Originally published in the Asbury Park Press, October 4, 2003
When word got out that the Clearview Cinema chain had ended its host-venue agreement with the Red Bank-based Freedom Film Society and their annual Red Bank International Film Festival — in favor of an affiliation with the competing and newly-established Two River Film Festival — reaction on the preciously cobblestoned streets of “Hip City” was mixed, to say the least. While the earnest and efficient braintrust behind the Two River fest promise lots to love at their much-anticipated first annual event, there’s some sentiment to the effect that the endearingly unpolished, two-year-old RBIFF has been shunted aside for just the sort of slicker and better-financed juggernaut that has increasingly come to define the boro’s cultural landscape. In other words, if the new festival could be characterized as a ruthlessly organized, macro-multitasking soccer mom driving her H2 through a checklist of inticately scheduled activities, then the older, more skin-of-its-teeth event might best be personified by the likes of Russ Bucci.
Savvy shoppers and others who dare to stray from Broad Street’s beaten path may know Russ as the sardonic, cryptkeeper-like proprietor of The Book Pit, that labyrinthine and somewhat creepy space nestled behind Dorn’s Photo Shop at 17 Wallace Street. It’s there amidst the rubber rats, plastic skulls, and betentacled monster limbs popping from the ceiling panels that this dealer in the arcane, eldritch and generally out-of-print peddles his always eclectic and surprising wares; with occasional time out to gig around as guitarist-vocalist of Shore underground band Pink Frog. Still, it’s what lies even further beneath the surface that may interest filmgoers, as Bucci and cohort Don Yaros burn the midnight oil in preparation for another appearance by the entity known as Rotting Moldy Flesh.
Like some lumbering, Lovecraftian thing that rears its voracious head as the harvest moon glowers in the sky, Rotting Moldy Flesh shows up right on schedule about this time each year; providing tense and moody soundtrack music to a collection of silent-screen shadowplays that began with a packed 2001 showing of F.W. Murnau’s jaggedly effective vampire classic “Nosferatu;” a live accompaniment performance that saw the Flesh musicians don rented tuxes as the Clearview house filled with patrons dressed in their most to-die-for Gothic finery. Last year’s screening of the 1925 “Lost World” allowed the members of RMF an opportunity to provide guttural, percussive sound and fury for such prehistoric goliaths as a Willis O’Brien animated brontosaurus, and a completely over-the-top Wallace Beery.
With a change of venue to the venerable Count Basie Theatre — known as the Carlton in Hollywood’s heyday — the RBIFF continues the unholy alliance with Rotting Moldy Flesh tonight, for a 9:00 p.m. presentation of the1919 landmark of German expressionist cinema, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” While director Robert Wiene’s story of a top-hatted evil hypnotist, a damsel in distress and a zombie-like somnambulist (Conrad Veidt, who later went Hollywood for character roles in “Casablanca” and others) carries its fair share of hoary nickelodeon hokum, the impact of its surrealistic set design and uncomfortable, mind-of-a-madman point of view continues to ricochet across the seas of cinematic time — an appropriate framework upon which to hang the grim funereal drones and jarring industrial accidents of Rotting Moldy Flesh music.
Using keyboards, guitars, percussive devices and various found detritus, Bucci, Yaros and company (the two declined to identify a lineup by name, although it’s been hinted that this year’s edition will feature a guest vocalist) produce sonic mood pieces that complement the more spastic pace and grainy, nitrate-damaged look of antique film prints with creeping, methodical soundscapes that attach themselves to the viewer’s spine in a manner not unlike The Tingler — even if they lack the added novelty of the electric-shock buzzer beneath the seat.
“I actually wanted to do ‘The Golem’ this year,” observes Bucci in reference to Paul Wegener’s rarely-seen visualization of the proto-Frankenstein Jewish legend of the avenging man of clay, but despite some initial reservations over the lengthy intertitles and melodramatic flourishes in “Caligari,” the mad maestro of Wallace Street assures seekers of the silent scream that they will not be disappointed.
Rotting Moldy Flesh may not go so quietly back into its burrow following tonight’s performance, as Bucci and Yaros are busy preparing two volumes of four-CD box sets — that’s eight full-length discs for those too busy to do the math — presenting a retrospective of subversive sounds produced under the mantle of Flesh. Details may follow at tonight’s screening; or monitor http://www.thebookpit.com for updated information.