This month the Japanese Culture Center sponsored a 1926 Japanese silent horror film called A Page of Madness, directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa and story by Yasunari Kawabata.
A Page of Madness is about a husband who disguises himself as a janitor at a assylum in order to try and free his wife, who is a patient. Through eccentric imagery and emotional expressions of the actors, the film gives the audience a tiny glimpse of being in an asylum. This film, however, was not your average silent film. It had a soundtrack capturing the psychotic mood, composed by the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) composer, Renee’ Baker. Mrs. Baker is a composer as well as conductor and also loves films, especially silent films. She has composed for over 140 silent films and has composed for notable silent films like Joan of Arc, Frankenstein, and Body and Soul.
After the showing of A Page of Madness, Mrs. Baker conducted a Q&A to discuss the process of making the score for the film, as well as other interesting topics. From this session we learned that Mrs. Baker worked on this score for over a year. At that time, she worked closely with a producer, where for hours they would evaluate only five minutes of the film at a time so that they could get a feeling of that particular scene’s purpose. “Of course,” she said, “I really wanted to race through the film but at the same time I knew how important it would be to really focus [on the film].” Through this close study she was able to immerse herself in the story and truly understand how the characters felt living in the asylum.
The audience also learned that when watching the film, Ms. Baker wanted viewers to feel uncomfortable. She wanted them to feel like they were in the asylum with the characters and to feel the husband’s desperation to free his wife from the asylum even though she needed to be there. She also wanted the audience to feel empathy because she feels that in today’s society there is little of it.
One thing she said that I found interesting is that she never has expectations for the films she scores. She tries to keep an open mind and is always looking for feedback so that she can make changes to her films and make them more enjoyable. When she first screened A Page of Madness, it was with a live orchestra and it almost didn’t premiere due to complications, but eventually she was able to settle it and though the audience thought it was a little intense, it was still a success. Since then though, she has been working to make the film better. I think one thing we can learn from Mrs. Baker is that whether we are making music for a film or just trying something new, it is good to try to not have expectations because if we do, we will never be satisfied. Which is why like Renee Baker we must practice shoshin, or a beginner’s mind. With this mindset, we should always be ready for the unexpected and ready to try something new.
Renee’ Baker indicated that A Page of Madness and two other films that she has been composing for are soon going to premier at a film festival later this year.
Interview by Nicole Argudin