Seattle Screens: The Call of Lovecraft

SIFF Cinema at the Uptown presents a double feature of two dedicated adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories: The Whisperer in Darkness and Call of Cthulhu, both directed in the manner and style of the period in which the stories were originally written.

Call of Cthulu

The 2005 Call of Cthulu is a short feature directed by Andrew Leman as a silent film shot on video in an obsessively antiquated style that pays tribute to 1920s cinema le fantastique. While not quite a full-fledged feature, it more than simply a love letter to the stylized artificiality of silent expressionist horror. Leman resists the temptation to construct a linear narrative around the eerie recounting of the investigation of supernatural phenomenon surrounding the mysterious cult of Cthulu, making it the most faithful screen translation of the author’s work to that time. It’s an admirable approach and a qualified success, at least on a dramatic level—even a simple flourish might provided the anti-climax with narrative bite—but his dedication is commendable and his execution is so exquisite that he creates an atmosphere with a drama all its own.

Leman has an innate feel for silent movie texture and probably comes as close as humanly possible to achieving it, given his budget and equipment. The simple, uncomplicated digital effects that take the place of the trick photography and glass mattes of the silent era artisans is admittedly distracting in a film that otherwise evokes the subtle qualities of silent movie style. It’s forgivable given the intricate sets he creates on a starvation budgets (the ritual sacrifice scene in the jungle and the island altar to Cthulu are deliriously unreal and wonderfully weird spectacles), and the lovingly sculpted totems and icons is a mark of his team’s craftsmanship and devotion to the spirit of the material. The drama is in the atmosphere and the beautiful evocation of Lovecraft’s constant theme: the more you investigate the secrets of the dark dimensions, the more power you feed the hungry god Cthulu at the expense of your own sanity. That which does not kill you only makes you madder.

The Whisperer in Darkness once again approaches its adaptation of Lovecraft in the style of the era in which it was written, beholden to early thirties gothic horror in period style that evoke thirties-era performance, imagery, and lighting. It’s rather talky and not particularly scary or tense, but it is filled with a Lovecraftian sense of dread, of worlds beyond comprehension and a conspiracy of epic proportions.

The Whisperer in Darkness

“I think you’ll find time runs differently here,” our scholar hero (Matt Foyer), a folklorist from Muskatonic University, is told upon arriving in a Vermont farming community, a harbinger of mysteries to come. Lovecraft wasn’t big on endings, so the filmmakers (including Cthulu director Leman as a co-screenwriter and producer) have filled the story out with pieces of other stories, added more fully-developed characters and motivations, and constructed a dramatic plot that takes the original story from a static single-room conversation to a rousing thirties-style thriller.

Director Sean Brannery doesn’t exactly capture the distinctive photography and pace of the films that inspired his approach but again he makes the most of minimal resources thanks to imaginative imagery and evocative effects. The technology is defined by devices seemingly plucked out of Frankenstein’s laboratory and Buck Rogers space ships and CGI is sparingly used and carefully created to match the practical style. The black and white photography, period details, and expressionist flourishes give it a yesteryear texture and a beauty of its own that sets the film in its own netherworld.

The double feature plays through Monday, September 3 at Uptown.

1 Reel Film Festival kicks off at SIFF Film Center with a preview on Friday, August 31 before playing out at Bumbershoot over the Labor Day weekend. Tom Keogh previews the event for The Seattle Times.

Openings

Side By Side, the documentary on the impact of digital cinema on contemporary filmmaking produced and hosted by Keanu Reeves, opens for a week at Grand Illusion. John Hartl, writing for The Seattle Times, describes it as “a kind of eulogy for celluloid… But it’s also a valuable history of digital milestones.” It is, of course, shot on digital and screened from a digital source.

Robot and Frank (Langella)

Robot and Frank, with Frank Langella as retired cat burger who gets back into the bnusiness with the help of a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), opens at the Egyptian and other screens.

Sleepwalk With Me, developed from a stage monologue into a feature film by Mike Birbiglia with “This American Life” producer Ira Glass, opens at The Harvard Exit.

Beloved, directed by Christophe Honore and starring Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, is at The Uptown.

Opening at Northwest Film Forum are the documentaries Adendland, a portrait of Europe at play by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter (details here), and Kumaré, with director Vikram Gandhi playing at being a swami and documenting his followers (more here).

Plus the horror films The Awakening and The Possession (in area theaters), the comedy For a Good Time Call… (area theaters), Tsui Hark’s 3D IMAX extravaganza Flying Swords of Dragon Inn (Pacific Science Center IMAX) and the Chinese crime thriller The Bullet Vanishes (Pacific Place).

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases and reviews.

Repertory / Revival

The new 4k digital restoration of Lawrence of Arabia will play in multiple theaters in and around Seattle (including IMAX screens as Thornton Place and AMC Southcenter) on Thursday, October 4 as a one-day-only, digitally-projected Fathom event. Tickets go on sale Friday, August 31, through the Fathom Events website. Fathom has a history of sub-optimal digital screenings, it’s true, but film archivist Robert Harris, who was involved in the original reconstruction and restoration of Lawrence of Arabia with David Lean, says that he “has been assured of quality projection.”

Loves of a Blonde

Loves of a Blonde, Milos Forman’s 1965 Czech coming of age social satire, plays Tuesday, September 4 at SIFF Film Center.

The first three episodes of Mark Cousins’ 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey plays on Thursday, September 6 at SIFF Film Center. Subsequent episodes follow on successive Thursdays.

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone plays one show only on Monday, September 3 at NWFF.

Late night at the Egyptian this weekend is Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

For more alternative screenings, read Moira Macdonald’s At A Theater Near You roundup at The Seattle Times.

Schedules and Showtimes

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, orFandango, pick the interface of your choice.

You can check your favorite independent cinemas, neighborhood theaters and multiplexes here.

Independent theaters:
SIFF Cinema
Northwest Film Forum
Grand Illusion
Seattle Art Museum
Central Cinema
The Big Picture
Majestic Bay Theatres
Cinerama

Multiplexes and Chains
Cinebarre
Sundance Cinema
Landmark Theatres (Egyptian, Guild 45, Harvard Exit, Varsity)
Regal Cinemas (Meridian 16, Thornton Place and others)
AMC Cinemas (Pacific Place, Oak Tree, Alderwood and others)
Kirland Park Place
Lincoln Square Cinemas
Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas