X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes
The Live Underscore by Pere Ubu
Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland), in pursuit of a serum to improve eyesight, discovers a formula for x-ray vision. Thwarted by his more short-sighted colleagues, the doctor tests the potion on himself only to find that his ability to see through walls, clothes and flesh soon turns him into a pariah. Still, he is overcome by an insatiable desire to look further and further... until, finally, he dares to peer into the place Man Is Not Meant To Go. (US 1963 color. Directed by Roger Corman. Starring Ray Milland, Diane van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt and Don Rickles. 1:19 hours).
Ray Milland's favorite role, possibly Roger Corman's finest production, X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes was a B-movie sensation. Now, the legendary American avant-garage rock band Pere Ubu generates a throbbing, dark and atmospheric live underscore which restores the film's fabled 'lost' ending.
"I grew up addicted to Friday Night sci fi flicks," Pere Ubu's 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 our debt."
(See Ghoulardi - Lessons in Mayhem from the Age of TV Punk for more on this subject.)
In November 2004 Pere Ubu toured Great Britain performing a live underscore to Ray Bradbury's It Came From Outer Space with the last 3-D print in circulation.
"Pere Ubu have raised the standard for live soundtracks," said Glenn Max, musical director of London's Royal Festival Hall.
Pere Ubu emerged from the urban frontier of mid-70s Cleveland to impact the American underground for generations to follow. Led by David Thomas, whose innovative vocal style and rapturously eccentric lyrics have remained the band's creative focus throughout a long, convoluted career, Ubu's protean art-punk sound captured the angst and chaos of the times with both apocalyptic fervor and surprising humanity. With a unique mixture of control and anarchy, Pere Ubu changed the face of music, influencing the likes of Joy Division, REM, Pixies, Bauhaus, Julian Cope, and countless others.
Andy Gill, writing in the New Musical Express, explained, "By 1978 they had achieved what no other group would even attempt, before or since, they had become the world's only expressionist Rock `n` Roll band."
"Pere Ubu's signature mix of driving rock and synthesized sound throbbed in and out... Pere Ubu have created a sympathetic and subtle soundtrack which works with the film rather than stamping their distinctive mark on it." -- Lilly Peel, The Argus, 11/13/04.
"It works wonderfully well... the soundtrack reaches an early, pulsing peak, one that builds across the night into a monumental thing, a dark, drilling, interstellar-overdrive groove as intensely urgent as Ubu's 'Heart Of Darkness' of 30 years ago." -- Damien Love, Sunday Herald, 10/14/04.
"They turned a B-movie into a series of menacing peaks and troughs." -- The Scotsman, 11/10/04.
July 22 2004, Celebrate Brooklyn, New York City
April 9 2005, James River Film Festival, Richmond VA
August 12 2005, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, MA
November 5 2005, Pittsburgh Filmmakers Film Festival, Regent Square Theater, Pittsburgh PA
October 29 2006, Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles CA.
Interview in The Believer about Pere Ubu and Films.
Q & A Session for UCLA Why movies & ubu - 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 the pressure to be the best thing since sliced bread is off our shoulders. 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. 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. Plus, we grew up on Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) and learned all we ever needed about the nature of media, film and 20th century art from him.
Why this movie? (and why icfos?)
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.
To be clear on what we do: We play an underscore. With X we have a fellow muting or riding the soundtrack. With ICFOS we had a very complex and highly fallible system of parallel projections involving hand synching a pre-muted version of the film's soundtrack to a visual-only film projection with a totally independent monitor system for the stage. Very hairy experience for the musicians because often enough the film's audio would drift out of synch with the visual and the monitor feed would drift in time from the screened projection. At the premier performance at the Royal Festival Hall, in fact, the film showing in our stage monitors (which we were performing to) began to run backwards at a crucial moment as the film manipulator tried to hand synch all the various systems. Which is why we always distribute suicide pills to the musicians.
Any plans for any others? what would your wishlist be?
Would like to do Carnival of Souls. There is also a movie that is burned into my brain from the 60s but I can't remember the title (NB. Thanks to Vince Fabiano for identifying the movie as The Time Travelers, 1964). I do remember it was an utterly tiresome (even for a kid) tale of time travel into a dystopian future full of mad scientists toying with the fabric of time. But the One Idea was superb - the mad scientists break time and the last five minutes of the film is simply an ever accelerating loop of the entire film repeating over and over til it becomes a blur and then stops with a pop and screen to black.
Craig Summers responds:
The name of the movie is The Time Travelers (1964), aka Depths of the Unknown, The Return of the Time Traveler, The Return of the Time Travelers, This Time Tomorrow, and Time Trap.