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If anyone these days still remembers Piranha II: The Spawning, a low-budget Jaws-esque “horror for the deep” from 1981, it’s usually as the answer to the trivia question: What was James Cameron’s first film as a director?
But Somtow Sucharitkul remembers. The pioneering composer from Thailand is taking the film, or more accurately its music, as inspiration for his latest work, a “symphony of horror” that will first be performed live at this year’s Oldenburg International Film Festival.
The choice of Piranha II is no accident. Somtow’s new work is a tribute to Piranha II producer Ovidio G. Assonitis, the filmmaker behind such films as Tentacles, Madhouse, and Beyond the Door. Oldenburg is honoring Assonitis this year with its lifetime achievement award.
In addition to Piranha II, Somtow picked The Man From the Deep River, aka Sacrifice!, a 1972 Grindhouse cannibal film produced by Assonitis, for inspiration.
“It is set in Thailand, though it’s a Thailand of some mad fantasy,” Somtow notes. “These two pieces we’re playing from Ovidio’s films were originally by [Italian composer] Daniele Patuchi and my very brilliant student Mickey Wongsathapornpat has adapted them for symphony orchestra. What can I say? This music is wildly over-the-top and passionately ‘Italian’ in flavor and very much illuminates the film world of its time.”
In addition to Assonitis’ oeuvre, Somtow’s new work also draws from The Maestro, the new film from Thai-based Brit director Paul Spurrier, which Somtow wrote and stars in, and which will have its world premiere at Oldenburg.
“When I subtitled [the film]: The Maestro: A Symphony of Terror this was an homage to F.W Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu whose subtitle was “Eine Symphonie des Grauens” — also a “symphony of horror,” says Somtow. “So in our concert, we’re going to play two mini-symphonies, one extracted from Hans Erdmann’s score for [Murnau’s] 1922 film and the other from our 2021 film — 99 years later. I think one of the things you will see is how Erdmann’s score lays the groundwork for much of what we think of as horror movie music.”
Somtow has brought along 20 members of the Thai youth orchestra, The Siam Sinfonietta, to Oldenburg to perform the new symphony of horror. The full orchestra will be fleshed out by members of the Bremen youth orchestra.
“As a kid, I often heard the Grimms’ fairy tale about the animal musicians of Bremen, so it’s amazing to meet actual musicians from there,” Somtow says.
Somtow and his orchestra will perform the “horror symphony” for the first time at Oldenburg’s State Theater on Sunday. The gala concert will take place in the afternoon, ahead of the evening world premiere of The Maestro.
For Wednesday’s opening night ceremony of the 28th Oldenburg Film Festival, Somtow and his musicians will give fans a taste with a short original fanfare.
“It is only 90 seconds but I’ve tried to encapsulate the ‘spirit of indie’ in this piece,” he says. “Indie means being freed from being pinned down to any genre, so this fanfare leaps from genre to genre with wild abandon. It means surprises and twists, so the fanfare ends suddenly in the wrong key…. That’s the idea behind the new piece…a bit of quirky fun to start the music off.”
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