Wes Anderson supposedly compiled the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums long before he shot the movie. Perhaps that’s where the Charleston Symphony Orchestra got its latest outreach idea.
This summer the CSO challenged local filmmakers to create short, silent movies based completely on a piece of music from their repertoire (think baroque, not Beatles), which the orchestra would play live during the film’s public premiere. The four big-screen debuts last week at the Gaillard Exhibition Hall found a diverse, sizeable, enthusiastic crowd who seemed to enjoy the casual, slightly campy atmosphere — a bar kept busy all evening and members of the Theatre 99 family mock-interviewed filmmakers and judges as they arrived in limos at a red carpet prior to the screenings.
New resident conductor Scott Terrell steered the casually-dressed orchestra through the four films, which were projected onto the City Paper‘s giant screen. The movies were as diverse as the moviegoers: the first, from Brad Jayne, set to Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, simply featured a little boy lying in the grass, staring up at the clouds as a thunderstorm came and went. Manon Husman’s European Vacation was a less-painful version of the classic post-vacation video show, also set to Pavane. Steve Lepre and Mark McKinney paid tribute to the old Cooper River bridges and the new Ravenel Bridge with a montage of sometimes stunning photographs of both from local photographer Jack Alterman, set to Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No.11.
Due to a technical glitch midway through, the audience saw the winning film — Kevin Harrison and John Duckworth’s The Untuning of the Skies — one and a half times. No one seemed to mind. Duckworth describes the film, which was set to local composer Richard Moryl’s contemporary work of the same name, as an “abstract painting made with a video camera.”
The pair acknowledge being influenced by Godfrey Reggio, a monk turned filmmaker who directed the classic film Koyaanisqatsi in 1983, with a memorable score by composer Philip Glass.
“I saw Koyaanisqatsi when I was 18, and it has stayed with me until this day,” says Harrison, who edited the film using footage that both men shot, “weaving together surreal images to create a subtle narrative.”
According to Duckworth, the moody, multi-layered film is a visual discussion — like Koyaanisqatsi — on modern communications and consumerism. One of its many inspirations is the “life-changing experience of fatherhood,” Duckworth says, something both directors have experienced recently.
Though Untuning’s directors took home the CSO’s version of an Oscar — a pair of gussied-up bowling pins — the real kudos, says Duckworth, go to the CSO and personnel manager Tony Pierce for taking a chance like this when many orchestras across the country are in the red.
“I’m pleased that so many people showed up for an inaugural event like this; it’s really a feather in his cap,” Duckworth says of Pierce. Even so, he says, “In my mind, the potential for success was much greater than it was for failure.”