Silent Sound presents: ‘Hypocrites’ accompanied by Daisy Wells – Thursday 1 March

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Silent Sound presents Lois Weber’s Hypocrites (1915) accompanied by sound artist Daisy Wells in collaboration with Academy Cinemas and Audio Foundation.

 

Silent films were rarely ever silent, whether it was the chatter of the audience, an improvising piano player or a full-blown symphonic orchestra, silent films were largely accompanied by live sound. However, with the development of synchronous sound, the combination of cinema and live sound became a rare event. Even rarer is the presentation of silent cinema alongside contemporary experimental sound music. ‘Silent Sound’ attempts to bridge this gap by presenting Lois Weber’s Hypocrites alongside a live performance by artist Daisy Wells. This collaborative project seeks to re-animate early cinema through experimental music.

 

Although silent films were historically accompanied by acoustic instruments, electronic music actually found its earliest home in cinema, such as the use of the theremin in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Electronic sound, particularly noise, possesses “a sonic materiality that finds no equivalent”. In cinema it can signify “a disruption to the normal, a challenge to existing models of social organisation […] a monstrous threat to paradigms of the natural”. These disruptive elements are present in the social engagement of Weber’s practice, which challenged the prevailing morals and attitudes of her time.

Hypocrites follows the parallel narratives of a medieval monk and a modern minister. These stories intersect to deliver an anticlerical message. In the film’s medieval setting a Christian ascetic is devoted to sculpting a statue of the ‘Truth’, which appears to him in the form of a naked woman. His sculpture offends the local parish who kill him in retaliation. This narrative is allegorically contrasted with the pastor of a modern congregation whose followers are corrupted by money, sex and power. Through a series of vignettes the film poetically criticises the marriage of politics and religion.

Lois Weber has been wilfully forgotten in the canon of film history. This neglect has failed to acknowledge Weber’s contribution to early Hollywood cinema. In the peak of her career she was the highest paid director at Universal, a studio that championed the work of women throughout the 1910s. Weber consistently tackled social issues in her practice, including birth control, abortion, racism, sex work, poverty and the death penalty. During the 1920s Hollywood abruptly changed with the introduction of the Hays code and the increased commercialisation of the industry. This period saw the masculinisation of directing and the subsequent exclusion of women; a phenomenon that coincided with the introduction of synchronous sound. Although Weber actively resisted these changes, her socially engaged practice struggled under this new climate. The film scholar, Shelley Stamp, suggests that “Lois Weber was effectively written out of history at the same moment that she was written in”.

Hypocrites is the product of an experimental phase in Hollywood, which was marked by artistic freedom and exploration that was often socio-politically engaged. The narratives of this period had not yet taken the classical Hollywood form that we are familiar with today. Weber deploys an allegorical didacticism in Hypocrites that reflects the educational role she envisioned for cinema. In this light the film functions as a visual sermon that preaches against the hypocrisies of Victorian sensibilities. Hypocrites embodies Weber’s religious conviction and her belief that cinema would “become the new church of the twentieth century”.

 

Daisy Wells is an Auckland-based sound artist who has recently graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts. Her practice explores improvisation/chance, which include techniques such as the live manipulation of electronics, field recordings, and voice. The materiality of sound is employed in order to summon, acknowledge, and take inspiration from the mental and physical possessions of feminine multiplicities. She has performed solo under Petrichor, alongside Grace Verweij in Iskse_ and in her most recent solo project Ligeia.

 

Thursday 1 March @ Academy Cinemas, 8.30pm
Presale tickets available for $20 here // doorsales $25