The Los Angeles-based band Dengue Fever combines Cambodian pop with psychedelic and even surfer music, and this Friday they are performing at UCLA’s Royce Hall. But it’s not a typical concert for the six-piece outfit – Chhom Nimol, Zac and Ethan Holtzman, Senon Williams, David Ralicke and Paul Smith. The group will perform its score for the 1925 silent film “The Lost World.”
Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel about an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon where dinosaurs are apparently still roaming the earth, “The Lost World” stars Wallace Beery, Bessie Love and Lewis Stone, but the real scene-stealers are the stop-motion dinos and other prehistoric beasties created by Willis O’Brien, who is best known for his work on 1933’s “King Kong.” Though the group wasn’t that familiar with silent films — save for the occasional Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton comedy, they jumped at the chance two years ago when the San Francisco International Film Festival asked them to score a silent film.
“Every year they would have a band do silent films,” Smith said. “They called us up and we thought it was a great idea. We thought it was a great way to stretch our scoring chops. We had a great time doing it. We got to do it at the Castro Theatre … it’s something that band’s not used to, that’s the challenge and the exciting part.”
One of the difficulties when writing scores for silent film is that prints often vary in length, so your score could be timed to one print only to discover another print is off by several minutes. “San Francisco got a print from Twentieth Century Fox,” he said. “It’s an older print … and at the wrong speed. We found out later the print with the appropriate length was 14 minutes more. We were like ‘Oh, no.’ But we decided we were going to use the first print not because we didn’t want to write 14 more minutes of music, but we looked at them both and we felt the [shorter] one was the better print. Some of the extra scenes weren’t needed, so we just decided to stick with it. We have to be adamant when we do it that the right print is in place.”
Though they weren’t huge fans of silent film, “we understood the medium,” Smith said. “It makes so much room for music. That’s why it has become popular for musicians [to score] because you have this blank slate. You are not dealing with sound design or dialogue and you get to choose the emotional center itself.”
Dengue Fever is eager to compose another silent film score and even one with dialogue. “We are trying to get ourselves out there as people who are capable of scoring films,” Smith said. We would love to keep doing it.”
— Susan King
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