impressive electronic space pop. As I said, she introduced me to Lynch. She also had performed a few times with Silent Drape Runners, doing a twins/doubling performance with my former band-mate Sophie on a witchy version of “God Only Knows.” When there was a gig to fill doing a show for the David Lynch Foundation in South Carolina post-SDR, we talked and the pieces kind of fell into place. I love FIRE WALK WITH ME, probably more than the entirety of the series as a whole, so the show kind of started from there. We took to the film with a scalpel and came up with something that’s playful, a little inappropriate and creepy as hell. She does the majority of live vocals.

Looping and goth music are obviously strong influences on your work. What about some of the iconic experimental industrial groups such as Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubaten?

Looping/drone was one of my first musical loves. I used to walk around the Barnes and Noble on Peachtree in Atlanta and listen to the sound the store’s air conditioner made. It was a really uniquely repetitive tone that was strangely highly nuanced. IDM stuff like Autechre and old Warp/Rephlex Records stuff also factor in there, too. The work of Chris and Cosey‘s stuff under that moniker more so than Throbbing Gristle, though obviously Throbbing Gristle is incredibly important. Nine Inch Nails. My Bloody Valentine. My hair stylist pointed out to me the obvious nods to Coil.

Russ Marshalek. Live photo taken by The Culture Of Me. Photo credit: Zhang Qingyun; Art Direction: Deanna Paquette.

What do you think of DUNE? To me, it’s always been an intriguing but tragically flawed film, and I’d be very interested in seeing a re-sounded interpretation. 

HMMMMMMM. 🙂

You and Lucy used to live in Atlanta. Does your show here have a special resonance because of that, and what else would you like locals to know about what you have planned? 

Atlanta’s always a fun place to play. My old band had a great time playing some gigs there last year. It’s where I grew up. Plus it’s the last show of the tour. We’re doing four shows in four days, so I will be in a pretty festive mood after. Maybe we should all go to The Bookhouse? 😉

While you’re here in Atlanta, you’re also DJ’g a Depeche Mode after-party Thursday night at Noni’s. Can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned for that? 

Yeah that should be fun – the folks who run the NONSENSE Atlanta parties and I are doing that . Up here, I DJ so much pop music that I’m really excited for a chance to dig into some darker dance tunes without anyone asking me for “Blurred Lines.” I have an external hard drive full of stuff that I can’t wait to play.

Will there be a recording of the re-soundtrack and what’s next for a place both wonderful and strange? I take it that it won’t be all TWIN PEAKS, or will it?

No, no recordings. The original Silent Drape Runners re-soundtracking of the TWIN PEAKS pilot was recorded at our final show in August, and that’ll be coming out next month, but I feel about this show the way I felt about that one – it can’t be experienced unless it’s live. The live, performative aspect of it is what makes it special. What’s next for my project? I’m putting out the music video for my single DNT CM, finishing my ep.

Finally, gotta ask. If we went to a diner, would you order coffee and cherry pie?

YES, but not at Waffle House.

Advance tickets are recommended and available at http://aplacebothatlanta.eventbrite.com/.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS: Fully Restored and Bigger Than Ever in Two Special Atlanta Engagements!

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 By:

METROPOLIS (1927); Dir. Fritz Lang; Starring Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich and Alfred Abel; Starts Friday, May 24 @ Plaza Theatre (visit website for ticket prices and showtimes); Tuesday, May 28 @ Woodruff Arts Center (free outdoor screening w/ live accompaniment); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s a Fritz Lang kind of Spring, I suppose. That feeling is helped along by two venues showing the most recent restoration of Lang’s pioneering science fiction classic, METROPOLIS, which finally brings the film as close to its original state as possible. The historic Plaza Theatre has booked the film for a full week, and there’s a special outdoor screening of the restoration at Woodruff Arts Center featuring the US debut of a specially-composed score performed live by Georgia Tech’s Sonic Generator.

Last time we talked Fritz Lang, it was about M (1931), the first serial killer-themed horror film. But now, we’re going four years earlier and looking at METROPOLIS, the first feature-length science fiction movie. And in the ensuing years, METROPOLIS continues to be relevant to contemporary life, its themes resonating through the ages as our industrialized society becomes more and more technocratic.

The sprawling plot of METROPOLIS speaks mostly to the topic of class division. In the year 2026, the wealthy preside over the city of Metropolis and lead lives of decadence, while a teeming underclass of workers toil day in and day out, slaves to the machines that provide the power that drives the city above. Freder (Gustav Fröhlich)—the son of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the city’s aristocratic Master—falls in love with a labor organizer named Maria (Brigitte Helm) and enters the underground city of the workers. There, he just may serve to fulfill the prophesied role of the city’s “heart”: the man who will help Maria unite the workers and join the city’s “hands” (its workers) with its “head” (the ruling aristocracy). But the ruling class has other plans to keep the underclass down: to kidnap Maria and use a robotic doppelganger to sow seeds of discord among the laborers.

