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Austin's My Education to back silent 'Sunrise' at Plaza Classic Film Fest

August 4, 2013


Aug. 04--The movie's called "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans."

But six humans will play songs written especially for the 1927 silent classic at 7 tonight at the Plaza Theatre, part of the El Paso Community Foundation-produced festival that runs through Aug. 11. Tickets are $8.

"Sunrise" will feature live accompaniment by My Education, an instrumental rock group from Austin that wrote and recorded a score released in 2010.

The drama was directed by F.W. Murnau, the German film director best known for "Nosferatu," his 1922 version of "Dracula."

But "Sunrise" isn't about blood lust. It's about the passion that arises between two strangers -- a married farmer played by George O'Brien and a visiting city woman played by Margaret Livingston.

She persuades him to kill his wife. Things don't go according to plan in the movie, Murnau's Hollywood debut,

"It was one of the last years of silent films, and it shared the best picture Oscar with 'Wings,'" noted Charles Horak, the film festival's artistic director.

Technically, the award was called Unique and Artistic Production. It was handed out during the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

"I'm a huge German expressionist fan and even though this was one of his first American films,

you can see that whole German expressionist slant to it. It's beautifully shot," Scott Telles, My Education's bass player, said from Austin.

The group, whose sound has been described by the Austin Chronicle as "sad music for somber people," first got the idea to write a score for "Sunrise" when Austin's Alamo Drafthouse put out a call for musicians interested in accompanying silent films.

The city boasts a number of bands that write

music for movies, including silent films. But My Education's members didn't want to do something obvious, like "Metropolis," one of the best known silent movies.

"Everybody in the band wrote down a list of movies they thought would be good, and several had 'Sunrise' on their lists," the group's James Alexander, who plays viola and guitar, said from Austin.

The members "watched it several times and took notes," Alexander said, and decided to combine previously written material with new music.

"We thought ... if we don't have anything we'll come up with something to capture what we interpreted as the mood of the scene," Alexander said.

They didn't want to "comment on everything that's happening," he added. "There are not a lot of sound effects or gimmicks."

Murnau gave them plenty with which to work. There are "a number of beautiful, fairly long scenes with amazing tracking shots that fit the concept of having an ongoing instrumental," Alexander said.

In its review of the "Sunrise" album, the Austin Chronicle said "the heavy instrumentalists ignite the film's riveting melodrama like its prize-winning cinematography."

Horak was impressed and booked the band to play the sixth annual festival.

"They've written a phenomenal score," he said.

Formed in 1999, the five-piece band includes guitarists Brian Purington and Chris Hackstie and drummer Earl Bowers. It will be augmented by a keyboardist for tonight's show, only its second in El Paso.

The group was scheduled to make its local debut Saturday at the Lowbrow Palace, and planned to play some of the songs they retooled for "Sunrise" score.

My Education has accompanied "Sunrise" about 20 times, including performances in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver and Houston. Bassist Telles said tonight's may be their last.

"We're feeling like it's time to move on," he said.

They've "done it so many times it's become pretty instinctive. We don't have to look at our notes," Telles added. "We pretty much let the movie play us."

Horak likes to program at least one silent movie for each festival. Past festivals have included "The General," plus screenings of a restored "Metropolis" and the original "Scarface," both of which were accompanied by Boston's Alloy Orchestra.

This year's Plaza Classic will wind down with one. The 1924 silent version of "The Thief of Bagdad," starring Douglas Fairbanks, will be shown at 7 p.m. Aug. 11 in the Plaza Theatre.

Organist Walt Strony will accompany it. Tickets are $8.

Doug Pullen may be reached at 546-6397.

-- What: "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans," with My Education.

-- When: 7 p.m. today.

-- Where: Plaza Classic Film Festival, Plaza Theatre.

-- How much: $8 at the door, Ticketmaster outlets, and 800-745-3000.

-- Information; 533-4020,


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