Last weekend, a few people were surprised to discover that their Nosferatu screening also came with a dose of Jesus.
The event, hosted at Music Box Theatre, featured F.W. Murnau’s classic, silent-era, 1922 German expressionist horror flick set to live accompaniment from the Curse of the Vampire orchestra. At the end of the movie, composer Philip Shorey spoke for about five minutes about the film’s connections to Christian beliefs, inviting people to speak with his team after the show, and encouraging the audience to make a missionary work donation.
Shaban Nazarian, who attended one of the screenings, was offended by the composer’s righteous show of his beliefs. “It was a missionary style cult-like attempt at conversation and persuasion,” he says.
Nazarian, who describes himself as an “Iranian/Jewish guy who’d pick Zoroastrianism if I had to pick a religion or philosophy,” says he quite enjoyed the music before the religious talk started. “But I was horrified [when] the composer used this venue and his power over the captive audience to pass on a religious message about Jesus, and how he felt Jesus had served as a self-sacrificial person to save us.”
At one point, Shorey asked the audience to turn on their cell phones to show their support of his rhetoric.
“I would have preferred if he had said, 'This character did this for me, and it represents the idea of someone taking the burden off of everyone else and being an altruistic figure,'” Nazarian says. “That would have been fine—that’s a personal opinion or belief—I have no problem at all with that.”
What crossed the line for him was when Shorey asked the audience to shine their cell phone lights if they agreed with him. “That goes beyond motivation,” Nazarian says. “This is soliciting from the audience to join you. That’s the definition of what missionaries do.”
Matt Dow, who heard about the show through City Pages’ A-List calendar of recommended events, thought it would be fun to bring a date to the event. [Editor's note: City Pages was also unaware that the screening was religiously affiliated.]
“I play the cello in a community orchestra, and had never seen the whole film of Nosferatu,” he says. “So the idea of seeing a live orchestral score performance of the film was really intriguing.”
The religious pitch after the film took him by surprise.
"I'm guessing about half the audience knew what they were getting into, and the other half did not,” says Dow. “[Shorey] didn’t necessarily thread the rhetorical needle with the utmost grace and aplomb.”
Aside from the mini-sermon, Dow, like Nazarian, enjoyed the music and the film.
“Philip Shorey's original score for the movie definitely had good moments, and struck what I thought was a good campy, maudlin tone without going too over-the-top,” he says. “Ultimately, they delivered a meaningful and interesting artistic event.”
Dow notes that the promotional materials seem intent to draw people in without reflecting the ultimate motive of the event.
“If I had known it was sponsored by a Christian organization, I wouldn't have gone, mostly because I would have assumed it would be terrible,” Dow admits. “It wasn't. So I guess I have some personal assumptions and stereotypes I need to think about.”
Music Box Theatre, which hosted the free event, is a nearly 100-year-old building in the Loring Park area. Once a venue for silent film and vaudeville, the space has adapted to the needs of various owners over time. At one point it housed a Pentecostal Church, run by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and was home to the long-running clean comedy show Triple Espresso. About 10 years ago, it changed its name to the Loring, and became a hot spot for live music. These days it’s known as Music Box again, and is run by Wooddale Church, which hosts services at the theater.
The folks at the Music Box Theatre were excited at the prospect of hosting the screenings, as Minneapolis-based artist Storey has performed all around the world. “It was a very special event to host at the Music Box Theatre given its historic past as one of the prominent silent film theaters in the Twin Cities,” says Trent Palmberg at MBT. “We know that great art carries a powerful message and, of course, artists will share their inspiration. We actually think there’s much to be gained by gathering together for conversation after performances like this.”
Shorey agrees, saying that he believes it’s normal for composers to share what inspires them.
“When I watch and study the film, I see things differently,” he says. “I developed this project over the past few years, writing and producing a full score for [Nosferatu] that highlights the pure and loving sacrifice of Ellen [the movie’s heroine] triumphing over the devouring consumerism of the vampire.”
He’s still open to thoughts from the audience, whether they want to talk about spirituality or their reactions to Nosferatu.
“I would be glad to meet up and talk,” he says. “I also can't ignore the many people who were deeply touched—some moved to tears—and the many more who thanked me for sharing after the performance.”
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