Film and Music Preview: NOSFERATU & VAMPYR (Theatre at the Ace Hotel and Disney Hall)

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by Jim Allen on October 26, 2018

in Film,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Two of the spookiest horror films ever made were completed before much of today’s audiences were born. One, Nosferatu, is far better known than the other, especially for the creepy-ass make-up given to the vampire. But have you ever heard of Vampyr, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 masterpiece? Horror buffs have, as it regularly makes the top-ten list for best horror flicks of all time, as does Nosferatu, a 1922 German Expressionist horror film about the vampire Count Orlok directed by F. W. Murnau. This week, both films — one silent, one shot like a silent — will receive screenings in downtown Los Angeles, both with live music, and both still surprisingly creepy.

Over at Disney Hall on Halloween night, organist Clark Wilson will provide some scary footwork and pull out all the shreiks for Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. Michael Wilmington says that this is the first, and by far the best, of the innumerable movies derived or inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (The Universal/Bela Lugosi version came out in 1931; Since Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation, Stoker’s heirs sued over the adaptation — renaming the vampire “Orlok” clearly didn’t help — and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. Fortunately, some survived.) It’s not just a great horror movie. It’s a poem of horror, a symphony of dread, a film so rapt, mysterious and weirdly lovely it haunts the mind long after it’s over.

As unforgettably incarnated by actor Max Schreck, Count Orlok is a truly supernatural and otherworldly being: a spidery, skeletal, moon-eyed, black-clad specter of unimaginable dread; a being not of this earth who dwells more properly in realms of cobweb, shadow, mist and decomposing corpses. With eerie lighting at Disney Hall, and that macabre, menacing music screaming through the most amazing organ in town, this is a guaranteed ghoul party.

You can see both films: Nosferatu on Halloween and Vampyr on Saturday (the latter replays on Halloween.) Loosely adapted from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” and “The Room in the Dragon Volant,” Vampyr’s trance-like images could stand on their own as a visual poem in which the action seems to take place on the cusp of dreams and reality. The Guardian summarizes: A roving occult investigator arrives at an old inn by the side of a river and explores a nearby castle where an evil doctor appears to be helping a vampire prey on the lord’s two daughters — one of whom is bedridden, suffering from a strange sickness, while the other is being held captive. He reads a book on vampirism and acts as our surrogate in this curious realm of crooked staircases, off-kilter corridors and Freudian keys and doors, a world where men’s shadows take on a life of their own and skeletal hands grasp bottles of poison.

The big news is that Vampyr, which screens at Theatre at the Ace Hotel October 27 and 31, is receiving the world premiere of a new musical score by Joby Talbot which will be performed live. Talbot is far-and-away one of my favorite modern-era composers. Along with some awesome choral, opera and film work, he wrote the stunning and exciting score for the Royal Ballet’s full-length story ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The performances will be conducted by Matthew Aucoin — LA Opera’s Artist in Residence and a 2018 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” — leading members of the LA Opera Orchestra and mezzo-soprano soloist Taylor Raven, whose wordless vocals will add chills to the surreal soundtrack.

Shot in France, this was Dreyer’s first sound film, and needed to be recorded in three languages for distribution, English, French and German. To ease the process, Dreyer occasionally used silent film-like cards to describe narrative, so you’ll see those projected in English. The little dialogue there is, however, will be in German with English subtitles.

With the ornate interior of the Ace lobby dimly lighted in blood-red, you’ll find an outpouring of Halloween-costumed folk in the audience (please be one of them, especially a creature of the night), it will be haunted house time at the 1927 movie palace, with a Halloween party following each performance; admission to the after-party is free for movie-goers.

Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Wednesday, October 31, 2018 at 8
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

Vampyr (1932)
Joby Talbot, composer (right photo)
Matthew Aucoin, conductor
presented by LA Opera Off Grand
Theatre at the Ace Hotel, 933 S. Broadway in DTLA
Saturday October 27, 2017 at 8
(includes admission to The Theatre at ACE Hotel’s “The Fanged Fête” party )
Wednesday October 31, 2017 at 8pm

(includes admission to Halloween party with costume contest)
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit LA Opera

photos courtesy LA Phil and LA Opera

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