In the Jewish folktale, "The Golem," a rabbi, fearing a new persecution, protects his people by building a monster out of clay and bringing it to life through alchemy. Similarly, guitarist/composer Gary Lucas breathes new life using some magic of his own, reinvigorating the 1920 German expressionist film, The Golem, a masterpiece of silent cinema, with his updated soundtrack. This weekend at the annual Dragon*Con festival, Lucas -- a former Captain Beefheart guitarist who for years has been a major figure in New York's downtown art/music scene -- performs his Golem soundtrack along to the film. And for good measure, he throws in a second show, where he performs his solo composition, "Space Guitar Fantasia."
"I have never played a sci-fi convention before," Lucas says, "but my music for The Golem received its first-ever review in 1989 with the line, 'A sci-fi fantasy classic score.' I think it's totally appropriate." That premiere in New York took place during a time when films with live accompaniments were just starting to enjoy a renewed interest. And Lucas' spooky, heavily textured score paved the way for more film work, including his soundtracks for early surrealist films, including Fernand Leger's Ballet Mecanique, Rene Clair's Entr'acte (both from 1924), and Ladislaw Starowicz's The Cameraman's Revenge from 1912, which Lucas describes as "quite in the realm of the fantastic film genre -- trippy, weird and grotesque."
Lucas is quick to admit his fondness for the '60s-style horror of Roger Corman and Hammer Horror, and also a distaste for the current teen slasher fare. Yes, but where does he stand on the Incredible Hulk? Lou Ferrigno, after all, is one of Lucas' co-stars at this year's Dragon*Con.
"The Golem could give the Hulk a real run for his money," Lucas muses. "The Thing [versus the Golem] would probably be a draw. As they both are good Jewish boys, they probably wouldn't want to hurt each other."
Talk of superheroes aside, Lucas' recent musical pursuits go beyond film and fantasy fare. He recently composed the music for an HBO documentary called Lalee's Kin which, Lucas explains, "while not a horror film is still deeply disturbing, describing the pitiful exploitation of poor black cotton pickers in Mississippi today. My music is very bluesy, mournful and eerie."
Lucas used his unique fingerpicking techniques to create an orchestra of sound with just his long guitar, helping the film to snag a nomination for best documentary in last year's Academy Awards.
"I'm always trying to take people on trips," he says of the unifying element in his work.
In case his soundtrack to The Golem isn't your ticket, his "Space Guitar Fantasia" might do the trick. Equipped with only his guitar and electronic effects, Lucas will accompany a science fiction slide show in an effort, he says, to create "other-worldly landscapes that will hopefully transport the listeners and viewers into spectral realms of alternate realities."
Of course, Dragon*Con attendees may already be in their own worlds this weekend, brandishing Klingon, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and other costumes. Lucas doesn't mind, though.
"I have no problem with the costumes." he says. "I only hope they can see through the masks."