Film, Went There

WENT THERE: Alloy Orchestra score Josef Von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD

9/23/19 @ Coolidge Corner Theatre


Goosebumps of anticipation on the walk to the theater is a staple for attending the Alloy Orchestra. As you walk from the concession stand to the theater– in this case the Coolidge’s pristine Movie House 1– you find the makeshift merch table. Featured here are DVDs, CDs, and even vinyl of the Orchestra’s impressive catalogue of memorable scores. Featuring a range from Buster Keaton slapstick comedies to Soviet Montage to their flagship score: Metropolis.

The trio includes Roger Miller on Keys, Terry Donahue on “junk percussion,” accordion, and the musical saw, and Ken Winokur on percussion, clarinet, and the Director. The unorthodox drum kit includes several trinkets and an assortment of pots and pans – hence the name “Alloy.” Each of their film scores is an original rendition, whether it’s based on the original composition or not.

The screening was preceded by an introduction to the film on the importance of presentations like this. Josef Von Sternberg’s Underworld kicks off with a literal bash of steel. The story follows the underground world of crime, led by two feuding gangsters, Bull Weed and ‘Buck’ Mulligan. After rehabilitating his alcoholic former lawyer ‘Rolls Royce,’ Bull Weed seeks to take down Buck once and for all. Plans go awry when Rolls Royce falls for his girlfriend.

Underworld itself is a precursor to the empathetic criminal story. Penned by the later writer of Scarface (1932), Ben Hecht, Underworld is one of the gangster genre’s early hits. The moral questions each character faces are just as fascinating as the action sequences. The choices and obligations of each character resonate with contemporary stories now. The action sequences are elevated by the pots and pans being smacked twenty feet from the audience. Featuring lots of gunfire, the sequences find a great balance between the keys, accordion, percussion, and live SFX. As with any live accompaniment, it’s hard to not tap your feet to the tense-driven score, happening right before your ears.

While their next tour may not hit Boston, keep an eye and both ears out for when they make their return.

Screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, part of The Sounds of Silents on Monday 9/23.

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