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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
    Local musician Nate Utesch’s new soundtrack to the 1927 film “Metropolis” is part of Cinema Center’s silent film series.
September 23, 2016 1:02 AM

Electronic rock gives new voice to sci-fi classic

Cinema Center, musicians resume silent film series

Keiara Carr | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: “Metropolis” with Metavari

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Cinema Center, 437 E. Berry St.

Admission: $15; members $10

Info: 426-3456 or

Perhaps it’s a bit strange that Nate Utesch of the electronic rock group Metavari suggested the 1927 silent film “Metropolis” for Cinema Center’s Sound and Shadow Silent Film Series on Saturday.

He wasn’t crazy about the film when he watched it years ago in high school. The German sci-fi film by Fritz Lang was adapted in 1984, and what mainly intrigued Utesch is that Freddie Mercury from Queen was on the new soundtrack.

But even Mercury couldn’t save the film, Utesch says.

“I hated the movie. I thought it was boring. It didn’t make sense, and the music was awful and Freddie Mercury only sang on one song,” he says. “And that was it. I kind of forgot about it for the rest of my life.”

That’s the way it was for more than 10 years. Then Jonah Crismore, executive director of Cinema Center, approached Utesch about a reboot of the theater’s silent film series, in which local musicians compose a new score and soundtrack for a silent film. The series made its debut two years ago featuring musicians Hope Arthur, Fernando Tarango and The End Time Spasm Band.

Utesch couldn’t shake the thought of “Metropolis.”

“Immediately I thought about this crazy, old sci-fi movie with, like, this robot and this army of people living underground and this rebellion, and how that would actually be amazing,” Utesch says. “It really lends itself to the kind of music that Metavari writes.”

For the past 15 months, Utesch has created a new world for “Metropolis,” which will launch the silent film series during Cinema Center’s first Art House Theatre Day.

Utesch says he learned later that producer Giorgio Moroder, a trailblazer of disco and electronic music, was behind the film’s 1984 score.

“It seems blasphemous to redo a score that has already been done a million times – and that, of all people, Giorgio Moroder, this amazing electronic music producer, has already done it – but I couldn’t help but make ‘Metropolis’ my choice.”

Crismore says Art House Day is a national partnership of theaters, much in the same vein as Record Store Day. Cinema Center will give away memberships and screen the children’s film “A Town Called Panic” as well as “My Blind Brother” and “Phantasm” during the day.

“It’s kind of the first time that we are doing this event, so it’s kind of cool that we have this big event with Metavari as the kickoff for hopefully what will be like an annual holiday,” Crismore says.

In “Metropolis,” a futuristic city is ruled by industrialists. The working class is given hope by a young woman named Maria who prophesies of a better future. However, a robot cyborg is released to deceive the workers of the underground city.

“I felt this responsibility to almost assign sounds or, like, this feeling in the music with characters when they are interacting with each other. I’m really kind of proud of that, more than just the straightforward songs,” Utesch says.

“Even though those are fun, and they will be on the (upcoming Metavari) record, there’s all of these other moments where – it’s hard not to feel egotistical about your own work – but there are really moments when you step back and hit play, and it’s like ‘Good grief, that really worked out well. This is awesome.’ ”

Although Utesch had already been in the early stages of thinking of Metavari’s next album before being approached by Crismore, working on music for “Metropolis” became a turning point. He says he plans to condense the music for the film into an album, then possibly issue another album with the film’s full score, or maybe a combination of both.

Metavari has been composed of a group of friends that Utesch continues to work with, but as he pursues Metavari more seriously, it has become a personal project, he says. For this particular performance, Utesch will be performing the score of the film as a solo musician.

“It just feels more serious now than it has in a really long time, and some of the ways it has been able to become more serious is because when there’s one person doing a lot of it, it’s just easier,” Utesch says.

“I would much rather have people around me, but the reality of our lives is that it’s not always possible at the pace I want to keep pushing Metavari.”

The silent film series in October will feature members of Lost Lakes performing the score for the 1922 horror film “Haxan.” Hope Arthur will return in November for the 1929 film “The Man with a Movie Camera,” and in January, a variety of musicians will collaborate on music for the 1926 film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” which Crismore says is one of the first animated films ever made.

The silent film series went on hiatus in 2015. Crismore says the “Artament” auction put on by Cinema Center and Artlink last year didn’t leave much manpower to get musicians prepared for a silent film series.

Crismore says he wanted to make sure musicians had ample time to work on the silent film project, because the most important thing is that the music helps the audience understand how there’s still life in these films.

“They see with this modern music that these films still have meaning to them, they still have resonance. You see all the rules that films still follow today being made in these silent films,” Crismore says.