Gutterdämmerung: what is the ‘loudest silent movie on earth’ playing at?

Gutterdämmerung
Gutterdämmerung

The self-proclaimed “loudest silent movie on earth” may just sound like fingernails down a blackboard to more sensitive readers. Gutterdämmerung  (“It’s not like you know who fucking Wagner is, anyway”) is a heavy metal silent film of sorts, which has announced itself this week with an elaborate social media campaign. I say “of sorts”, because actually, don’t you know, this is  “a new rock ‘n’ roll / film / gig concept from the mind of Belgian-Swedish visual artist Bjorn Tagemose” rather than a boring old movie.

Gutterdämmerung, proud owner of a heävy mëtal ümlaut, has been featured mostly in rock magazines so far, but is already proving to be a bit of a tease, releasing its cast list of rock icons one at a time, and even offering prizes for anyone who can guess the lineup in advance. There’s no trailer, just a launch video in which director Tagemose and two of his stars, Henry Rollins and Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal, chat about the film. They introduce some of the movie’s “icons” in this vid, Iggy Pop and Grace Jones, as well as rock bassist and adult film actress Tuesday Cross and the star  Olivia Vinall, whom the Independent recently called a “National Theatre darling”. But you’ll have to wait for the rest …

The cast may be well-known, but the director of this beast is a little more obscure. Tagemose is a photographer and creative director who has worked on glossy magazine shoots and ad campaigns featuring some impressively famous names, and directed music videos, fashion shows and rock extravaganzas for even more. Wikipedia lists these acts among his client list: “Grace JonesEditorsDavid GuettaJuanesJuan Luis GuerraMiguel BoséThe HivesAxelle RedTiëstodEUSMacy GrayOzark HenrySimple MindsKane and Juliette Lewis and the Licks” What’s the betting that the missing cast of Gutterdämmerung will be drawn from this pool? How could Juliettte Lewis resist this? I can’t see any nods to the roaring twenties in his Tagemose’s portfolio, which may be a good thing. He’ll bring a fresh eye to the craft of silent film-making, even if his aesthetic may seem familiar for other reason.

The Tagemose vibe leans on some classic rock tropes, all leather jackets, fire and bad attitudes, although the client list on his CV veers toward the corporate. Gutterdämmerung could be a chance for Tagemose to try something really off-the-wall, prove that he isn’t all about selling rebellion back to the man. Unless he has a really, really big wage bill and an expensive social media campaign to pay for … oh wait.

Grace Jones in Gutterdämmerung
Grace Jones in Gutterdämmerung

I’m dubious, you can tell. I love both rock music and silent films. In fact, I am a fan of Henry Rollins, and Grace and Iggy both more than justify the description “iconic”. The posters for Gutterdämmerung look really cool – the project seems to be going for a cult Tarantino vibe that should play well with the Kerrang! kids. And shoot me if I ever become one of those people who shudders at the thought of modern silents, or modern silent film scores. But I don’t think that Gutterdämmerung is going to appeal to my purist side … Here’s how the official website describes it:

Much in the tradition of classic movies of 1920s Hollywood, the film is mostly silent but instead of a lone piano a live rock band of rock express the emotions and action whilst special effects from the film explode to life all around the audience.

Think of a deafening rock ‘n’ roll version of Secret Cinema taking place in hell and you might just begin to have an idea of what Gutterdämmerung is.

This spectacular film will tour with its live band and a live narrator at the end of 2015 / early 2016.

Love the idea of touring with a live band (the lineup of which will also be dripfed via social media). But mostly silent? Narrator? Hmm … Make what you will of that. Because this is gig as much as a screening, a ciné-concert, you’ll stand up to watch Gutterdämmerung, which will be an “immersive experience”. That’s cool, but I suppose what I want to know is whether the film will be as heavy as the music: are we talking pictorial storytelling, or the kind of high-concept visual backdrop that Tagemose has provided for catwalk shows and arena gigs in the past? Should the film not “express the emotions and action” itself rather than relying on the score? The best silent films are immersive experiences all right, without the need for pyrotechnics to stun the audience into paying attention.

Because yes, I am a little wary of the way Tagemose’s project implies that classic silent films are not immersive, not heavy, not edgy, not outrageous, and don’t have iconic stars? Has he seen Salt for Svanetia, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, or Louise Brooks’s German films?

Still, if it wasn’t new, it wouldn’t be scary right? And in a weird week for silent cinema, what with FW Murnau’s grave being ransacked, and the silent, black-and-white cut of Mad Max:Fury Road being described as “John Ford on acid historic” and teased as a Blu-ray extra, I am ready for anything, even immersive heavy metal silent cinema starring my parents’ record collection.

The proof of the pudding will be in the premieres, two of which will take place later this year in London and Berlin. I’d love to see it, sorry, experience it, for myself. Will it bastardise silent cinema or spread it to a whole new audience? Will I be too deafened to make a distinction? I suspect Gutterdämmerung will never play Pordenone, but if it does, I would sincerely love to be there, too.

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7 thoughts on “Gutterdämmerung: what is the ‘loudest silent movie on earth’ playing at?”

  1. He had me at GRACE JONES!!! I love her. And Iggy Pop! I have a soft spot for Rollins too (“siiiiiix pack!”). Please, please tell me that Glenn Danzig is going to be involved somehow. Who are your frontrunner picks for the cast?

    That video tells annoyingly little about either the film or the music, they obviously didn’t get the ‘show don’t tell’ memo … If Grace, Iggy, and Rollins weren’t involved I’d say this had a high potential of being full of chest-beating machismo – the intro video frames it as so very “metal!!1!!1! xtreme!!!” – but based on their inclusion I’d say (well I’d hope) that it’ll be something a bit more interesting.
    Well, I’d probably quite enjoy it even if it was a total mess, but let’s hope for more than that.

    \m/

    1. “That video tells annoyingly little about either the film or the music, they obviously didn’t get the ‘show don’t tell’ memo …” So true! But I think “chest-beating machismo” is a fair bet. I’m with you – It might be a mess, but it should be a ride.

      1. Well, to be fair, the video did tell me that the Eagles of Death Metal guy is annoying as hell. Hopefully he doesn’t have too much screen time …

        I guess I won’t have the chance to see it (live, at least) – if you do, please report back! 🙂

  2. Attended the London premiere last night. Bizarre does not begin to cover it. Had my face rubbed with ash in the shape of an inverted cross, then witnessed 20 mins of the film, with Henry Rollins and Jesse Hughes and Tuesday Cross on stage, plus some opera singers. Then a ‘Q & A’ session hosted by a stand up comedian with Rollins, Bjorn Tajemose and others, then lots of classic rock song covers by the likes of Grace Jones, Iggy Pop’s current band (minus Iggy himself), and Alain Johannes. Then a ‘Come back next year or fuck off’ message. The end.

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