'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' to Reshow With Newly Created Scent Track
Think of it as the sophisticated cousin of William Castle's Smell-O-Vision and John Waters' Odorama, the scratch-and sniff cinema gimmicks of 1960 and 1981, respectively. The 2006 film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will be accompanied by a newly created “scent track” for screenings in Los Angeles Nov. 6 and 7.
The event marks a rare opportunity for olfactory stimulation to heighten the filmgoing experience. This time, though, the smells are not for laughs or shock value. With names like Baby, Sea and Orgy, the scents -- released by Thierry Mugler when the film debuted seven years ago -- were engineered to heighten the sensory experience of key scenes in the story of a murderer obsessed with smell.
The screenings, which are free and open to the public, are being organized by the Institute of Art and Olfaction, an L.A.-based nonprofit that promotes the understanding of fragrance and facilitates its use in art. l.a. Eyeworks will host the screenings at its Beverly Boulevard store and, along with with L.A. perfume boutique Scent Bar, will host private pre-show parties. International Flavors and Fragrance, which stores the recipes, whipped up new batches for the occasion. The scents will be distributed to the audience manually, on card-stock strips.
Fans of the bestselling 1985 novel by Patrick Suskind and the subsequent film, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run; Cloud Atlas), may remember the suite of accompanying Thierry Mugler scents. A coffret lined in red velvet held 14 smells from the story. One -- Aura -- is intended to enhance a person's natural smell (the story's protagonist is a perfumer whose own body produces no smell). One thousand coffrets sold for $800 each, but none of the fragrances were mass produced.
The logistics of disseminating scent in a theater is one reason why the scent track idea has so far not graduated from novelty status. So it's no surprise that the fragrances for Perfume didn't originate with the filmmakers or the perfume house. The idea came from Chrisophe Laudamiel, a perfumer who had fallen in love with the novel. Hearing in the early aughts that a film was in the works, he toiled nights and weekends, just for fun, to create the smells the book evoked: Baldini's Boutique, for instance, the workshop of the perfume master played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie. For fragrance Paris, 1738, Laudamiel mixed notes of sewage, rotting food and horse sweat. When he and his partner Christoph Hornetz finished the project -- after sourcing vials at flea markets and constructing the coffret -- they contacted Constantin Films, which, along with Thierry Mugler's fragrance team, loved the idea.
But sniffs were only available to moviegoers at a handful of screenings, and they were confined to theater lobbies. The upcoming L.A. screenings will be the first in which the scents will be experienced at the moments for which they were intended.
“People are usually afraid that a scent track will distract from the film,” says Laudamiel, who has since created award-winning fragrances for Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch. “But Tom [Tykwer] understood it would enhance it. After all, scent is 3D in your mind. It is the only sense of the main three that has not been exploited [in cinemas].”
Laudamiel, who will attend the Nov. 7 screening, believes in a future for film scent tracks. His start-up, DreamAir, is a lab for exploring such unconventional uses for fragrance.
Like-minded individuals such as Saskia Wilson-Brown, who runs the Institute of Art and Olfaction, see fragrance as the next frontier in artistic experiences. (The organization will produce a scent concert next year at L.A.’s Hammer Museum.) “Sure, there are technical issues to scent propagation in a public setting,” she says. “But at the end of the day, it's just molecules.”
In spite of the logistical hurdles, Laudamiel envisions commercial viability, not just artistic expression, for movie scent tracks. “It is the one experience that cinemas can offer to viewers that Internet downloads cannot,” he says.