Putting a new spin on ‘Brother from Another Planet’ in one-of-a-kind Philly performance

 DJ and record producer King Britt talks with WHYY about his latest project, putting a new spin on the cult-classic film

DJ and record producer King Britt talks with WHYY about his latest project, putting a new spin on the cult-classic film "The Brother from Another Planet." (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

This weekend, DJ and musician King Britt will pull apart the 1984 John Sayles film, “The Brother from Another Planet,” and reassemble it, live on stage.

 

The performance will be part of Black Star Film Festival, the second annual festival of new and classic African-American movies in Philadelphia.

The film, set in 1984, features an African-American space alien who crashes on Earth and attempts to navigate the disorienting urban environment. Sayles used the sci-fi trope to explore racism and segregation in New York City.

Britt grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and was bused to school in Center City. He identified with the mute alien who fell to Earth.

“I was the black kid in a predominately white environment, many times I felt very alien,” said Britt. “When I saw this film, and he’s walking around in New York — he was very quiet. It’s interesting how his character didn’t say anything. I liked that.”

The alien, played by Joe Morton, wanders New York carrying supernatural healing powers in his hands — targeting both skinned knees and video arcade games. His wordless, passive subtlety is comparable to the great silent comedians such as Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati.

Britt acts as the avant-garde piano player for this silent comedy. The film has been pulled apart scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot, by video artist Joe Senk. On Friday night, live on stage, Senk will reassemble the film in real time, creating an alternative, abstract narrative. Meanwhile, Britt and his band will improvise a soundtrack with keyboards and electronics.

“It’s as if aliens were watching the film now, as it was done back then where he is an alien coming to Earth. What would it look like from their eyes,” said Britt. “He’s going to use effects. I’m excited to see it — I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

This improvisation will be the only performance. Britt says he will record the process and show it to filmmaker John Sayles to see what he thinks of what happens to his film.

The event will take place at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia. Admission is $12.

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