In 1998 Sayre Maxfield of the Film Society of Lincoln Center approached
me about creating an original score for Teinosuke Kinugasa’s
Japanese 1926 silent film masterpiece, Kurutta Ippeiji, (A
Madness). Our relationship had begun when they took over
my George Méliès Project and
premiered it at the
Walter Reade Theatre in 1997. I was not familiar with the
film, but at the first screening I was blown away by the power and
originality of the film.
Page of Madness is a truly unique film. Rather than try and synopsize
the film myself, let me quote Jasper Sharp, from his online journal on
Japanese film, The Midnight Eye, in what is the best writing
I’ve read about the film.
on a treatment by the later 1968 Nobel Prize winning novelist Yasunari
Kawabata (1899-1972), writer of such classics of modern Japanese
literature as The Izu Dancer and Snow Country, Kinugasa's self-financed
landmark production Kurutta Ippeiji, hereafter referred to as A Page of
Madness (though some sources refer to it by the titles A Crazy Page, or
A Page Out of Order) seems a far cry from the bog-standard theatrically
derived Kabuki adaptations and jidai-geki period swashbucklers being
produced at the time en masse. The story of a retired sailor who has
taken a job as a janitor in a lunatic asylum to look after his insane
wife, locked away after attempting to drown their child, a synopsis of
the plot can't begin to explain the power of the film, nor the audacity
of its vision.”
that time I had previously done two original scores for silent film,
the Méliès and Todd Browning’s The
Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford. The
The Unknown had been intended to be a kind of homage
to and yet
upending of, traditional film music and traditional modern silent film
music. The George Méliès Project
had been a
study: eight short films, and in each a slightly different relationship
between the music and the film. But both had been virtually completely
notated, and exactly synched to the film.
For Page of Madness I decided to try a different
approach. I used a
combination of traditionally noted music and improvisation that was
carefully linked to the images of the film. We kept in synch through
the use of simultaneously-started stop watches, and followed a score
which described a the action, with timings, and called for specific
instrument combinations and improvisations linked to those images.
For more information about the composition of the Page of Madness
For the ensemble, I chose The Transparent Quartet (Joe Ruddick on
piano, Mark Josefsberg on vibraphone, and David Hofstra on bass, and
myself on soprano and alto saxophones), the group I had been working
with for several years, and with which I had done the
Méliès Project. These brilliant musicians were
perfect for a piece of this nature, being some of the most versatile
and imaginative improvisers I had ever worked with. In a way, I had
felt that I was wasting them in the previous years, with my music being
so heavily notated (although they did a great job of performing it),
and their being such great improvisers.
Here are some photos by
Viki Rutsch of
the TQ from around that time (click to enlarge):
This recording captures the group (which is not active at present) at
the height of it’s prowess as an ensemble. I think the
telepathy between the musicians, and the individual expression, makes
the score what it is. (Incidentally, I performed the score recently at
the 2008 Sydney Film Festival, with another stellar group of
improvisers: Chris Abrahams on piano, Daryl Pratt on vibraphone, and
Lloyd Swanton on bass).
Around the time of the premier, I asked Jon Rosenberg, the wonderful
recording engineer who had done the studio recordings of many of my
previous records, to come and record some of the performances. He made
some wonderful recordings, the one on this CD being all from one single
performance, the only editing being the cutting of some longer silent
passages: the use of silence is one of the film music
composer’s most effective tools, and in this score it is used
in a similar manner to the rest of the score. But on a
CD the use of silence would be less effective (not to mention the risk
of a copyright violation lawsuit from the Cage Estate).
For several years I tried to get a release for this recording, but
after being rejected (or ignored) by 37 record companies, I put it on
the shelf, and moved on to having more recent recordings of other
projects rejected by record companies. However now, after ten years, I
have decided to do a very modest limited release myself on my own
Unfortunately, as of this writing, to my knowledge, no high quality DVD
release of Page of Madness exists, with my music or without. You can
see some very low resolution excerpts of the film, with my score, on
At this time, the score is still available for performance. Like my
other film scores, silent and contemporary, I feel that the music is of
interest on its own, without the film. But the project as a whole is
best taken in as intended, with the music and the film together.
Interested presenters can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the least seen of my silent film scores, and I’m very
interested in performing it further. Previous presenters include the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, Time &
Space Ltd., as well as the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the
Sydney Film Festival.
My other silent film scores are also available for performance as well.
Unknown (1927), which is also available on CD, on Avant.
(1926) directed by F.W. Murnau. Not yet recorded, but hope springs
eternal. Recently performed at the Australian Centre for the Moving
Image, in collaboration with the 2008 Melbourne Festival of the Arts.