Friday, August 22, 2008

Dr. Chicago Returns

I wonder how many famous composers have been captured performing in theatrical films? Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric and Erik Satie appear in Entr'acte (1924, 22 min. Black & White), the film insert in the Satie/Massine/Cocteau/Picasso Ballet Parade, Milhaud again appears, this time along with Paul Hindemith, in Hans Richter's Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast) (1928, 6 min. Black & White), Oscar Levant — whose serious compositions seem to have disappeared — had a regular career on the Hollywood screen, and there is also John Cage's shirtless stroll through a field in Maya Deren's At Land (1944, 15 min. Black & White).

But perhaps the most significant film appearance by a composer is that of Alvin Lucier who, in addition to appearing as Prof. Alvin Lucier, a role based in part on himself, in Nam June Paik's A Tribute to John Cage, (1973, 29 min. Color) had a starring, title role in George Manupelli's trilogy of full-length Dr. Chicago films: DR. CHICAGO (1968 118 min. Black & White), RIDE DR. CHICAGO RIDE (1970 109 min. Black & White) and CRY DR. CHICAGO (1971 96 min. Color).

In the series, Lucier plays Dr. Alvin Chicago, an outlaw surgeon on the lam with a, shall we say, gift for seriously incorrect and punning wordplay, accompanied by his sidekicks Sheila Marie (Mary Ashley) and Steve (Steve Paxton), the latter of whom is mute and dies, dancingly, in each episode. It's hard to choose a favorite part of the trilogy, but for me it's either one of Dr. Chicago's monologues — reciting The Raven or the MLK, Jr. I Have a Dream speech, or the sequence in RIDE DR. CHICAGO RIDE in which the good doctor separates the counter-villain's (Pauline Oliveros) conjoined twin daughters (played by the multi-cultural musical virtuosi Betty and Shirley Wong).

Director Manupelli may already be familiar to some readers of this blog for his short advertisement for the San Francisco Art Institute, with Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci, Become An Artist (see here) and others may recognize his name in connection with the legendary ONCE Festival and Group of Ann Arbor, MI.

You can see some stills and — better yet — order your own copy of the complete trilogy DVD collector's edition here.


Matthew said...

Someone once mentioned that Philip Glass has a cameo in "No Reservations," but I've never made myself watch the thing.

On the flip side, Lionel Barrymore was actually a pretty fair composer, with a number of respectable concert works in a thoroughly Brahmsian vein.

Ben.H said...

Glass also has a cameo in The Truman Show, unless my memory's playing tricks on me.

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