Brazilian Macabre Invades the Wex
Via Brasil, The Wexner Center’s multi-year exploration of the art and culture of Brazil, goes macabre this weekend when guitar legend Gary Lucas brings the nation’s cult legend Coffin Joe to the screen.
The alter ego of writer/director/actor Jose Mojica Marins, Coffin Joe first appeared in the film At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul – a movie that has the distinction of being Brazil’s first ever horror film. In his top hat and cape, Coffin Joe schemes, betrays, abuses and murders as he searches for the perfect woman to bear him the perfect son. Marins’s campy underground classic was quickly followed by the even campier sequel, Tonight I Take Your Corpse, which sees Coffin Joe back to his old tricks.
Saturday night (3/1) at 8pm, Lucas will accompany the sequel with his own haunting guitar work, performed live with much room for improvisation. The New York guitarist/composer took a moment to talk about the project with Columbus Underground.
Columbus Underground: You guitar playing is described generally as indescribable. Do you have a particular description or style you consider suitable?
Gary Lucas: How about “psychedelic primitive”? Actually my playing is rather complex, so primitive might not be the best word here–what I mean to say is that I draw a lot on the blues and roots music, that definitely informs my style even when I am taking flight to the outer reaches of the heavens.
CU: When did you start playing guitar?
GL: I was 9 when I began playing guitar, thanks to my father’s suggestion. Up until that point I was a clueless kid who liked music but didn’t think about it that closely. My dad came to me and said “How would you like to study a musical instrument. How about the guitar??”
It seemed a reasonable proposition at the time. The fact is, though, that the first guitar they acquired for me was a very cheap rental. The strings were about an inch above the fretboard, so it was very painful at first and I nearly gave up after a month of lessons. Later they returned from a trip to Spain with a nylon string guitar, and that was much easier for my tender fingers to handle. Since then I never have looked back.
CU: When did you first realize you wanted to write something to accompany a film? What was the inspiration?
GL: I got into live film scoring partially due to another passion of mine, which is cinema – particularly horror and science fiction films. My earliest score was for a documentary entitled “Aquatic Ecology”, done for the NY State Department of Forestry while I in high school. They got the assignment to shoot that ecology film and needed a theme, so I composed and played one on 12-string acoustic.
I got into this seriously, though, in 1989. I was given a commission by New Music America/BAM to combine my music with another art form. I chose film and tracked down a German Expressionist silent film I was always dying to see, “The Golem”, from 1920. It inspired me to create a live score in tandem with a childhood friend who played keyboards, Walter Horn. I eventually developed a solo guitar version, and now I have around 9 different live film scores I perform all over the world accompanying various films.
CU: What is the process you use to compose these?
GL: I sit with the film and view it many, many times, with a guitar in my hand! I try and identify characters and bits of business that reoccur and assign them motifs in almost Wagnerian way. I often will compose right on the spot while viewing the film, and will try different themes against the picture.
It’s an additive process that is always being revised each time I perform to the specific film, as normally my scores are 50% composed themes and 50% improvised–with the themes providing a springboard for me to take off into uncharted sonic territory. Each time I play to a film, it is different than the last time, which keeps the whole thing fresh and alive for me.
CU: Why this particular film?
GL: I first heard of this film in the 60′s and didn’t get a chance to see it until it played on the IFC Channel several years ago. But when I saw it I immediately recognized it as an absolute masterpiece of the horror genre. Jose Mojica Marins, the director and the star, has a sensibility all his own – very sinister and grotesque, but with a great and earthy sense of black humor and irony I find absolutely unique. He is almost a Shakespearean villain in a sense, and he delivers a wonderfully over-the-top performance.
The whole film is over-the-top. I would describe it as Luis Bunuel meets Mario Bava. The Brazilian locale kicks the whole thing up into another level of Latin American exotica I find very appealing. Plus there is a certain amount of transgressive cinema envelope-pushing throughout the film. There is nothing quite like this film, and I don’t want to spoil the experience for first time viewers by revealing too much.
CU: How often to you perform the Coffin Joe program?
GL: Not as much as I liked, as Coffin Joe, alas, is not as well known in the world as, say, Spanish “Dracula”. But I aim to change that!
Join Lucas Saturday night at 8 in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video department. Tickets are $13 for members and students, $16 for the general public. For more information, visit wexarts.org.