The Dodge Brothers provide that perfect blend and somehow the roots music of post-war(s) America played by modern musicians works well not just with Soviet psycho-drama but with one of the great templates of the Western genre. Neil Brand anchors the team as you’d expect but the Brothers Dodge are not only a very tight band they’re clearly in love with the subject matter too.
|The party's started in Hell's Hinges: where's John Gilbert?|
But the ensemble also plays it slow and atmospheric proving that their unique brand of Americana is remarkably flexible especially with the addition of a Theremin bassist Mark Kermode described as impossible to play and yet which he controlled with a steady hand and perfect pitch.
|The Very Big Country, USSR circa 1929...|
Apparently it was not unusual for silent films to use local bands for accompaniment and following in that tradition the Dodge’s improvised most of the score working from title cards and not sheet music. A few contemporaneous tunes were included, again as per common practice, but the music of the moment proved the most compelling with Neil Brand’s piano sounding so at home in this context.
This was the first time I’d seen The Ghost That Never Returns (Prividenie, kotoroe ne vozvrashchaetsya) and Abram Room’s direction did not disappoint those, like me who are readily impressed by the insanely-cut montage and the rabid experimentalism of Soviet silents.
The film features an impressive set showing prisoners held in cells stacked high in front of an inhumane controller. Ghosts in the machine, these men are doomed to hard labour at an unspecified South American oil field crushed by an industry serving only the greed of their grotesque and unknowable masters.
If a man survives ten years here, he is allowed a single day’s freedom on the condition that he returns… If he tries to run, he will be shot and,so far, no one has ever returned.
|Jail from Hell|
He catches a train – cue Dodge-overdrive – and eats a hearty lunch with a man on the train. As his wife and family get ready to greet him he sleeps through his stop and has to jump train many miles onward. He is followed by the man he met,who turns out to be the officer detailed to man mark him for the day, a strange chap, skilfully wielding a gun but also fond of wild-flowers… if only he could be liberated by socialism?
|Missing his stop and his wife|
In truth there are more than a few off-beat moments such as this; mad cowboys who play pool more intent on aggressive posturing than potting (“remind you of anyone?” as our Theresa May might say…). Never let it be said that a sense of humour was missing in these early years of the first Five Year Plan.
Will Jose make it back to see his wife and child? Will he escape his destiny or create a new one? The answer is probably in the strength of collective action; the dialectic moves film-makers in mysterious yet hugely entertaining ways.
|Can't find my way home...|
Now we headed back 14 years to California and the magnificent Hell's Hinges (1916). I’ve previously written about this film and it was a joy to see it on screen and with this live accompaniment.
|Bob falls for the fallen Dolly|
The town of Hell’s Hinges is in a state of constant motion as the human collateral surges from good to bad and random acts of brutality. There’s matter of fact-ness about life and death in the town emphasised by these inhuman crowds and it’s no surprise that the chances of Christian ministry surviving long are so slim.
|Alfred Hollingsworth takes cover|
All that I’ve said about Hell’s Hinges still stands with knobs on and William S Hart is a force of hyper-nature: a wild man tamed by the truth-force of Clara Williams’ Faith Henley even as her feckless, faithless brother Robert (Jack Standing) fades away… Bob the Preacher: can he fix it? Can he heck…
Sleazy Silk Miller (Alfred Hollingsworth) sets him up for seduction with Dolly (Louise Glaum) and his resistance lasts about as long as it takes him to stroll form his newly-built chapel to the Saloon…
|Blaze and the locals listen to Faith's faith|
As with The Ghost… Hell's Hinges ends with The Struggle about to continue.
|All the best tunes...|
More details of the band are on their website. They have plans to release The Ghost on DVD and one hopes that their other film scores will also see the digital light of day.
|Never The End...|