Long considered a cinematic classic, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece,
“Metropolis,” has everything a moviegoer desires: jaw-dropping visuals,
cutting-edge special effects and a powerful story.
Everything, that is, but sound. Enter Alloy Orchestra. Armed with horseshoes, pipes, pots, pans, electronic synthesizers and traditional instruments, the trio will provide live musical accompaniment to the silent film on Monday, as part of OK Mozart’s debuting OKC Series.
While such a screening may be rare for the metro, it’s old hat for Alloy Orchestra. The Massachusetts-based act has performed original soundtracks for “Metropolis” and other music-less movies for 20 years. Roger Ebert calls Alloy “the best in the world.”
The group was birthed when a film programmer in Boston wanted to screen the sci-fi epic, but the only print then available was Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 rock re-imagining, sporting songs from Freddie Mercury, Billy Squier, Pat Benatar, Loverboy and Adam Ant. He didn’t want that.
“He asked in a very casual and offhand fashion if we would just toss something together for the show,” said Ken Winokur, Alloy Orchestra musical director and junk percussionist, “and we responded in pretty much the same spirit!” Hastily assembled as it may have been, the score clicked. Over the weekend’s worth of performances, word of mouth worked its magic, increasing attendance.
“Very quickly, we realized this was a very special event,” Winokur said, “and we kind of launched ourselves into it.”
Some 500 performances of “Metropolis” later, Alloy Orchestra is still at it. As more lost footage is discovered, the score has to be rewritten and learned anew. Winokur said that keeps things fresh.
“But the film itself is so rich and so filled with detail that we keep finding new things,” he said. “There’s just so much in it that you could never quite get to the bottom of it.”
Also in Alloy’s extensive repertoire are Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail,” Lon Chaney as “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the German vampire movie “Nosferatu.” For the orchestra to tackle it, however, a film can’t just be silent. It has to be good.
“Some silents are melodramatic, overacted or very slow-paced,” Winokur said. “On the other hand, there are films like ‘Metropolis’ that are as wonderful today as the day they were issued. The effort is to locate those.”
For those seeing “Metropolis” for the first time, he advised to expect the unexpected.
“People have this image that silent films are old and creaky and boring, and when they see ‘Metropolis,’ they’re gonna be really surprised,” he said. “It has astounding depth and complexity, and literally is the most gorgeous movie ever made. It’s amazing. We always hear people say, ‘I was blown away.’”