The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra's new score to Die Bergkatze (1921) is the ensemble's sixth new feature score. New works are always at least somewhat of a summation of previous works. At the same time, new works hopefully break new ground and explore new sonic textures and musical motifs complementary with and supportive of the "new" visual/textual narrative with which the ensemble works.
Die Bergkatze presented itself to the ensemble in ways both familiar and strange. The ensemble had encountered certain variant strains of the Verfremdungseffekt ethic of Brechtian Epic Theater in its previous film scoring work for the German Expressionist films of Murnau's The Last Laugh and (to a lesser extent) Nosferatu. Still, Lubitsch's explicit identification of Die Bergkatze with the theatrical tradition of "Grotesque" and his consequent use throughout the film of unconventional (non-squared) frames rendered Die Bergkatze as not merely a strain of Brechtian Epic Theater, but rather its cinematic sibling. It is readily apparent to an audience of Die Bergkatze that they are watching a film, just as Brecht wished for his audience to be conscious of the fact that they were watching a play.
But inasmuch as Lubitsch with Die Bergkatze hues to the Epic Theater ethic, there is nevertheless a "human"/"familiarizing" touch upon Die Bergkatze that is unavailable to and/or excluded from the Brechtian live theater ethic. Particularly in Pola Negri's performance as the bandit princess Rischka, there is a subtlety and un-amplified nuance that would contravene Epic Theater's gestus method. Die Bergkatze itself supports this subtlety and un-amplified nuance in its use of, among other techniques, the cinematic closeup. Nevertheless, the mixing of the live-stage-inspired verfremdungseffekt with more "immersive" and "familiarizing" acting methods is not jarring. It is a conjunction. It is the so-called "Lubitsch Touch."
The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra's new score to Die Bergkatze seeks to complement and support this "Lubitsch Touch" upon Die Bergkatze by musically conjoining the consciously-performative with the audience-immersive. More than in the ensemble's previous five feature scores, the Die Bergkatze score's themes and motifs define and pronounce the visual/textual narrative. At the same time, the Die Bergkatze score conjoins these pronounced themes and motifs with an undercurrent of "familiar" subtlety and nuance as they are manifested particularly in Pola Negri's star performance.
The goal for the ensemble and for its score, as always, is not to draw attention to the score's performers but rather to draw attention to and appreciation of the film. Die Bergkatze is truly a film like no other. The film's mix of the live theater-derived tradition of "Grotesque" and its structural inspiration from the consciously-political Brechtian theater is seamlessly conjoined with instances of cinema's ability to emotionally immerse an audience. We hope that our score is up to the task of Die Bergkatze, and that like the film it is a score not quite like any other.
The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Premieres its New Score for Ernst Lubitsch's
Die Bergkatze (The Wildcat) at the
St. Louis International Film Festival
November 12, 8PM
Webster University's Winifred Moore Auditorium
470 E. Lockwood
Webster Groves, MO
$10 for students, $12 for everybody else