Grimmfest 2010 opened at 7pm on Thursday 28th October at the lovely Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester, with ‘The Last Man on Earth’. There’s no excuse needed for a bit of Vincent Price at a horror film festival, goodness knows, and the years cannot fade his creepy, camp glory, but this was much more than a classic film showing. An entirely new soundtrack was provided by Animat, live on stage, in a fascinating mix of sound and re-interpretation.
Animat are an ‘Electronica Collective’ which is pretty much what you would expect – two guys with laptops sat at the edge of the stage. They have moved from finding images to play behind their music at festivals to making music to compliment and perhaps make people rethink their responses to films. A Q&A after the showing revealed that they seek out films with limited dialogue that they can sit and endlessly watch until they’ve found music that expresses their personal response to what’s on screen.
‘The Last Man of Earth’, with it’s long stretches of atmospheric images proved ideal for this, and the ambient sounds worked really well in adding a new dimension to the disturbing scenes of a world without living people. It gave the colour version of the film a very modern feel, leaving me impressed at how well it stands up to rewatching. You forget quite quickly that this was made in 1964.
Occasionally, the music felt a little intrusive, but there were also some nice humorous touches – the use of the introduction to ‘Thriller’ being perhaps a little obvious, but still getting a good audience response. I’m never sure about soundtracks which use dialogue, and it can distract from the film itself, but on the whole it worked. The use of ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag’ over the final scenes was unexpected, and perhaps a little outside of the previous feel of the film, but was pleasing in its own way. An interesting experiment that I would like to see more of, and a good demonstration of the way music drives our emotional response to film.
The second film of the evening was a new British film, ‘Outcast’ starring James Nesbitt and Karen Gillan (although in a more minor role than her headline status might imply). This was a very impressive debut feature, and was very clear about its urban fairytale setting from the start. The cast, script and setting were all excellent, James Nesbitt being marvelously feral from his first moments, and the grey towerblocks making a very nice substitute for the woods this story would have been set in, once upon a time.
The story takes place in the council estates of Edinburgh, a side of the city not often seen on screen, and revolves around the romance between two teenagers, Petronella and Fergal. They are both outcasts from the society they live in, Petronella being Romanian gypsy, and Fergal being Irish, living with and hidden by his witchcraft-practicing mother. From the start, it’s clear that a monster is stalking the dark passages of the estate, but is it Cathal, the animalistic Irish hunter, or Fergal, whose mysterious heritage his mother conceals from the world by dark magic?
When we first see Cathal (played by James Nesbitt) and his companion Liam arrive in the city, they meet with the local Laird, who gives them the freedom to follow their quest with the words’ You will use these powers to hunt down and kill the boy – no others’. There are no bones made about whether the magic is real, or the beast a metaphor. We are straight away immersed in another version of our world, steeped in the reality of ancient Celtic myth. The crossover of Irish and Scots works beautifully, although I have to admit as an English viewer, I had to occasionally pay attention to the depth of accents on show.
There are some lovely, dark touches in ‘Outcast’ – I especially like the fate of the overly bossy housing officer – and this is definitely a film worth looking out for. Hopefully, it will get the cinematic release it deserves.