Häxan with live music in the MUC

Silent films were never really silent. There was always a musical score to accompany the imagery playing out on the screen. Interpreting the film through musical composition is the unspoken half of the artistry of film from a bygone era, and it is an art that one SIUE music major brought to the Morris University Center in late November.

“I’m in a band called the ‘Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra,’ and we write original music to silent movies,” said senior music major Emma Tiemann. “We just finished writing and premiered at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and its called Häxan. It’s a 1922 Swedish film from director Benjamin Christensen.”

Original movie poster

Original movie poster

In Swedish the word Häxan means ‘witch.’ The film is a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Christensen studied a 15th century German guide for inquisitors as part of the basis for his film. Intended as a documentary, it contains dramatic depictions of torture, nudity and sexual perversion that are akin to modern horror films and resulted in the work being banned in the United States, and heavily edited in many other countries.

Tieman recently joined the Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra. This is the first project with which she’s been involved where the score was developed from a blank slate.

“You have to watch it a ton of times. We all work on the writing, we think about themes and any kind of idea that we put out is (demonstrated) and it’s a trial and error process to find what sounds the best to represent the scene,” Tiemann said. She joined the group when a mutual friend told her they needed a violinist. “I learned their repertoire. It’s a whole lot of fun, and a lot of practice hours.”

The group has five other films that they’ve scored and can perform: High Sign and Go West by Buster Keaton; Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror and The Last Laugh by F.W. Murnau; and Strike by Sergei Eisenstein.

“We don’t really ever get paid a whole lot to do this, but we did just get to divvy up the band money and it comes to about four cents per hour,” Tiemann said while laughing.

She added that she’d like to come back to SIUE with another film in the future, perhaps in a campus venue more conductive to the art — like the John C. Abbott Auditorium, on the lower level of SIUE’s Lovejoy Library.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Music


Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site