Movies with Live Soundtracks

An underground filmmaking tradition came to town when Pittsburgh Filmmakers hosted a Movies With Live Soundtracks show on September 2 at the Melwood Screening Room. The group came on its first tour since the mini film festival started in 1998.

Xander Marro, a filmmaker from Providence, R.I., wanted ?to bring the energy of the music community and live performance into filmmaking,? and so began Movies With Live Soundtracks.

The first show that the company did took place in a former costume jewelry warehouse projected onto a sheet. The same raw, makeshift sentiment has stayed with the group to this day. Short films shot on 16mm, Super-8, or video are accompanied by soundtracks performed in front of the screen. From narratives to guitar sing-alongs and prank phone calls to staticky music, there is no real standard to what makes a soundtrack.

Most filmmakers put their films together at the last minute, the way Boston filmmaker Ben Coonley describes. ?We just sort of pull things together. We want this to be a place to try things out where not everything is polished.?

Visiting 14 cities in two weeks, the group of seven filmmakers from the Providence/Brown University area invited local artists to participate in each show. Former Movies With Live Soundtracks participants who have left the Providence area, along with film students from different cities, make the show different every night. Starting in Massachusetts, ending in Providence, and touring through Canada, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, the group made a stop in Pittsburgh because of the city?s sentiments toward filmmaking.

?There is an amazing art and film scene here, which makes us feel very comfortable,? said Marro.

The Thursday night show of 11 short films started with Claudia and the Chicken, a black and white film by Laura Rodriguez. Claudia, a very humorous guitar sing-along about a girl turning into a chicken when she became too shy around her romantic interests, began the line-up on a light note.

Local artist Greg Pierce followed with his film Operation Garden Plot?a looping reel of a telephone with German names on it set to fuzzy music which sometimes sounded sinister but otherwise was just noise. The audience clapped from relief when it ended and Home Movie From Lost Island began. This was an actual home movie shot by Carrie Collier?s great aunt in 1962 on an island that sank into the ocean after an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. Following was Roll Jo Derry?s animation about seeds dropping and rolling across the countryside. Set to harmonica, it was reminiscent of old children?s cartoons.

Tellechguulls was the next film, by Matt Brinkman. In this film, cute fuzzy creatures avoided peril in an alien cardboard world. This film actually had a developing plot, unlike many of the other films. The creature is chased by a monster, encounters cone-shaped aliens, and escapes the monster back in his cave. The accompanying keyboard and technical soundtrack lent emotion and made the film all the more amusing. Coonley made a film about baseball and the seventh inning stretch with a little Yankees/Red Sox rivalry tossed in: Win Loss Column. He started his narration by calling a friend and asking well-planned questions that coincided with what was on screen. He went into some history about the beginnings of the seventh inning stretch and the song ?Take Me Out to the Ball Game,? which a little boy from the audience helped to sing while Coonley played the keyboard.

Jacob Ciocci, another Pittsburgh filmmaker, presented Paper Rad Video, which consisted of ?80s television commercials and demented cat cartoons. ?80s music and old home videos added to the eclectic mix.

Peter Glantz narrated his film about ?a cat who finds God ... among other things? with the help of Marro. He introduced his movie by dressing up as the wizard who later appeared in the film. There was no real plot ?? it seemed like a page out of a dream where everything relates, but nothing really makes sense. The show ended with a film by Marro where everyone helped make the soundtrack. L?EYE had cut-outs with real eyes behind them set to a jumbled mixture of instruments from all of the previous films.

To really appreciate the show, one would probably have to be a film major or really interested in cinematography. Otherwise most of the films just seem like trippy dream sequences. Some of them were funny, but others just seemed pointless. At least the laid-back atmosphere allowed the audience to have a little fun while they were there and join in on some welcome heckling.