Fevered: "The Lost World" was re-enchanted with the sounds of Dengue Fever.

SFIFF52 Blogs: Dinosaurs, Disease, and Delirium

Robert Avila May 7, 2009

No need to don your surgical masks, people. Dengue Fever’s altogether enchanting delirium—not to be confused with the tropical ailment caused by virus serotypes of the genus Flavivirus—is induced by the thoroughly contagious but otherwise benign Los Angeles–based Cambodian psychedelic rock band of the same name. It swept through a packed house at the Castro Theatre Tuesday night, where the six-member ensemble premiered their original score to The Lost World, the 1925 silent fantasy brought to celluloid life by pioneering animator Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion dinosaurs—along with guys in hairy suits and overbites, women refusing to marry until their men prove fearless in the jungle and famous all over London, and an obligatory supporting character blacked up Eddie Cantor–style in burnt cork. A lost world indeed. But the tale, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, was a ripping one, anachronisms and all, carried aloft on an alternately moody and sizzling bed of feverish grooves and singer Ch’hom Nimol’s seductive vocals.

SF Film Society programmer Sean Uyehara noted in his introduction to Tuesday night’s extravaganza, part of SFIFF52’s Live & Onstage series, that he’d discussed many possible score-worthy silent films with the band before they landed on The Lost World. The selection was deemed "fated," said Uyehara, when somewhere along the way it was revealed that a close associate of the band actually had a relative in the film: a great grandfather who has a small scene in which ink gets spilled on his desk. Fate or no, the results spoke for themselves—and the aforementioned cameo, which appeared within the first ten minutes of the film, drew a collective holler of recognition from the newly initiated.

From then on it was a guffaw-filled thrill-ride through the classic silent-era screen adaptation, which centers on a love-struck journalist who seeks to woo his hard-to-impress gal by signing up for a dangerous expedition to South American with the rather pointedly named Professor Challenger (a very beardy Wallace Beery). Challenger is a pugnacious academic, fond of pummeling journalists in particular, who claims to have discovered a plateau deep in the Amazon harboring a wide swath of atavistic reptiles, including such prehistoric favorites as the T-Rex, the pterodactyl, and the brontosaurus, the last eventually running amok in London, harshing that city’s famous jolly along the way.

The music and film events have been a consistent highlight of the SF International, 2009 proving no exception, which makes all the more welcome Uyehara’s announcement of more band-and-movie match-ups as part of the Film Society’s year-round programming. "I’m happy to note," said Uyehara, "that we’re going to be doing the music and film programs more than just during the Festival. We’re going to do it twice a year. We in fact have something slated for December. It happens to be Stephin Merritt, [singer-songwriter] of the Magnetic Fields, who is going to do a new score to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea." After a roar of approval went up from the surprised throng, Uyehara added that, though not confirmed yet, the arrangement with Merritt may end up being part of a trilogy. "So stay tuned for that."