Ottawa indie rockers Hilotrons breathe new life into German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and other silent films
Mike Dubue would have made a terrible silent film actor. When discussing his Silents Is Golden project, the verbose musician and manic cinephile can’t help but get carried away. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is pretty much one of my favourite films!" exclaims the film music composer, who, along with his Hilotrons bandmates, will score the 1920 Robert Wiene feature in front of a live audience. "I would be as bold as to say that it’s one of the best movies ever made. It might not be on the top of the list, but it’s probably one of the best horror films ever made as well."
"I really want to do it justice," adds Dubue. "I really wanted to take my time with it instead of treating it with irony or improvising on it, for example, because in the end, it’s not about the music. It’s about doing the best thing for the picture."
While Silents Is Golden is a good way to introduce German Expressionism to a new audience, this happening can also be seen as a reflection on the current state of cinema. "Everybody is obsessed with 3D," says Mike, noting that playing a live score during a screening also creates a "3D" space for the audience. "It becomes almost tactile. You could reach out and touch it. You can feel the film in the room!" states the musician, while indicating that his band’s approach also addresses another hot topic – the rediscovery of the silent era fuelled by the Oscar-winning The Artist.
"I really think that the silent era is one of the most unexplored eras of art," claims Dubue, criticizing the fact that it was set aside far too early. "I really think it could have gone further, had it not been crushed by the talkies. It remains an unexplored art form. I mean, it only existed for 30 years! And now you see movies coming out like The Artist and I’m considering that maybe people could start exploring it once again to take it to the next level, making it evolve finally."
Along with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Hilotrons will also provide a live soundtrack to a collection of short silent films produced by the now-defunct Ontario Motion Picture Board in the 1920s. Another thing about which Dubue cannot hold his tongue for too long. "It’s really fresh! I’ve watched a lot of silent films over the years and it’s actually the first time that I watch movies from that era that are from Canada and it gets me really excited!"
As a collaborator of the Library and Archives Canada, the musician is appalled by the current cultural stance in Canada. "We’re in a really interesting era of Canadian history, and when I say ‘interesting,’ I also mean tragic," he muses. "One of the things that I find curious and weird about the Archives is that they are no longer taking acquisitions. Our history is, more or less, on hold right now!" A pause which, sadly, isn’t a first. "If you look at the history of our government and the way it treated the Archives, the way they put the kibosh on so many production companies in the silent era, it’s remarkable."
Silents Is Golden is an artistic event first and foremost, but just like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, one could apply a political connotation to it. "Our point, in a way, is to come out, score these films, show them, and introducing the idea, when talking to the crowd, that we’re not taking care of our history properly and [that] what happened with Canada’s silent film era’s history, which was completely demolished by the government, is a prime example of what can happen next."
Hilotrons present Silents Is Golden
At Il Motore