A few days ago, I attended the opening of the 5th Krakow Film Music Festival. It was a unique cinematic experience, for a number of reasons. The festival focuses on the musical excellence in major films, and in the past used examples such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, which portrayed the music of John Williams and Howard Shore respectively to powerfully add to the drama, excitement and tension within the films. The film shown for the opening day of this years festival was Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Pachnidło: Historia Mordercy). For those not familiar with the story, it is based on a 1985 novel originally published in German and written by Patrick Süskind. It centres on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille living in 19th century France, who has an amazing talent for smell, and begins to use it to try to generate the perfect perfume, but eventually with nefarious results.
The Krakow Film Music Festival had a taste of Perfume 3 years earlier when about 40 minutes of the film were shown. However, the performance last Thursday expanded on that greatly. Firstly, the whole score of the film was being played live, using the talents of the soprano Karolina Gorgol-Zaborniak, along with a full choir and the Cracovia Symphony Orchestra, lead by the Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki. Also in attendance were the film’s director, Tom Tykwer and one of the other musical composers Reinhold Heil. Before the showing of the film began, they gave a few words about how the project came about, and how glad they were to have such an opportunity to play the full score in a live setting. Finally, it turned out that it had been Tom Tykwer’s birthday last Wednesday and after some gentle encouragement from the hosts, the audience stood to sing “Sto Lat” to him.
The other key unique factor in the performance was in the setting and location. For the 5th consecutive year, the film festival was hosted in the Nowa Huta Steelworks. The Tadeusz Sendzimir Mill (originally known as the Vladimir Lenin Steelworks) dominates the Nowa Huta part of Krakow. It is not naturally a site you would associate with a more cultural touch, but having been taken over by ArcelorMittal (the worlds largest steelmaker) in 2005, hosting the FMF has showing a lighter touch, but also allowed a few hundred people to see behind the curtain which would never be possible in normal circumstances.The site is so huge (approximately 30 km²), which meant that ticket holders were picked up just inside the gate of the mill and then driven in buses a couple of kilometres to the building screening the films. The film was screened in a factory building with sheets of steel and metal stacked up to the side. A few hundred seats had been set up with a giant screen to show the film. The choir and orchestra then sat just under the screen, evoking nostalgic images of films from 100 years ago when movies would be showing on a flickering screen with a guy near by playing the piano as required.
However, despite the uniqueness of the occasion and opportunity to hear the live score of the film reverberating around a steel mill, it did not feel as ‘polished’ as it could have been. Firstly, while the orchestra and choir were great, it felt at times like they overpowered the film being shown instead of supporting it. This happened from time to time when the music built up to such an extent that it was not possible to always hear what was being said on-screen. Perfume was filmed in English and shown with Polish subtitles, so most people would be able to read instead if required, but if you were watching a film in the cinema or at home and could not always hear what was being said, you would not be happy.
Secondly, I personally believed that the film Perfume did not fit so well to such a setting of a live rendition of the music. This is because the story of the film is one where the drama builds up to a big finish, but the music tried to ebb and flow, up and down, as music will naturally move. Thus, it felt like another style of film would have fit the setting better. Finally, it was interesting to see how many people were moving around and coming and going during the performance. There were wooden floors put down in order to make it safer for those attending, but it meant that every footstep rattled around in the factory environment. Usually when watching a film in a cinema, it is rare for people to leave half way or two-thirds of the way through. However, it seemed like some people either didn’t like the film or perhaps the music, so there had been a lot of movement of people.
However, from my perspective, it was an enjoyable experience and one I would like to try again in future years. The most interesting sensation occurred when walking out the gate of the steel mill with a smell of burning/melting steel reaching us, while discussing the merits of a film about smells and perfume.