Artistic efforts in the avant-garde vein often sound much cooler than they end up being in reality. I think of Minneapolis' foray into a nuit blanche (all-nighter) at the beginning of the summer, which vividly described in advance a number of installations that a potential festival-goer could experience. Who wouldn't be intrigued by a "Sewer Pipe Organ" or "Panelectric Dream Streams"? Armed with a picnic, schedule, and short nap, Karl and I set out for a night of exploration.
We realized afterward that the most artistic highlight of our evening was probably the dinner we brought. The sun set in bold orange and splayed across an interactive spread of bread, cheese, and rosé. Total audience participation. Oh, and we caught the last set of the delightful Romantica, in that space sandwiched between Tugg's and the bar next door. But the well-touted "happenings" of the evening were comparatively boring. "Egg and Sperm Hide-and-Seek?" Yawn. Rather uncharacteristically, we went to bed early.
So, when I heard on the radio that this week's Movie in the Park was going to be Fritz Lang's 1928 silent film Spies, accompanied by an original score performed by live band and sound effects orchestra, I was a bit reticent at first. Was this going to be another strained attempt at semi-scripted movement, too bound to unrhythm for those of us mere mortals fool enough to try to follow? Still, I couldn't stay away. This would either end up being extraordinary or painfully awkward, but I had to find out for myself.
The audience stretched out in the hundreds up the hill behind the Walker Art Center, and a friend and I scouted out a minuscule patch of green between swaths of endless picnic blankets. When dusk had sufficiently descended, the reel-to reel whirred into action, and a bouncy hand eventually settled black-and-white images on a square of white floating in the foreground of the Minneapolis skyline. Cello and violins sprang a tense, fitful waltz, intoning suspense. When the first dialogue flashed across the screen, an eerie voice repeated some of the words, hummed them, and disappeared into the darkness. For the next hour and a half or so, I was spellbound.
In fact, I think my mouth hung wide open most of the time, as if my ears and eyes were too full and I needed some other way to take it all in. Paper crackled, toy gunshots snapped, feet scuffled and stomped. Woven lovely throughout, the music of Dark Dark Dark kept pace with the spastic, fantastic plot lines drawn from Fritz Lang's imagination. In particular, the climactic train scene near the end was such a coordinated feat of music, sound, and thrill that the audience broke out into spontaneous applause when came to its dramatic end. We were moved and felt the need to participate, to respond in some way. It was a happening that - well, actually happened.