Death Blows

Tosten Burks watches Photay and Celia Hollander throw caution to “The Wind” at Fairfax’s Brain Dead Studios.

By Tosten BurksJuly 6, 2024

    Death Blows

    THE WIND, Brain Dead Studios, Los Angeles, June 25, 2024.

    I grew up around earthquakes and wildfires, not hurricanes or tornadoes, so I never really learned to fear the wind. In sunny California, still enough, we just grumble about it a few times a year and exaggerate its strange foreboding, like in that Didion passage quoting that Chandler passage, or one I read more recently, from Pynchon: “As resinous breezes swept out of the gulches to scent the town day and night, the sky over Vineland County, which had allowed the bringing of life, now began to reveal a potential for destroying it.” Silly me. In Victor Sjöström’s The Wind (1928), newly public domain and recently projected in 35 mm at Brain Dead Studios on Fairfax, the wind isn’t small talk, or omen, but more like doom embodied. On the Texas frontier, as a cattleman explains on a blustery train to our dainty protagonist Letty (Lillian Gish), traveling west to live with her rancher cousin and his suspicious wife, the wind never stops blowing and it “makes folks go crazy—especially women!” Another man tells Letty that “injuns,” as the intertitle put it, call the northerly gales a ghost horse in the clouds, an image Sjöström creates with stunning double exposures. Swirling sand bucks the horses and batters the rickety settler windows, through which we watch Letty’s bugged eyes watch the storms and all they bring—and take away.

    Musicians Photay and Celia Hollander presented and live-scored the film, which was conceived as silent, to be accompanied by live music, but was, as talkies emerged, retrofitted for release with synchronized score and sound effects, on this night nixed. Both artists like to perform en plein air and express something of the natural environment in their work. Photay’s latest LP, a collaboration with Carlos Niño titled An Offering (2022), revolves around the trickle of the Hudson Valley’s Peters Kill river. Hollander has said her processed-piano album 2nd Draft (2023) was inspired by wind itself, and Photay told the Brain Dead crowd that his next album was as well. In the old silent theater, the duo sat at a folding table down front, facing the screen, and improvised on a spread of synths and Ableton controllers. It was clear that the audience showed up for them; phones filmed snippets freely, especially when a techno beat dropped during a ragtimey dance scene. Most of the interpretation was more literal, heavy on modular noise filtered into a dramatic palette of gusts, howls, and whirls, pierced with rhythmic hum and buzz. It felt more serious than some moments of physical comedy allowed, while lending suitable terror to the omnipresence of the wind in Sjöström’s frames and Letty’s deteriorating psyche. When the heroine’s arc ended in a complicated embrace, wind slapping her face, an ambiguous drone struck the right note.


    Photo by contributor.

    LARB Short Takes live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

    LARB Contributor

    Tosten Burks is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. He’s currently editing his great-grandfather’s memoir.


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