Theatermania Review

By David Gordon
August 24, 2016

At the Crossroads: Music for Faust
New York City

In 1926, the expressionist director F.R. Murnau released his version of Goethe’s Faust. Owing to elaborate special effects and the use of multiple cameras for various angles, it became the most expensive movie to date. Costing 2 million marks, it earned back only half its budget, becoming a major flop.

Yet, as many flops do, they retain some historical interest, and Faust became a minor sensation in the annals of cinema, primarily for its mise-en-scène. It also upped the ante in terms of special-effects techniques — perhaps the most memorable of which is the image of the devil Mephisto enveloping a whole town.

Now audiences can get a fresh look at Faust. Ben Singer, the founder of Modern Robot, a company that screens classic movies with live musical accompaniment, has composed the score for At the Crossroads: Music for Faust, a 50-minute cut of the film backed up by Singer on guitar and Spencer Cohen on drums.

Rather than play the original score (written by the prolific and uncredited William Axt), this version features a whole new catalogue of contemporary indie rock tunes penned by Singer. The result is a largely mesmerizing experience, one that gives audience members a new appreciation for the power of music and its ability to set a mood. Cohen’s driving drums and Singer’s slide guitar match the bold visuals of the film as the music lurks ominously under the already haunting imagery.

Evoking the orchestral concerts of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, perhaps At the Crossroads: Music for Faust isn’t the best entry for a primarily theater-driven festival. But it is its own kind of stage art, one geared toward cinephiles, for whom this is an ideal way to experience a little-known classic.