Annual evening of silent film to feature sci-fi classic
Silent-film maestro Dennis James will return to Columbia for the University of South Carolina’s annual evening of silent film to perform the musical score to the Russian sci-fi classic “Aelita: Queen of Mars” Tuesday, Dec. 5.
The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7:30 p.m. in the School of Music’s recital hall. Joining James, who will perform organ and theremin accompaniment, will be Mark Goldstein, who will perform the buchla lightning wands, a pair of wireless wands that can produce a variety of synthesized sounds when waved.
Laura Kissel, an associate professor of media arts, said “Aelita” is an excellent example of early Soviet cinema and science-fiction filmmaking. The film was made during the more lenient years of Vladimir Lenin’s new economic policy. One of the first full-length feature films to depict space travel, the film influenced how science-fiction films were made for decades, including Fritz Lang’s iconic “Metropolis” and the classic “Buck Rogers” television series.
The film tells the story of a dreamy inventor and radio engineer, who thirsts for something more than his mundane life and receives a strange interstellar message. After shooting his wife in a fit of jealous rage, he flees in a rocket ship to Mars where the bored Queen Aelita has been watching him through her interplanetary telescope, even as her slaves organize a proletarian revolution.
Kissel says the modernism of the sets and costumes in the silent film, combined with the live accompaniment, will offer the audience a rare glimpse into the history and world of silent film.
The Dec. 5 presentation is the sixth in an annual series of silent-film screenings with live accompaniment by James, who tours internationally as a composer and musician specializing in recreating historically accurate scores for silent film.
The series is hosted by the university’s Film Studies Program in cooperation with the School of Music. James’ past concerts have included ones by Charlie Chaplin and Cecile B. DeMille. For more information, call the Film Studies Program at 803-777-2361.