SIFF 2008: Heavy metal and silent drama

Our Rating

I had a night off from SIFF, but I also happened to have a DVD screener at home of a movie that played the fest earlier in the schedule, so I’m sneaking this one in: Heavy Metal in Baghdad (6/8). Headbanger band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpions”) are more than a bit unique in the heavy metal world: they are young Iraqi musicians that have doggedly been covering their most adored favorite bands (like Metallica and Slip Knot) and creating their own original songs, first under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and more recently in the middle of civil war and foreign occupation. These young men are smart, articulate, and love the universal glory of rock and roll. But in six years of existence, the band had only 5 gigs, including one put on by the filmmakers who had discovered them via long-distance communication. To see about 100 young men with black foreign metal-band t-shirts (that could get them arrested) gather to hear Acrassicauda in a hotel lobby (where the power goes out multiple times) is truly inspiring. Apparently the devil horns are universal, as is the headbanging–though these guys lament that they are not allowed to grow their hair long. Where the film hits hard though is after the guys leave Iraq one by one to Damascus, Syria for refuge. They get to see a close to final cut of the film, and their sadness turns to anger. In the film’s final moments, the foreign filmmakers, who play quite a large role in the film, are humbly put into their place by these artists whose home has turned into a violent hellhole. Heavy Metal in Baghdad has a rock-n-roll casualness in its filmmaking, almost like a home video, but it is still thoughtful and interesting, especially if you are a music fan of any sort.

My favorite new SIFF tradition (can you call two years in a row a tradition?), is the commissioning of local rock band to do a new original score to a classic silent film. Last year Kinski created an ear-shattering score to Berlin: Symphony of a City, and this year Sub Pop’s The Album Leaf (a new band to me) scored one of my favorite silent films ever, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (8/8). These events are cool not only because the music and movie, but because they take place at the Triple Door, a dinner-theater club that usually hosts music and/or cabaret. We enjoyed fancy cocktails and a bunch of small pan-Asian style plates while The Album Leaf played their moody, gauzy soundtrack for the story of a country man tempted by a City Woman to do away with his saintly wife to run off with the vixen. It’s a fabulous film, of course, and the score gave it a more spooky surreal feel than the first time I saw it.


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