Monday, 11 April 2011

"Beggars of Life" + Dodge Brothers deliver at BFI Silent Film Festival

Great film...great gig!

The Dodge Brothers accompanied "Beggars of Life" wowed a packed audience at the British Film
Institute last night.

Clearly a labour of love for the boys, their enthusiastic and skilled playing embellished and
enhanced the 1928 "Wild Bill" Wellman classic. The Brothers Mark Kermode (bass & harmonica), Ali Hirji (guitar & mandolin), Al Hammond (drums & washboard) and Michael Hammond (vocals, guitar & banjo) were joined by silent film pianist Neil Brand and fiddle player to add extra flourish.

Opening with the original theme tune sung by Mike Hammond, the band interweaved a mix of original tunes with contemporary Americana. The band's tagline is "Trains & death a speciality" and one could think of no better film for them!

Apparently, the wreck from the climactic train crash still lies where it fell over 80 years' ago and this connection between the present and the past was maintained throughout an exhilarating set.

The film is fast-paced and the music underpinned this to thrilling effect moving it very much into the now and grabbing our attention. This felt like a real adventure and even knowing the film, made it feel new, placed in a fresh, visceral context.

Apart from this being the cleanest print I've ever seen of the film and it being the first time I'd viewed it in a cinema, the accompaniment kicked things to another level of focus, scale and engagement.

The opening scenes with the intercutting between Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, the flashback to her abuse...their relationship growing as they tread towards an unknown escape route...their, chaste, night spent in the hay... All seemed fresh and made you all the more certain, once again, that you were watching one of the greatest actresses of any age.

Mike Dodge reminded us that "Wild Lou" Brooks had also performed her own stunts and my wife gasped and threw her hands to her face after one particularly painful Brooks' bounce from a speeding train! She was in the moment.

The change of pace when the couple meet the hoboes was all the more noticeable and the casting of an interesting collection of faces all the more apparent. Good expression all round.

Wallace Beery's masterful turn as Oklahoma Red threatens to steal the show. He is another magnetic presence whose character has the kind of moral ambiguity modern audiences might assume was
only recently invented.

I won't spoil the resolution but the suspense is maintained and there are indeed, as Mordant Hall observed at the time "some good scenes of trains..." They're very good and shot by a brave crew.

In the end there was cheering and a standing ovation. We could honestly have watched and listened to it all over again!

Thanks Dodge Brothers and thanks Wellman, Arlen, Brooks and Beery.

I hope that this particular train keeps a rollin' and somebody has the good sense to release this unique collaboration on DVD!

Either that or just keep playing it live and I'll be there!

Dodge Brother's official site here.

Excellent interview with the boys at the Louise Brooks Society site.

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