Last night I went to the Nighthawk Cinema to see the midnight showing of Tron. Nighthawk is one of a handful of theaters in the city that relishes in “cinema culture”. These cinemas have block-buster films, but also host revival and cult films. Both Nighthawk and Sunshine Cinemas host weekend midnight screenings of cult films. Dating back to the “midnight fright” movies from the 40s and 50s, to the international cult-phenomenon of movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show, the weekend midnight-movies have become a staple for cult & serious film-lovers alike. However, you will rarely see a movie from the silent era, with the exception of perhaps Metropolis or Nosferatu.
There are many amazing and special elements about Tron, (as well as some seriously lacking parts). Of course, it boasts at-the-time mind-boggling special effects, an early frole of a future cult-icon leading-man (senor lebowski, himself), Jeff Bridges, and a particularly wonderful and strange addition to the Disney catalogue… all this, as well as being a film entirely of and about the 1980s, dating it in that horribly perfect way that eternalizes it as a cult-movie staple. What has always confounded and confused me, though, is oddly-enough the make-up department. There were obviously certain visual sacrifices made in order to super-impose all the wild animation and light-bright sequences. But what is the deal with the pre-sound vaudeville make-up cake??? A style which is barely accepted in a D.W. Griffith film is, for the first time in probably 45-years, plastered on every actor, big and small. It’s a very strange touch, and one which subtly undermines any and all futuristic claims.
Enter “The Black Lodge”, a band of experimental metal-heads put together by Geoff Gersh and his buddies from the Blue Man Group crew, Clifton Hyde, Mack Price & Anthony Riscica. A metal band doing a live sound-track to Tron? PERFECT for the midnight screening vibe. I didn’t realize how perfect it was, though. The film was projected with the original sound-track up ’til the point where Jeff Bridges gets sucked into the computer matrix. At that exact moment, the film’s soundtrack was turned off and they began creeping in with sizzling, psychedelic poly-chords, and “ambient-metal” — sort of in a Mogwai vain. And that is the exact moment when the film’s look and style jumps from early-80s video-games-and-faded-jeans to a truly bizarre mix of futuristic sci-fi gladiators mixed with silent-film-era over-acting and caked-on make-up. My only explanation for this unusually un-vogue look is that they had to put the film through such extreme post-processing, that they were not able to capture the subtleties of facial nuances, etc., thus their over-stylized facial images. However, it creates a truly bizarre morphing of genre, time, and place — landing somewhere between a beautiful past and a crude future.
None-the-less, it felt like The Black Lodge had fully-scored an original silent film — and it was a better movie for it. They refrained from full-on metal-pounding til only the game-and-chase sequences, during which I was jumping up-and-down in my seat with excitement. The rest of the score was filled with beautiful ambient chord-crunches, slow-jam pulses, and theater-shaking (literally…..) dissonances. It was the best modern scoring to a silent film (that’s what I’m callin’ it!) since the Club Foot Orchestra’s scoring of “Sherlock Jr” — it retold the story, in a magnificent and exciting way. The relationships between characters changed, the motivations and tensions changed, and the flow-and-arc of the film was greatly enhanced. Instead of the odd lull that the film experiences about 1hr in, (after the novelty of the Tron-graphics wears off, but where the story must slug along for another 30 minutes,) the music propels it forward to a climactic end.
I was left breathless. It felt like the film had always lacked the proper growing intensity. It finally found it with this new scoring. I only hope these guys record it soon, so I can watch it like this every time!