Cinecenta brings ‘The Golem’—and silent film—back to life

Culture Film
Illustration by Abi Paeth, Graphic Contributor
Illustration by Abi Paeth, Graphic Contributor

Silent horror and electronic music: two unique brands of art not often combined. But on Oct. 27, UVic students and other members of the community will have a chance to witness a unique pairing of the two during a one-off showing of the 1920s classic silent film The Golem at Cinecenta.

The screening is jointly hosted by the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, the Garden City Tape Music Society, the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island, and the Victoria International Jewish Film Festival.

“The film is one of the most important expressionist films from Germany,” said Peter Gölz, associate professor in the Germanic and Slavic Studies Department, who will be giving a brief talk before the screening. “The Golem came out in 1920, which was a really important year because there was another release of a movie called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and those two, plus Nosferatu, which came out two years later, are the most important early horror films.”

Gölz, who teaches the popular A Cultural History of Vampires course at UVic, went on to describe the background of the film itself: “The director [Paul Wegener] actually made three versions of the film: one in 1915, one in 1917, and then the one in 1920. The first two are lost, so this is the only one we have left.”

“The golem is a clay figure that is brought to life,” Gölz continued. “There was a story alleged [to have happened] in the 16th century that a rabbi in Prague had done that — brought that figure to life — and then there were other stories in the early 19th century that followed up . . . It’s also an inspiration for [Mary Shelley’s] Frankenstein because it’s sort of a similar idea with bringing the dead back to life.”

As for the music, Joseph Sheppard of Metacognizance and David Bodrug of Cascadia Sound have been preparing a truly unique soundtrack with the help of modular synthesizers.

“I’ve been working a lot with the UVic Buchla [300 Series synthesizer],” said Bodrug. “Joseph Sheppard is going to be bringing his Moog modular setup.”

Bodrug then went deep into the details of the various options for the live performance, but revealed that his source material is less electronic-based than the final result might suggest. “A lot of the material that I use is found sounds from this environment [and] from when I was in Jerusalem,” he explained. “Whenever I travel I have a recorder on me so those sounds get woven in and processed as well.”

Though such a modern soundtrack might seem to clash with a film almost a century old, Gölz explained that the performance itself isn’t an anomaly.

“[The live music] will be the same sort of thing people experienced in the 1920s,” he said. “We call them silent movies but they weren’t. There was always a soundtrack, but it was a soundtrack that was performed live, so depending on where you saw the movie — whether in a small town or in Berlin — you might’ve just had one piano player or you might’ve had a full orchestra.”

Judging from the trailer released on Oct. 5, The Golem promises to be an intense modern re-envisioning of a vintage horror film. Whether you’re hungry for a piece of film history, partial to the Victoria electronic scene, or yearning to immerse yourself in a classic Jewish folktale, Cinecenta will be sure to satiate your appetite.

The Golem screens at Cinecenta on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., with a brief introduction to precede the film. Regular Cinecenta admission rates apply. For more info visit cinecenta.ca.