Friday, March 11, 2005

Son of Nanook: or, What Is This, the Hollywood Remake?

Thanks to all interested parties, fans or not, who braved the Baffin Bay-like chill we had piped in from the Arctic Circle to Baltimore, in order to attend the Nanook screening at the Creative Alliance. It blew our budget, unfortunately, but was worth it as far as authenticity's sake. Not to mention making our fans happy. And winning over some new ones!

So the day of the show our local Laughing Man Marc Steiner, on his eponymous radio show, interviewed one of the cats from the Alloy Orchestra . It was a fun interview to hear on the very day of the Balt-Ano's debut as silent film accompanists, a genre I am told is incredibly hot right now. The AO, according to Rog "the Mod" Ebert, are the best silent film accompanists ever in the history of the world! (as per the thumb upper/downer, did you know that you actually pronounce his last name in the Cajun fashion, that is, Ay-bare, and not EE-burt? And that, as a boy, he was called Roggie, with a hard 'g'? Yes, it's true: he grew up wrestling tiny alligators in the Delta of Lousiana and did not wear underpants until college). Marc, in his gristly, gravelly, stoned-sounding way asked the AO cat what lessons he'd learned about this new but old means of entertaining the public, that is, playing live to a silent film. What kind of things go wrong? Steiner asked schadenfreudenly. AO, sounding at best like he lived in the bottom of a gigantic tin bucket (WYPR engineers: fix that!), admitted that they'd long ago learned to score/practice to the EXACT PRINT of the film that would be screened during the show. Why? Isn't this copy of Griselda the Forlorn Ragpicker starring Lil Gish the same as that one? Apparently not, chuckles AO. Back when they were tyros, they'd made the mistake of writing and arranging a score and then practicing for weeks (!!?) or months (!!!???!!!) based on and while watching DVD or VHS copies rented from a local store, only to find upon the night of the show that the venue had discovered some ancient film reel of same show, and finding, of course, during the opening moments of the movie, that the old print was totally different from the mastered and pumped up DVD copy they'd based their whole arrangement on. Thereby making their music ridiculous.

I laughed out loud. How funny. What poor preparation! And Roggie called these guys the best...

Then I remembered that we'd been huddling around a brand new DVD playing on a laptop in Ned's basement trying in a very un-ANo-like way to arrange our themes in perfect aural/visual alignment with the action unfolding on the screen...a fanfare-style 'a' to 'g' flourish here when Nanook pulls the snow fox out of the hole, a seamless transition into JB's "It's a Man's World" when they all awake in the igloo and Nanook's cute and very naked wife chews on his sealskin boots in order to make them all warm and deliciously slimy for the Nookster's feet. Could our plans to be perfect be scuttled? Well, we laughed in a manner that, to an objective bystander, would've sounded very confident and exuded our innate sense of the absurdity of all things: the prints the Creative Alliance uses are old-skool reel film, as a matter of fact, and it seemed unlikely that it would be the exact same as the dvd. Who cared if it was a little different, though? We've played together for many years and have been lost onstage more times than any of us could count; God knows it'll be an odd day when the ANo takes the stage having polished our style to any physical state even distantly related to frictionlessness. And, to paraphrase Coltrane, we always seem able to "resolve", to, um, "bring it all (and I mean ALL!) back home."

Are you, dear reader, smellling what is cooking?

The show started and of course first three scenes were completely different than those on the DVD. We'd never seen them before. Like the first five minutes. Our intro theme went out the window. So did Scott's jauntily canine-like "Dog Theme". What the hell? Are those *seal pups* smiling cutely at Flaherty's camera? No, dear God, do not let Nanook club them...Tragedy narrowly averted (thanks Bob "Mumbleton" Weir!). Perpetually un-fazable, our bodies and brains working off the sublime chemistry of Matthew's crab pizza--Yes! Crab! All Baltimorons Bow Down to the Master Crustacean Who Owns our Souls!--and being such master manipulators of our tiny yet grand instruments, and masters also of our instruments' interconnected destinies, we delivered a solid and amusing, and oftentimes quite fearful, set of sounds and tunes. And had a great time doing so.

* * *

I have Bill Faulkner to thank for keeping my incredibly flabby Quicksilver muscles from becoming totally atrophied. I re-read Unvanquished and Absalom! Absalom! this winter and not a night passed that didn't find me jotting unknown words into my bedside small Moleskine; the day following I'd usually refer to my trusty American Heritage dictionary to find out what, oh, "faience" meant (a type of primitive glazed pottery, used to describe Sutpen's face: what a fucking master, you know?), or "virago" (a man-like woman, used to describe Drusilla in Unvanq'ed). But my AH dictionary did not have the very strange word "retromingent" listed, so I called up Quicksilver and typed period, then "retromingent", hit tab, typed define, return...only to learn the following from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):

Retromingent \Re`tro*min"gent\, a. [Pref. retro- + L. mingens,
p. pr. of mingere to urinate.]
Organized so as to discharge the urine backward. -- n.
(Zo["o]l.) An animal that discharges its urine backward.

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