Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1913)

 

SILENT MOVIE

 

Nova Ensemble dir. David Pye

 

 

Somerville Theatre, UWA campus

reviewed by Sophie Sax-Lehrman


 

Have there ever been so many people at one time on the campus of the University of Western Australia? Certainly, the citizens of Perth turned out en masse on Friday evening for LUMINOUSnight with literally tens of thousands swarming across the campus to savour the delights of a range of free entertainments to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the UWA. 


A capacity audience attended a screening at the open-air Somerville Cinema of Carl Laemmle’s silent movie version of  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a tale that has inspired a host of moviemakers. 


Why this movie when there are so many others to screen? It was a clever choice as the film dates from 1913, the same year as UWA’s founding. And giving a 21st-century slant to it, we listened to a specially commissioned music score by two of Perth’s most committed exponents of new music – David Pye and Lee Buddle – performed by the Nova Ensemble. 


Here were the antique (the film) with the brand new (the music) – and how finely they meshed. Nova was very much on its collective toes with Pye presiding over events. All praise for the skill with which the instrumentalists co-ordinated with cinematic action. Time and again, there was splendid integration between on-screen action and the accompanying music which for the most part enhanced mood. This was fascinating fare; I savoured every moment, especially King Baggot’s portrayal of both Jekyll and his ghastly alter ego. 


Baggot’s  Mr Hyde is fascinating, his transformation startling, reducing his height to striking effect by hunkering down, then scuttling and lurching about like some monstrous, malformed spider. An almost flat black hat added to his bizarre appearance, in striking contrast to his portrayal of Jekyll as a compassionate and thoroughly decent doctor. 


Laemmle’s movie makes for disturbing viewing in quite another sense as one realises that the entire cast, including many children, and those behind the cameras, are long dead. But through the medium of cinema, they are all, in a way, brought back to life to once again reach out to a fascinated audience a century on. An exception was a cinema-goer nearby who with astonishing indifference to the annoyance he was causing many, had a loud and largely pointless conversation on his mobile phone.

 

This is a movie I’d very much like to see again. True, it shows signs of wear, the image occasionally scratched, blurred, stained or bubbled but in a curious sense this underscores its great age and makes viewing it all that more fascinating.


Sam Atlas gave a delightful introductory talk.

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