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International House celebrates 100 years with abstract film feature

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The International House on the University of Pennsylvania campus is known for its avant-garde film screenings. For its one hundredth birthday it will feature a Japanese silent film with Japanese musicians adding a live soundtrack. The performance on Friday will mix Western and Japanese instruments.

Musicians tuned up to rehearse their performance of a live score to Page Of Madness, a 1926 Japanese silent film that is difficult and abstract. The story revolves around a janitor of an insane asylum where his wife is a patient. Composer Gene Coleman says there is no dialogue, no text on the screen, and the plot is broken up by flashbacks and dream sequences.

“It’s debatable how well an audience can follow that just by watching it. The central theme of the film is this pull between abstraction and traditional narrative.”

To accentuate both the storyline and the film’s expressionistic techniques with music, Coleman put together an ensemble featuring viola and cello alongside traditional Japanese instruments like the Shakuhachi flute.

“There’s a lot of breath sound in the pitch – every note is wrapped in this windy kind of sound. It can be very dramatic.”

Coleman was commissioned to compose the score by the International House specifically for its 100-year anniversary. The ensemble will travel to the Museum of Modern Art in New York later this weekend to perform with the film there.

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