An ongoing concert series at Holocene for ten (10!) years, Fin de Cinema pairs snooty film nerd deep cuts (and I say that with affection) with live scores from local musicians. The end result is part silent film / part concert / part feature-length video installation. Suffice to say, it's awesome and the ongoing collaboration between Fin de Cinema and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)'s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA) continues to represent a good fit for all involved.
This year's choice of film was a potentially fraught piece of '50s French cinema, Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus. The three musicals acts—Amenta Abioto, Kalimah Abioto, Mike Gamble and Caton Lyles, Akila Fields with Noah Bernstein, and POPgoji—took three wildly different approaches to accompanying the vibrant and energetic film. In the end, they complemented each other magnificently.
Black Orpheus is an interesting choice for a festival that continues to put an admirable emphasis on representation and diverse viewpoints. Populating a classical Greek tragedy with an all black cast and shooting it on location in the slums of Brazil would be a bold stroke now, and French director Marcel Camus pulled it off in 1959 (1959!). The significant caveat is that the performances he elicited were... allegorical is the charitable way to phrase it. Objectifying and infantilizing could potentially be another.
There's a certain fairy-tale logic to the way characters behave, alternating between petulant and credulous, wrathful and lusting. Were the Greeks of myth also beautiful, horny idiots? Yes, yes they were. But the film rubs up uncomfortably with the Western tradition of objectifying Black bodies while denying Black intellects. President Obama notably found the film essentially unwatchable on that score, describing the characters as "carefree birds in colorful plumage" and "the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages." I'm not here to adjudicate the dispute, but I'm inclined to side with Obama, if for no other reason than I think he makes a better film critic than any film critic would make a president.
That said, Fin De Cinema's approach—essentially rendering Orpheus a silent film (albeit with subtitles rather than intertitles)—actually mitigated a lot of those issues. The broad gestures and over-emoting from the actors actually synced up well with what you'd need to do in a silent film to communicate big emotions without the aid of vocal tone or timing.
Each musical act was well-paired to the segment of film they re-scored. Amenta Abioto, Kalimah Abioto, and Caton Lyles, and Mike Gamble approached the first act of the film with Abioto's melodic, almost-dreamlike vocals floating over a mix of a couple different drum types and Mike Gamble on guitar. This paired well with the fish-out-of-water introduction of Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) to gadabout trolly driver Orfeu (Breno Mello) in the hours before the Rio Carnaval.
POPgoji's performance, which followed, took on the frenetic tempo of the carnival, with all the energy you'd want for the long segments of costumed dancing and general debauchery. As the film entered its increasingly surreal third act, Akila Fields and Noah Bernstein took the stage. Bernstein's saxophone overlaid Fields' synthesizer hauntingly, ratcheting things down to an appropriately mystical Tangerine Dream-style minimalism. The band transitions were perfectly in keeping with the tonal shifts of the film itself, demonstrating that this wasn't Fin De Cinema's first time based rodeo.
We're all over this year's TBA! Keep up with us for reviews and critical impressions at: portlandmercury.com/tba