“I am the family doctor, you know.” These words have never sounded as sinister as when delivered by a lip-synching actor in Live Live Cinema.
Which actor was it? I think can’t say for sure. I was so absorbed in the experience that I stopped keeping track.
And that, I think, is an indication of how successful the show is.
This is the set-up: a pristine print of a black-and-white film projects onto a screen at the back of the stage. On the night I saw it, the film was Dementia 13, a relatively obscure production directed by 24-year-old Francis Ford Coppola in 1963; on other nights, it is Carnival of Souls (1962).
On the stage is a tight eight-piece band, playing an original score. Four exceptional actors stand in front of microphones. Fern Sutherland, Cameron Rhodes, Dan Musgrove and Micheala Rooney—all highly experienced and well known in New Zealand—voice multiple characters, displaying great versatility and razor-sharp timing.
And what would a horror film be without spooky sound effects? Foley artist Gareth Van Niekerk—in a booth but visible at all times—adds footsteps on bare floors or gravel paths; a fire crackling; water splashing; leaves rustling in a breeze; doors squeaking, creaking, slamming.
In our everyday experience of watching films, we blend together the separate elements. We are unaware, for example, that what we see as one location might have been pieced together from multiple places. The dialogue may have been re-voiced long after shooting finished. Sound effects, like footsteps or doors, are always added afterwards. And to a large extent, we “see” with our ears; sinister music can make an innocent person “look” like a villain.
But in Live Live Cinema, the audience sees a whole patchwork of sources from which their experience is stitched together. Strangely, exposing the artifice doesn’t cause the story to fall apart but adds authenticity and emotional impact.
And that’s the case even though the narrative is so deliciously improbable. It involves a crumbling Irish mansion, disputes about inheritance, a sister whose untimely death still haunts the family. Oh, and there is a night-stalking axe murderer.
And that sinister family doctor, of course (played on-screen by Patrick Magee, famous for playing John Steed in cult ’60s TV show The Avengers).
Even though Dementia 13 was cheaply made, its black-and-white cinematography produces many glorious images. The strong visual style is matched by Sarah Taylor’s Mad-Men-cool stage costumes. The lighting design, by Sean Lynch, at times drenches the stage—and audience—in a blood-red atmosphere.
Leon Radojkovic, keyboard player and composer of the accompaniment performed at the screenings, says that the original score was reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. That makes sense, as apparently Corman had asked Coppola to make a Psycho-esqe production.
Radojkovic’s new score is very different to the original: rich, emotional, multi-dimensional, sometimes deliberately funny and playful. It somehow endows the film with a sense of substance and quality—with an “artiness” that is a teeny bit campy, but nevertheless affectionate and respectful.
With the music integrating all the separate elements, Live Live Cinema makes a truly first-class and entertaining show.
By arrangement with Arts Projects Australia with support from Creative New Zealand’s Touring Australia initiative.