Add in a love triangle, espionage, sabotage, disaster, riots, beautiful art deco set design, Biblical references, hints of occultism, expert use of miniatures and pioneering special effects, and not only do you have an epic that presents a morality play and political polemic depicting class struggle with the rhythm of everyday life, but also a bustling action picture designed to keep viewers enthralled with the kind of futuristic grand spectacle not seen on the screen before.

Unfortunately, that balance was largely destroyed by cuts to the film that took place shortly after its premiere. The film was funded and its distribution controlled by a partnership between MGM, Paramount and German film studio UFA, which was known as Parufamet (a portmanteau of the three studios’ names). Parufamet cut the film from its 153-minute running time to 115 minutes, and later that year it was cut down further by UFA to a brief 91 minute running time. Huge chunks of character exposition and plot points were lost completely. This left much of the spectacle but presented seemingly one-dimensional characters inhabiting the film, which only emphasized the heavy-handedness of the film’s message-laden storyline. A film about people and ideas became simply a film about ideas.

Over the decades, numerous attempts at restoration took place using whatever could be found. The high (or low, depending on your stance) point of 20th-century efforts came with the 1984 release of a version compiled by songwriter/producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder’s restoration was, at that point, the most complete version of the film available, incorporating all footage known to exist at the time. However, the film was tinted throughout, with its intertitles replaced with subtitles for continuity’s sake, with a pop soundtrack (featuring Freddie Mercury, Pat BenatarBonnie Tyler, Adam Ant, Loverboy, etc.) in place of a traditional score and with its frame rate increased to 24 frames per second (which resulted in an artificially-shortened running time of 82 minutes).

In 2002, Kino Lorber and the F.W. Murnau Foundation released a 124-minute restoration that seemed to be the final word on the film, as all remaining footage was believed to have been lost to the ravages of time. Missing footage was described in newly-designed title cards to fill in the blanks. But shortly afterward, film prints were found in New Zealand and Argentina that contained scenes not included in any existing copy. In fact, the Argentine print was a 16mm reduction of the entire original cut of the film. With these new sources in hand, METROPOLIS was restored to 95% completion (only two short sequences could not be included due to extensive damage). Settling on an acceptable frame rate (the actual frame rates of many silent films are hard to determine), and with the additional sequences restored to their rightful places, the final running time of the now-nearly-complete METROPOLIS is 145 minutes.

And those restored scenes restore a coherency and depth to the film that has not been experienced since its premiere some 86 years ago. The character of Freder becomes heroic rather than a cipher. Maria becomes a fully-rounded character rather than an archetype. Sure, the highly stylized acting familiar to German Expressionist silent filmmaking is still present, which may stand as a roadblock to viewers raised on the naturalistic acting of modern cinema, but the operatic tenor of the performances is almost necessary to keep the actors from being overwhelmed by the sheer size and spectacle of the film’s sets and effects (adjusted for inflation, the film’s budget in today’s numbers would be $200 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made, equal to James Cameron’s TITANIC). Without the benefit of speech, the sheer BIGNESS of the movie demands performances as visually loud as the sets are huge.

Though the film was panned upon first wide release (in my opinion, largely due to its being butchered and available only in compromised form), METROPOLIS has since become one of the highest-regarded films in existence, with its influence felt in movies ranging from BLADE RUNNER to DR. STRANGELOVE; from STAR WARS to BACK TO THE FUTURE; from DARK CITY to THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Oddly enough, though, it has found more frequent homage in the field of popular music. The music videos for Queen’s Radio Ga Ga,” Nine Inch NailsWe’re in This Together and Madonna’s Express Yourself have all been inspired by the movie’s themes and visuals. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s own Janelle Monáe has released two fantastic concept albums inspired by the film: 2007’s METROPOLIS: SUITE I (THE CHASE) and 2010’s THE ARCHANDROID. (Based on the title, I’m guessing that this year’s upcoming album, THE ELECTRIC LADY, will round out the trilogy.)

For very different experiences in viewing METROPOLIS this week, let me recommend that you take the film in twice. Firstly, it’s playing a week-long engagement at the Plaza Theatre, where you can sit in the enshrouding darkness and get caught up in the purely visual storytelling of this masterwork as the towering images wash over you to the accompaniment of the gorgeous original score by Gottfried Huppertz. Secondly, though, the film is the subject of a free outdoor screening at the Woodruff Arts Center on Tuesday, May 28, projected on the Anne Cox Chambers Wing of the High Museum. There, the film will be accompanied by a live performance by Georgia Tech’s contemporary music ensemble Sonic Generator (augmented by several additional performers from Atlanta’s vast musical spectrum), performing a score composed by renowned Argentine composer Martin Matalon which is making its US debut. For more details about this singular event, check out this great in-depth write-up in CREATIVE LOAFING by Doug DeLoach.

Either way (or both!) you take it, METROPOLIS is both a film of its time and film of all time; a movie that speaks to the concerns of Weimar-era Germany in 1927 and the “one percent vs. the 99 percent” fights of today. It’s a landmark in science fiction, a landmark in the development of special effects and a landmark in cinematic history, and in its restored condition, it commands the attention like few films ever made.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2020 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress