It’s been nearly 5 years since Toronto locals Fucked Up first performed their original score to the 1928 film ‘West of Zanzibar’. Last weekend they played the arrangement live once again alongside a screening of the film, and released the score as a double EP.
Support for the night came from Absolutely Free, who served up a slice of their wavey, synthheavy beats alongside a collection of 5 short films produced by the talented resident artists at Workman Arts. The shorts ranged from the serene, curtains lightly blowing in the breeze, to the heavy, a reflection on the effects of depression and bipolar disorder. Absolutely Free crafted beautifully fluid sounds, which complemented the films well. They brought a tight repetitiveness where needed, and did not shy away from darker synth sounds. The all electronic composition hypnotised the audience and provided a valuable counterpoint to Fucked Up’s guitar and drum instrumental piece.
The night’s feature was ‘West of Zanzibar’, a silent film about a magician who loses the use of his legs after a fight with his wife’s lover, and later moves to Africa. We were forewarned about racist and colonialist motifs before the film began, and some themes were indeed distressing to the modern eye. The film’s protagonist, masterfully portrayed by Lon Chaney, (who played the lead role in 1923’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) is as bitter as he is unlikable. His twisted attempt at revenge leads him to push a young woman to alcoholism in the “lowest dive in Zanzibar”, only to learn that she was his own daughter. Fucked Up’s score embraces the dark subject matter and plot, using the disturbing themes as a brilliant starting point to skilfully craft hypnotic, unearthly guitar sounds.
The wall of sound created by the band’s many members complemented the action on the screen. Screeching guitar sounds were used to accompany squirming lizards on the screen. Each of the main characters had a separate theme, which were all instantly familiar and ranged from dark and ethereal to light and poppy. The music swelled to match the manic pace of some shots; a crescendo in the action was accentuated by the addition of a second set of drums, bathing the audience in a wash of cymbals.
The combination of sound and visuals created a moving experience, which will not easily be forgotten. Running at a little over an hour, the film and score combined to leave me elated, if not a little unsettled.