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Sound and Vision
On-screen, Nanook and a small posse of Eskimos sneak up on a slumbering group of walruses. The men inch closer, crawling on their bellies, harpoons clutched to their sides. About ten feet away from the screen, off to one side of B.A.R. Space, Paul Berry strums some anxious-sounding chords on his six-string acoustic guitar, peering intently at the film as he follows the action. Suddenly the Eskimos attack, one of them thrusting his harpoon into the side of an alarmed walrus, and at that exact moment Berry starts flailing away at his guitar, knocking out the same menacing chord a half-dozen times. Yikes!
In a consistently simpatico "performance," Berry provides instrumental accompaniment to Nanook of the North, the classic, 65-minute 1922 silent film documentary about the rigors of Eskimo life in the Great White North. The November 8 Nanook/Berry liaison marks the second installment of "Score," a Wednesday-night series that matches local musicians/sound artists with famous silent films. The brainchild of Miami filmmaker and Alliance Film and Video Co-op instructor William Keddell, "Score" began one week earlier with Ben Walcott, of the noise band To Live and Shave in L.A., launching a sonic assault on the 1928 Soviet propaganda vehicle Storm over Asia. Keddell borrows silent films from the Miami-Dade Public Library, then lines up area musicians to provide a live score when he screens them at B.A.R. space on Miami Beach. (Admission fees -- $4 per person -- go to the participating performer.)
"The library has a great selection of early films," explains Keddell, "and no one's booking them A they're not on video. And I thought, 'There's a great resource for some fun-type screenings.'" Keddell adds that earlier this year he showed Buster Keaton's 1927 The General, also with accompaniment by Berry. "There was born the idea," notes Keddell. "It was fun; people enjoyed it. Early filmgoing was more like a cabaret. There was a live element to it."
Berry, a singer-songwriter who also makes films, brought that live element -- and some fun -- to his interpretation of Nanook. During a scene in which Nanook and his family haul their fur skins to market for sale and then laugh as they listen to records spinning on a Victrola, Berry stops playing his guitar to lapse into a nasal, Rudy Vallee-esque vocal snippet from the song "Stranger in Paradise." Mostly, though, he strums folksy, Ry Cooder-style chords, meshing perfectly with the film's bucolic tone. "You want to provide a concentrated background music and try not to be obtrusive," Berry says. "The movie should stand for itself."
On Wednesday, November 22, composer Ed Bobb will interpret the 1922 vampire-film benchmark Nosferatu. Musicians/sound artists interested in participating in "Score" should call Keddell at 672-7898. (Michael Yockel)