When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
1933’s LOT IN SODOM mixed with Soft Machine tracks

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the story was behind the Rochester-based creative team of Watson and Webber, who made experimental, avant-garde films in the 1920s and 30s.  James Sibley Watson was an M.D. with connections to early 20th Century modern poets such as E. E. Cummings and Marianne Moore.  The less-documented Melville Webber, according to Dr. Watson, was “scenarist, idea man, scene painter, costume designer, make-up man” and director.

The unique film language these men created for their works proved they weren’t dilettantes.  Yet their body of work consists of only two films made over a period of five years.  And why did they choose a film on Sodom for their last collaboration, lensing evocative images of the erotic potential in the male body, while casting Hildegarde Lasell (Watson’s spouse) as Lot’s wife?  Was there anything “lavender” in this arrangement?

Their output of short films, now in the Public Domain, still holds the power to fire up creativity in others:  Barbara Hammer edited an entire sequence from outtakes of Watson and Webber’s 1933 silent short LOT IN SODOM into her brilliant, non-linear feature NITRATE KISSES; while I too appropriated imagery from the duo’s FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928) in one of my experimental videos from the 1990s that was successfully received in Europe.

On YouTube, a user has posted LOT IN SODOM with a new underscore mixed with music tracks from the fusion-y psychedelic ’seventies band Soft Machine.  I’ve never seen the film synched to the original Alex Wilder score (a composer and writer I admire, who wrote the film’s music while dividing his time between working with Watson and Webber and pursuing his studies at the Eastman School of Music).  I’ve only seen this film screened in total silence; and I have to confess that previously I’d never engaged or responded very much to this work.  However, with this synch job on YouTube, the film finally works for me.

Maybe it’s just that I was in a ’seventies rock band for a year or so, but Soft Machine’s instrumentation sucked me into the core of the film experience from the opening buzz of the electric bass; then I was melded to the totality of the film / music experience.  The slashing, incandescent percussion in the opening scene, an extended sequence of leaping naked and nearly-naked men (cast with handsome guys reportedly recruited from the Polish part of town, plus some effeminate student friends of Wilder’s from his school’s campus), made the shots and editing schema emotionally charged and lucid in revealing its film craft.

Back in film school I learned that “the more perceptors an audience is given, the more the audience responds.”  By adding the extra perceptor of this film’s score mix, I definitely responded as never before to this movie.

The 30-minute film is separated into 3 sections on YouTube; here’s the first part:

The (out of context) Al Gore soundbite dropped in at the beginning of this video actually encourages the viewer to invite harmonic tension into his experience (a mindset that mirrors the frequent dissonance of the soundtrack) and push the mind to seek out more clues to the meanings of the film.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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