Silent Movie

Went to the excellent Lamb Chop concert last night with some chums at the Usher Hall here in Edinburgh. My first time for this very unusual – and often largely unknown – group; I went along on Brendan’s recommendation. First time in all the many types of gigs I’ve been to where the band sat with their backs to the audience. But then the lights went down and other than the small glow of lamps to illuminate the music sheets you couldn’t see them at all. Why? Well, you see Lamb Chop perform to film – silent movies actually. Not a live soundtrack per se, more of a performance of their music (kind of Indie, hard to define really) to the movie; a live musical-motion picture interaction in real time. The whole performance for me was enhanced by the fact the film was one of the greatest classics of early cinema, F W Murnau’s Sunrise. A deceptively simple tale of temptation and love this remarkable film utilises multiple montages, model work, metonymy, overlapping dissolves, over-cutting of two distinct shots. Today these are all a part of any film-maker’s reptoire, but this movie was made in 1927. Murnau – director of Nosferatu, was most certainly a man ahead of his time and it is easy to see why he was esteemed as a genius during the silent era of moving pictures. It’s often refenced even today (it is one of the first film’s the 200-year old Louis goes to see in Inteview With the Vampire). Add in some very good food in All Bar One (very nice bar off Lothian Road, marred only by the amount of people in suits and ties from the nearby financial district) and beer with some chums and you have a very good night.

The previous night saw the last official meeting of the year for our SF Book Group, where we discussed the Booker-prize winning author Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which some of you who have been reading for a while may recall me discusssing last year because Atwood reacted with annoyance to reviews which referred to her book as SF. She responded somewhat haughtily that she did not write SF and it dealt with ‘robots and rocketships’ or words to that effect. So Oryx and Crake (and indeed hear earlier Handmaid’s Tale) are not SF. Despite dealing with advanced genetic manipulation in a future setting, environmental catastrophe and a corporate-run world, it’s not SF. How odd then that in many places it remined me of William Gibson. And there are many areas which seem to have grown from the fertile ground of HG Wells and the Island of Doctor Moreau. In fact there was almost nothing here at all which had not been written (often many times) by SF writers going back a century and a half.

This is not to say that the book is derivitive or bad however – far from it. It is an excellent read, taking these concepts and running with them, using an absorbing narrative whereby the events leading to the situation at the beginning of the book (a ruined Earth and humanity) are revealed in flashes, piece by piece, building to an interesting ending. As with the Handmaid’s Tale I found this to be an excellent piece of SF writing. Sorry, Margaret, but it is SF… Although the important label to put on this novel is not the one of genre but of ‘damned well-written, thoughtful story’.