There are some pretty twisted minds out there and filmmaker Andre Perkowski is one of them. His demented cut-up and reassembly of old silent film footage into a “new” silent Batman movie called ”Shadow of the Bat-Man” is as obsessive and nutters as it is charming and entertaining. Episodes of Perkowski’s silent-era Batman saga have been on his YouTube since 2008 but now Two Star Symphony will premiere the film at Discovery Green this Friday evening with an original score. We sent up the bat signal to contact Two Star’s Jerry Ochoa about the performance.
How did you guys come across this film and choose to score it?
Jerry -Andre Perkowski had edited and posted a series of short films about Bat-Man using his editing-with-public-domain-footage technique and Debra found them one night when she was just surfing around YouTube looking for cool public domain footage that would inspire new music. She showed us the shorts and we thought it would be awesome to try scoring them. We applied for and got an Established Artist grant from the Houston Arts Alliance, and that allowed us to reach out to Andre and commission him to create a feature-length movie about Bat-Man, based on his earlier shorts.
I have to admit I was totally confused as Batman didn’t appear until the 1939 but this was playing as a 1920′s silent film. Then, when I realized what filmmaker Andre Perkowski was doing, I laughed my ass off. I have to say it’s all pretty clever. Why don’t you explain the film for folks.
Jerry - What Andre does is collect huge amounts of public domain footage, meaning any footage that’s old enough to have no copyright protection. He then breaks the footage down to individual shots, re-edits them and inserts his own story cards to create all new stories using the pre-existing footage. This is how he’s able to create new “old” movies.
For Bat-Man, Andre took footage from public domain films that actually inspired the comic book character of Bat-Man as well as some of his main nemesis. An old movie called The Bat was one of the main sources Bob Kane drew on to create his Batman. The Bat is about an outlaw who dresses like an actual Bat and uses a spotlight-based Bat Signal, only in the original film The Bat is actually a psychotic murderer who uses the Bat Signal to alert and terrify his victims that he’s coming for them. Bob Kane took those elements - Bat-dressed vigilante with a bat-signal - and turned them into the hero we call Batman.
In a similar way, Perkowski uses footage from the movie The Man Who Laughs to create the Joker. The Man Who Laughs is about a boy who gets a smile carved into his face as punishment for his Father’s sins. That boy grows up, joins the circus and falls in love with a blind woman. The movie is actually a romantic drama and the “Joker” is the protagonist - the romantic lead. However, his appearance is so terrifying that most people assume it’s a horror movie with him as the villain, and that’s exactly how Bob Kane used him. Kane was totally upfront about the fact that his character The Joker is based directly on The Man Who Laughs, so what’s amazing is that Perkowski manages to use both these historic cinema characters in the exact same way Bob Kane did - The Bat goes from being a terrifying killer to become a heroic vigilante and the Man Who Laughs goes from being a romantic lead to becoming a super-villain.
Perkowski is attending the screening. How closely did you work with him?
Jerry -We haven’t actually met Andre yet, but we’ve communicated with him regularly over the course of this project. When we first commissioned him, we spent a lot of time talking about how we work and what the possibilities were for lengthening the movie. Once he sent us his rough cut, Andre invited us to give him feedback on what he could do to make the movie fit with our vision, so we were able to go through and be incredibly specific, asking if he could lengthen a certain scene, add or subtract elements, etc. Andre was great about this kind of feedback so it was a pretty collaborative process.
How does his score (that he wrote with Kristin Palker) compare with yours?
Jerry -Something great about Andre is that he is a musician and has done scoring, so he’s receptive and understanding to the needs of the musicians in that area. His original score was very much an ambient mix - cool and dark and moody. We (Two Star) make a lot of effort to tailor our scores as closely to the movie as possible, and we’re using 8 live musicians (with multiple instruments) so we’ve got a lot of ability to create different tones, different styles for specific themes. Because we’ve spent months focusing on just them music, we’re able to give each character a theme, and customize the mood scene by scene to enhance the action onscreen.
The film is kind of pretty cheeky how did that affect your approach to the scoring?
Jerry - Andre’s got a great sense of humor and writes some of the most entertaining title/story cards we’ve ever seen, like referring to The Riddler as the “crime-sphynx of Gotham” or Bat-Man chasing down prostitutes and ordering them to “go forth and behave.” That sense of humor comes in handy because technically, Andre’s telling an exceedingly dark story. The villains are prisoners of Arkham Asylum, where they’re subject to torture and medical experiments, and the ending of the movie strongly implies that Bat-Man is so badly damaged psychologically that he’s destined to end up alongside his foes in Arkham Asylum. It’s actually a pretty good match for our music in that we’re naturally inclined to write dark music that we still find really funny. A lot of our darkest stuff comes from subjects or stories we think are hilarious, so this score, like the movie, really reflects that blend of darkness and humor.
OK, play sommelier for us. Let’s say I was going to bring a wine in a picnic basket. What should I bring (wine and snacks) to pair with the performance and why?
Jerry - Blood-red wine would be a great start, what with all the murders and crime in the movie. I’d consider bringing martini ingredients, since there’s a scene of Poison Ivy drinking one and impaling the olives on her long freaky nails. Whatever drinks you decide to pack, just make sure you bring enough to share with the band. We get real thirsty after these shows.
“Shadow of the Bat-Man” premieres as a one night engagement at Discovery Green Park (1500 Mckinney) in downtown Houston on October 19, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. Free, All Ages.