Even during the era of silent film, music was an integral part of the cinematic experience. Dramatic live orchestras and light comedic tracks accompanied the various films that were created during the 1910s and 1920s. Some of these works have been released in recent years with updated soundtracks, though these usually emulate the original sounds to a great extent. However, as the score was such a large part of what defined these films and the emotions that they triggered in their audiences, I wanted to experience what it would be like to watch one of these works with a soundtrack that did not exist at the time of filming. Specifically, I watched F.W. Murnau’s epic piece of cinema Faust, but with the original score replaced with several pieces of symphonic and Gothic metal music. The first album that I included in my score was Time, by Finnish melodic metal group Wintersun. The other two albums were Epica and The Black Halo, by American power/Gothic metal band Kamelot. These bands fit the film for several different reasons, most notably due to the thematic connections between them, the epic scope of the movie, and the Gothic imagery that the film shares with this genre of music.
Epica and The Black Sun are a pair of concept albums that, together, tell a modified version of the Faust story that the film also portrays. For that reason they are a perfect thematic match with the movie, and contain songs that parallel with the film’s events. I found it striking just how the scenes and the songs seemed to come together so smoothly, despite the seventy year difference between their respective releases. The Murnau’s version of Faust has become such an iconic version of the story that it is almost impossible to create any sort of adaptation without falling under the film’s influence. Various aspects of the film carry over in to music, including the surreal atmosphere that Murnau, a prominent member of the German expressionist movement, had such a talent for cultivating. The tension and unease of the film are conveyed perfectly by the music, as well as the sense of inevitable doom and despair that hangs over Faust throughout the story. These albums demonstrate the staying power of Murnau’s vision, and the power of the cinematic creation that was Faust.
Looking at the movie from a more straightforward viewpoint, it is easy to see how the imagery contained within it could lend itself to modern metal music. The artistic design of the film is filled with grandiose images of death and destruction, and gothic depictions of a medieval Europe ravaged by the supernatural. These images, particularly those of the devil, death and the other horsemen of the apocalypse have become staples in the rock and metal music scenes. Even songs whose lyrics do not reflect this subject matter, including some of those that I listened to over this movie, are still reminiscent of these themes due to this cultural association. Murnau’s expressionist origins allowed him to make use of dynamic shadows and lighting in a way that perfectly accentuates a metal soundtrack. The pulsating sunlight and contrasting darkness seemed to throb to the beat of the music, and the symphonic nature of the songs, particularly those by Wintersun, elevated the otherworldly qualities of the opening scenes of the film in a manner that the orchestra from the original film simply did not have the resources to match. Adding this new kind of music in provides a level of emotion, at least in my opinion, that the original score was unable to.
The Gothic genre is a style that has escaped its origins in architecture and literature and become intertwined with every aspect of media available today, music included. In the case of Faust, the Gothic atmosphere of the movie is due to the medieval setting and the macabre storyline; a man who is tempted by the devil in an attempt to claim his soul. Bands such as Kamelot utilise similar themes in their lyrics in order to achieve the same style. When placed in tandem with the visuals of a silent Gothic film like Faust, the combination of these two different mediums creates a whole that surpasses what either could have achieved on its own. Faust as a film ambitiously aspires to show the viewers the supernatural powers that hold sway over our world, and having a soundtrack with the depth and emotion that modern technology allows gives the film the ability to convey its themes all the better. The storytelling power of the Gothic style is exemplified to the fullest by combining these different mediums and using their strengths together to amaze the audience.
W. Murnau’s Faust is a film that transcended the possibilities of what cinema was considered to be capable of. In the 21st century, it continues to be a spectacle of epic sights and amazing special effects. When combined with a soundtrack that has been shaped by the images that this film first showcased, the two mediums are able to create something truly amazing. The fusion of silent film and metal music is something that I feel could change the way that these movies are looked at today, and should certainly be explored by others in the years to come.
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