The contract between sound and light on celluloid is usually binding: certain passages are assigned to specific images, John Williams gets paid, and everyone goes home. But it wasn’t always that way. The musicians who accompanied motion pictures before the advent of talkies weren’t bound to play the same thing the same way every time. On Friday Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks Its Back, an impressionistic 1997 documentary about an Alaskan fishing village by Chicagoan Braden King and New Mexico resident Laura Moya, will revisit this method. The movie’s original sound track, available on Atavistic, mimics the film’s stark black-and-white images of snowy landscapes, roiling seas, ice-encrusted fishing boats, and grim cannery interiors with chilly improvisations performed by the Boxhead Ensemble, a who’s who of Chicago’s musical underground that then included David Grubbs, Doug McCombs, Charles Kim, Jim O’Rourke, Rick Rizzo, and Ken Vandermark under the direction of King’s longtime associate Michael Krassner. But when the film was screened in European music venues late last year it was accompanied by a constantly shifting lineup of live musicians. The original sound track was defined by Kim, Grubbs, and O’Rourke’s glacial guitars; on The Last Place to Go (Atavistic), a new album of performances from the tour, Fred Lonberg-Holm’s voluptuous cello and Dirty Three drummer Jim White’s shuffling brushwork set the tone. The latest version of the Boxhead Ensemble–Krassner, Grubbs, Kim, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Becker–will kick off a short eastern-U.S. tour with a screening on Friday at 9 PM at Celluloid Moviebar, 1805 W. Division; 312-707-8888. The film will also be shown twice with its original recorded sound track, Sunday at 7 and 9 PM. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.