Classic silent film showcases four Southeast Texas composers

A still from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”

German Expressionist cinema is known for its experimental nature. Strange camera angles and moody black and white images are the order of the day. It is this experimental nature that lends itself perfectly to the Boomtown Film Society’s latest project.

The group will screen the classic silent film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” at 7 p.m., July 23, in the Jefferson Theatre, with music composed by four different local composers; Caden Welborn, Robert Stringer, Fatih Baha Ömeroglu and Isaiah Grande.

The society’s interim executive director Christopher Dombrosky said the idea stemmed from a request from the Jefferson Theatre for ideas for films to screen. Rather than just send a list of his favorite films, Dombrowsky sent a list of out-of-the-box ideas, one of which was to screen a silent film with new music by a local composer.

“But then I added that it would be even better to make it a showcase so that instead of just focusing on a single local musician, you could have a variety of them,” he said.

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” runs around 80 minutes, which gives each composer a 20-minute segment, Dombrowsky said. He said he knew musicians who had been looking to do film-related projects.

“Most of the projects that the Film Society does, and that just happen in general, are for directors, or actors, or possibly writers,” he said. “It’s so rare for there to be something that focuses on people that want to make music for film.”

Most local filmmakers use stock production music or contemporary music from local bands or use no music at all, Dombrowsky said.

“It’s only the last and most difficult option to say I’m going to find someone to compose and produce an original score for my film,” he said. “Take the few number of films that are being made and divide by that, and that’s how few opportunities there are for local composers.”

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was released in 1920 and is considered to be one of early cinema’s most influential films. It tells the story of a carnival hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. It is a highly stylized film visually and everything is heightened and dreamlike, Dombrowsky said.

“You’re hard pressed to find a straight line or a right angle in the film, and audibly we’re providing something that’s also a little bit different,” he said. “Hopefully, it matches that style.”

Caden Welborn, left, Fatih Baha Ömeroglu and Robert Stringer are three of the composers who have composed original music for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” which will be creened July 23 at the Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont. Not pictured is Isaiah Grande. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The four composers drew lots to choose the order. Welborn drew the first section of the film. He said he had seen the film and wanted to be able to set the tone.

A freelance composer and audio engineer, Welborn has composed everything from indie pop to ambient to EDM, as well traditional film music with orchestra some and choir. Welborn also mixed the audio for the screening. So, he has heard all the compositions but has not watched the score with the film.

“I specifically did not want to spoil myself,” he said. “I listened to it all without pictures and I’m anxiously awaiting how that’s going to look come the time. There is definitely a distinct difference between all the parts. It’s been very unique hearing the various differences. They each have their own ways of making music, but it’s interesting when it’s all put towards one film.”

Robert Stringer, who performs under the name DJ Renigade, created the music for the film’s final section.

“It’s where everything comes together for the movie,” he said. “My writing style is very high tension, very heavy handed, so, I was champing at the bit — ‘Yes, I want the end, I want the end,’” he said. “I loved how it went out, everything together with the music and certain poignant moments they’re all synched in together. It’s truly been an awesome experience to do this.”

The four composers bring different skills to the project. Stringer is not classically trained in music theory but has developed his own style and style, he said.

“I hope people can realize that music is not an exact science,” he said. “Everybody has their own style and neither one is better nor worse than the other. But as a cohesive whole, (the film) exposes each our talents individually. And ultimately, the hope is that this gets out enough that others come looking for this in Southeast Texas and adds to a burgeoning film scene in here.”

Ömeroglu, a native of Turkey, is a doctoral student at Lamar University focusing on human computer interactions and industrial engineering. His work draws heavily on sound design using ambient sound effects and noises to increase the emotion which fits well with the film’s third section.

“In the segment, see, there’s the two big chasing in the movie, and there’s a few really tension-building scenes — I felt like that could go along with what I like to do,” he said.

Ömeroglu, who tours under the name Echo Sycamore, said he finds more expression from different types of sounds instead of chord progressions or tempos.

Caden Welborn, left, Robert Stringer and Fatih Baha Ömeroglu are three of the composers who have composed original music for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” which will be creened July 23 at the Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont. Not pictured is Isaiah Grande. Photo by Andy Coughlan

“What inspires me is those unique sounds that are here in the songs,” he said. “It can be a little bit of a different instrument placed in a really wrong place or could be different noise effect distortion, reverb delay — things like that inspire me a lot more than chord progressions or writing itself

The fourth composer, Grande, joined the project as a late replacement, but said the time crunch made for an interesting challenge that molded his composition. He said his motivation is to chase a feeling and translate that musical journey to the person listening.

“This particular silent movie has some very interesting imagery and I enjoy the story,” he said. “So, having the opportunity to write part of the score has been very rewarding. The pieces have experimental elements to them and that, I hope, will add to the texture and shape of the overall experience.

Welborn said he hopes viewers will be interested in the unexpected turns the music takes.

“When you throw a whole bunch of people of varying backgrounds and music production, you get a very wide variety of styles that come out of it,” he said. “I would love to see people go, ‘Oh, you know what. I would love to see more of this type of a thing in film’ — a branching out of what can be done, what’s possible, what’s looked at as film music — that will be fantastic.”

The doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. screening and tickets are $5. A Q&A will follow the screening. The Jefferson Theatre is located at 345 Fannin St. in downtown Beaumont.

More information is available at the Boomtown Film and Music Festival Facebook page.

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