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Soundtracking Fear- The Sudden Fear project [2008-02-23]

Sudden Fear is The Starving Weirdos first foray in soundtracking(that’s been releashed) with images based around elements from 1952 film featuring Joan Crawford & Jack Palance. Merrick McKinlay from the SW's kindly gave me an email interview regards the project- but first a brief review.

WithThe Sudden fear project they’ve managed to build such a tight feeling of almost unbearable tension, making an very uneasy, edgy and on a knife-edge audio/visual attack on the sensors. As we follow Joan Crawford on her plans to murder and her carrying out  of the task, over it’s half an hour running time they turning this noir classic into an hallucinogenic knife-edge ride. The SW soundtracking of tense / inister drone textures, sawing guitars, weird percussive elements and creepy music boxes unwinds makes it near on in possible to take your eyes of the screen. In summing up total un-missable really, here’s hoping they do some more soundtrack work very soon. Anyway  enough from me over to Merrick to fill in the details of the project.

m[m]: How did the idea of Sudden Fear come about?
Merrick Well, I guess it stemmed from the efforts of our pal Michel Sargent.  Who, in addition to being very active in ground level sonic/visual experiments, has organized an annual 'experimental film and music night' in connection with the Humboldt International Film Festival.  Which means that once a year, we and our grubby friends get to play on the same stage as Laurie Anderson and STOMP- Humboldt State University's Van Duzer Theatre... it's a little weird, total yuppie swank.
The basic idea is live music set to film. Sudden Fear was our third time participating (so far we've been asked to play every year).  The first was music for "Der Lauf Der Ding"(the way things go), Peter Fischli and David Weiss' mind-boggling 1987 video. The second year we did music for Harry Smith's Early Abstractions, which later became our one-sider on Root Strata.

m[m]:You mentioned Sudden Fear was your third year film at the Humboldt  International  Film Festival. Any thoughts about releasing past years work in a similar  fashion to Sudden Fear?
Merrick  Uh, not really.  The we toyed with the idea on Harry Smith's Abstractions, since they're currently NOT available!  But even still, it's pretty well worn material at this point.  I mean Deer Hoof did live performances, and probably tons of other bands you never heard of. -and perhaps more importantly, I firmly believe that it is pointless to improve upon Teji Ito's score.  Have you seen this? it's glorious.

Merrick In fact we were hesitant to do it at all. That's why the first year we went with Der Lauf Der Ding, which has no score.  But Harry's images are soooo lovely, we
couldn't resist.  And plus no one's seen this shit in our local community.  So it was a good will mission of sorts. And ditto with D.L.D.D. It's such a testament to those two guys who assembled that AMAZING chain seemed weird to capitalize on these obscure artist's work.  But with Sudden Fear, like Psycho, it already exists in the Public Domain (loosely speaking, I mean I think our dvd is illegal).  It's part of the 'popular culture' whatever that means. and so it's fair game.
m[m]:Have you come across any other films you'd like to give similar treatment  to Maybe for next years Festival ?Merrick No, better to keep an impromptu feeling. We almost did Guy Maddin's 2004 short 'A Trip to the Orphanage'.  But the 5 min short didn't offer as much sustained interest when stretched out to 30 min.
Maybe we should do a Brother's Quay film next time. now you got me thinking, ha.

m[m]:What made you chose this particular film to soundtrack?
Merrick I was reading Film Comment one day and came across an article on Douglas Gordon.  He did all kinds of experiments with classic films, among other things. He did something called '24 Hour Psycho' where he slowed down the Hitchcock's 'Psycho' so that it lasts 24 hours.  The characters practically become statues, the progressing almost unnoticeable. The original intent is subverted- the images preserved, but gutted and given new meaning.  Brilliant right?

Merrick So that got me thinking about working with classic film footage in a similar manner- I had probably just seen 'Sudden Fear' for the first time right around then.  It's a killer flic! Brian and I are avid film fans, I work at a GREAT independent video store.  So of course I have huge unhealthy crushes on all the old Hollywood starlets. Joan's face fucking moved me in that one! And the cinematography is off the hook!  The long double exposure, the shadows, the angles, the subject matter.  It's all there. Potent.

Merrick The back story is: Joan is an bitter old spinster, who is SWEPT off her feet by an actor, Jack Palance.  She really opens up and is on cloud 9...So in the climax,
she realizes how it was all a SCAM by Jack and his girl!  And her world just COLLAPSES. She imagines killing them, and then goes to there hide out and hides.  Love turns to hate, then to fear and leads to death. These were the scenes we used.

m[m]:Tell us a bit about when you played it live? I take it the film was  projected? And is the recording on the disk the one from the live  performance?
Merrick Yeah, the Van Duzer has a screen on stage and the bands play in the orchestra pit basically.  The audience is in comfy theater-style chairs.  Very civilized. Usually pretty well attended.

Merrick We recorded it ourselves onto a mini-disc hung in the balcony.  That recording was then mastered and slightly edited at home by Brian.  Then I re-synced it
with the video and added in the percussive elements that appear with the chase sequence in the last movement- an old SW mix Brian had given me that wasn't
doing anything... a perfect fit!!!
The chase sequence demanded something DRIVING, that was missing in the original performance.  There weren't enough of us to achieve THAT particular sound live.  I also added the sound when the cat yells, that needed to be right. But that's it.
So, in short the live set became the backbone of the final work, but it was definitely enhanced by us later.

m[m]:You've edited and shuffled elements of the  original sudden fear-how much  of this did you do & it also seems as if it's slowed in places- is this  correct? And if so what other effects did you use on the film?
Merrick OK, so my big idea after reading about Douglas Gordon, was basically to copy and slow down some old footage.  Michel Sargent and I got together and edited the climax of Sudden Fear down to the essential, visually captivating, scenes- about 12 min. slowed to 30 min.  Presented sequentially, with an ATTEMPT to preserve  some kind of continuity. Under serious time constraints we did pretty good, I think.  We didn't use any other trickery, nothing beyond fades, cuts, and the blanket speed reduction...It's great cinematography, like I said.

m[m]:Has sudden Fear project anyone else approached you with regards sound tracking work?
Merrick No such offers.  Expecting Sarge (Michel) to ask us again this year.  Oh yeah, Sargent used some outtakes a long time ago on a short 'Marshlands'. I posted it on our MYSPACE [sic]. We would love to do some LEGITIMATE work in this area.
Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Jess Franco. This means You.

m[m]:Have either of you two got the point of writing a > film script you'd like to soundtrack?
Merrick Brian has attempted some of this. He's always coming up with cool hypothetical-video-art-ideas.  We're both armchair cinematographers I think
m[m]:what have you got lined up next & any news on a possible tour over to  Europe and the uk?
Merrick FUCK YEAH on the Rumor Tip: SW coming to Holland in September!!! Which means we want gigs everywhere, France, Belgium, Glasgow, Germany. Where? Where?Where?
We just started talking with folk at the ZXZW fest. And had a few other leads we can work on if this pans out. But I repeat, this HASN'T gone through yet. so knock on wood.

m[m]:Great news about the possible Europe shows- any idea if you'll play London?
Merrick We've spoken with people at Upset the Rhythm, they're London based, no?  We'd like to go there regardless. We've got a good buddy working in film there too.

Thanks for his time and efforts with the interview and the pictures from the Sudden fear Performance.  The Starving Weirdos home base is here. The disk is releashed on Cut hands lable go here for more info.

Roger Batty
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