The Mechanical Man is an old Italian silent film, an SF thriller with bank robberies. Italian Keystone Kops, mad scientists and two robots. Only 40% of the original footage has been found, which comes to some 30 minutes. It was to be shown as the Italian offering in this year's Silent Film Festival, an event in Manila where the various embassies show a silent film from their country and have it tracked by Filipino musicians. Since the minimum duration of a screening of this type is about an hour, Emmanuela had the idea of letting the band improvise over a re-edit of the film. They got me to do the latter, which I did live, using Resolume (a video sampler) and a program I wrote in Puredata to turn MIDI information from Caliph into editing actions. Each drumbeat caused the playhead in Resolume to jump to a different place in the video sample. This established a steady video layer that cut to the beat. I then layered and effected the video while reacting to the music.
This was the first time any embassy in the Philippines allowed any of their films to be re-edited. Generally the films shown are treated as sacred objects, not to be touched. I've blogged how the addition of music cannot rescue many silent film scenes whose conventions have simply become so dated that they are impossible to watch in the spirit that the director intended (see here ) . It's 2009, nearly a century since Braque and Picasso invented collage, and more than a quarter century since sampling/sonic collage became a tool of popular musical composition. Films CAN be sampled/re-edited! It's as simple as that. Much thanks to the Italian embassy for acknowledging this, and deciding to cross the line. As Emanuela said: "It's a challenge to people."