Carnival Of Souls
The Live Underscore by The Pere Ubu Film Unit
Links: Pere Ubu and B movies from DenOfGeek • Interview in The Believer about Pere Ubu and Films • About the film
The Pere Ubu Film Unit performs a live underscore to the 1962 cult B-movie film Carnival Of Souls (Dir. Herk Harvey, 1962, B&W).
A true original of low-budget artistry, Carnival Of Souls is creepy, bizarre and dreamlike, at times perhaps resembling a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. Candace Hilligoss stars as Mary, who after an accident sets off for another town and a job as a church organist where she finds herself strangely drawn to an old abandoned amusement park. With its crisp black and white photography and bags of atmosphere, frequent late-night TV screenings in the States have helped turn it into a cult classic. Acknowledged by George Romero as an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead it was surely seen by David Lynch before he made Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. The only feature directed by Herk Harvey it was made in a 3-week break from his job producing educational and industrial films in Kansas. Harvey and writer John Clifford had their eye as much on the arthouse as the drive-in, aiming for "the look of a Bergman and the feel of a Cocteau." - Quoted from somewhere we can't remember, sorry.
"I grew up addicted to Friday Night sci-fi/horror flicks," the Pere Ubu singer David Thomas said. "The genre had an incalculable effect on the third generation of Young Rock Giants who emerged in the 70s. Now it's time to honor that debt.
"The amateurish enthusiasm and naive intention, as well as lack of budget, of the B-movie encourages a kind of communal abstraction that approaches folk culture, and the frequent lack of a coherent agenda leaves lots of wiggle room for whatever personalized context or agenda an audience or band chooses to overlay. Wiggle room is good.
"The supernatural in the movie Carnival of Souls is Hitchcock's MacGuffin. For kids of my generation, brought up on a diet of B sci-fi/horror movies, the MacGuffin was a staple known quantity. Alien spacemen, giant talking crab monsters, the undead, etc., were clearly nonsense; simply metaphors for some other cool idea that the movie was really about. Though we might not have known what an allegory was, we were undoubtedly more sophisticated than current youth struggling under the machinations of the Fantasy Propaganda Machine, who seem to actually believe that there are such things as aliens and ghosts." -- Excerpt from the book 'Cogs, The Making of Carnival of Souls' by David Thomas.
The Pere Ubu Film Unit is a subset of the band. It previously performed to the original 3-D version of It Came From Outer Space and X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes. The material composed for the underscore that the Film Group performed in July 2013 was developed into a number of the songs from the Pere Ubu album Carnival of Souls, released in September 2014.
Guitarist Keith Moliné notes, "I've seen other groups doing live soundtracks. Usually it's Man-With-A-Movie-Camera, or Caligari, or else something by Murnau. The band play atmospheric music and the images pass by pleasingly. But David abhors comfort. So, when we do live underscores, he won't do a nice cosy silent movie, oh no. We have to actually write a score, down to the last second, to work with and between the dialogue."
Glenn Max, musical director at the Royal Festival Hall, London, noted that Pere Ubu has "raised the standard for live soundtracks."
David Thomas and two pale boys have also done an underscore to the movie. Time Out described it as, "A gloriously garrulous, diffidently divine, pumping, wheezy, melodeon-driven, contemporised avant-folk... Twisted and inspired, it is like everything and nothing you've ever heard, [they] are now creating a whole new kind of strange and affecting beauty."
Performances by The Pere Ubu Film Unit:
Jul 15 2013 - London East End Live Festival
Feb 12 2014 - L'Étrange Festival, Forum des Images, Forum des Halles, 2 rue du Cinéma, Paris (with French sub-titles)
Feb 6 2016 - Paranimf de la Universitat Jaume I, Castello de la Plana, Spain (colorized with Spanish overdubbing)
Performances by David Thomas and two pale boys:
Feb 12 2011 - Cafe Oto, London
Jun 4 2011 - Cinéma L'Univers, Lille (F)
Questions to David Thomas
Why movies - seems to becoming a bit of a habit?
Well, if I was being honest... which of course is the bane of my career... I'd say we like doing underscores because it's a bit of a busman's holiday. It's fun artistically speaking and another voice is setting the artistic agenda (the film), there's a strict timetable (can't stop the film), and our musical 'vision' has always had a cinematic component, i.e., we have a visual approach to sound. I grew up on Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) and learned all I ever needed about the nature of media, film and 20th century art from him.
Why this movie?
I think I covered a little of that above. Yeah, and I'm a sucker for that "to go where no man is meant to go" stuff. B movies like these always centered around one really good idea - unique ideas lead to prison. And these unique ideas crystallized unique perspectives in young kids watching "trash" on tv that was being dismissed out of hand by parents and the Worthies of the community. It was punk. The original punk movement, in truth, happened on tv in America in the early 60s - people like Ghoulardi, Soupy Sales, Ernie Kovacs, et al.