Underground Film Journal

Posted In » Underground Film News

Kino21: The New Talkies: Live Film Narration

By Mike Everleth ⋅ July 4, 2008

Kino21: The New Talkies

Kino21, the once-a-month (or so) screening series in the San Francisco area, will be holding this month’s event on Saturday, July 12 at 8:00 p.m. at the Artists Television Access center. For “The New Talkies,” clips from different modern films will be shown with the sound off while performers will provide their own dialogue and running commentary.

This style of film performance is adapted from Japan’s silent movie era where the “katsudo benshi” performers provided the same kind of narration before film sound had been invented, which is of course quite different from the organ music and title cards used here in the U.S. Here’s how Kino21 describes their update on this defunct artform:

In our neo-benshi adaptation of the format for a modern sensibility, each writer/performer takes a film scene, mutes the dialog, then devises a new script (sometimes with sound effects) to interpret, ventriloquize and even sing both with and against the film. Their performances serve to subvert, amplify and hijack the original visuals.

Here’s the lineup of performers and films they will be benshi-izing:

Charles Schulz & Erika Staiti – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Rodney Koeneke – Mary Poppins
Clive Worsley – Jeremiah Johnson
Douglas & Nicole Kearney – Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom
Cynthia Sailers – The Passion of Anna
Jaime Cortez – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
David Larsen – Logan’s Run

This is the first I’ve heard of the katsudo benshi, but I found this interesting interview (scroll down) with a surviving benshi, Midori Sawato, who talks about the history of the practice. And Kino21’s event sounds like a real hoot. For more info, please visit their website, but here’s the screening details again:

Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA
8:00 p.m.