The Unknown with Live score by Kent Lambert and Sam Wagster 35MM

Director: Tod Browning

Tod Browning's wildly unpredictable circus melodrama is as bizarre as this macabre auteur's work gets, but there's honest psychology holding it all together. The screenplay seems to have been written by Hans Christian Andersen in one of his darkest moods. Indeed, there is a fairy tale feel to The Unknown, which strips itself of any quotidian details that might get in the way of sexually agonized Lon Chaney and ingenue Joan Crawford as they concentrate on executing the story's broad tortured strokes. Courtship can be a cruel circus, this movie says, especially if one approaches it with dishonourable intent. Virtuosic masochist Chaney, in love with Crawford, plays that dishonest part of our brains oft tempted to opt for the less-risky, indirect and cowardly approach to a beloved's heart during a romantic campaign. His rival for Crawford is the circus strongman, a tall stook of vanilla hard to root for, but honest, gentle and relentlessly respectful of his beloved's peculiar psychic injuries. (Though young, the woman both men love has already endured a lifetime of Grimm suffering at the hands of men, including her own father.) It's riveting to watch Chaney counterattack the formidable goodness of his foe on the battlefield of his truelove's heart. Choosing to operate from the friend zone with a cockamamie counterintuitive master plan involving wave upon wave of self-emasculation, even self-dismemberment, Chaney presents an absolutely nightmarish, gooseflesh-inducing spectacle of toxic heartsickness taken to its fatal extreme. Astonishingly mimed, often in a style reminiscent of storybook illustration -- but savage!- Guy Maddin

 

Kent Lambert and Sam Wagster are bandmates in Chicago bands Roommate and The Father Costume. Sam has also performed with Fruit Bats, The Cairo Gang, Azita, and Moon Bros. In the Wagster/Lambert duo, Sam generates textures via a pedal steel guitar, and Kent collects samples from Sam's textures and uses them to generate rhythmic pulses and patterns via a custom pattern gate sampler patch. They will be using an expanded version of this setup to perform an improvised score to The Unknown.