Interview with The Holy Gasp

We, the curators of Christie Pits Film Festival, are mounting our second live-score production this summer, following the huge success of Del Bel’s original score for Nosferatu in 2015. This year we’ve been collaborating with Toronto musicians The Holy Gasp for a production of the silent comedy The Freshman (1925), featuring the brilliant Harold Lloyd. We sat down with Benjamin Hackman, frontman and composer of The Holy Gasp, to chat about the band’s inspirations on this original score project.

The Freshman will screen with The Holy Gasp’s original score performed live on June 25, 2017, as the opening night film of Christie Pits Film Festival’s 7th summer season. It will have an encore presentation at Parkway Forest Park on August 26, 2017.

CPFF: We chose The Freshman as the opening night film for our Eyes on the Prize programme because it comically explores themes of competition, perseverance, camaraderie, and the drive to win. How did you approach these themes in your original score?

BH: Sebastian [Shinwell, The Holy Gasp’s co-composer] and I were particularly interested in the disingenuousness with which Harold Lamb approaches his first semester at Tate University. We saw in his character a series of choices made solely for the desire to fit in and be regarded as popular. Of course the moral of The Freshman is not difficult to see, or even predict: it is best to live one's life true to one's own character. Thus we approached the score as truth tellers - friends of Harold's who could be counted on to say what sometimes hurts to hear, but which is necessary to tell someone when you love and care for them. We approached the score with a desire to draw attention to that which is both genuine and disingenuous within Harold, and to show viewers both how he sees himself, as well as how he is seen by others. Whenever possible, we strove to show how those two modes of being intersect and contradict. Compositionally this was achieved in two ways - by allowing thematic melodies to cohabitate, and by dressing up motifs in motley arrangements.    

CPFF: What musical styles are you inspired by in your composition for The Freshman? What vibe should the audience expect on opening night?

BH: True to The Holy Gasp, we've continued fusing punk rock sensibilities with Beat jazz, surf guitar, and Tropicalia. Film-goers might also recognize influences from Danny Elfman's theme song to The Simpsons, Henry Mancini's theme song to The Pink Panther, and Primus.

CPFF: At this point, you are intimately familiar with The Freshman, having watched it numerous times while composing. Has this repeated exposure revealed any profound insights or hidden truths about the human condition?

BH: What I learned from watching The Freshman repeatedly for two months. I don't know if I agree with everything, but this is what I learned:

- People in 1925 have hideous hands. Just bad finger nail health in general.
-The facial and gestural expressions of Harold Lloyd  is more technically proficient than those of most modern day actors. This feels hard to dispute. Watch the movie. He's freakishly talented.  
-Avoiding sexuality makes for innuendos more graphic in nature than explicit conversations about sexuality. The Freshman is a very subtly perverted film. Freudians, take note.
-Popular young people are often at odds with their popularity, and feel trapped by their reputations. The desire to freak out and be groovy exists and must be given space for expression in young people.  
-At the end of the day, be yourself. Every other option is a bad one.
-Bullies have great influence, especially upper class bullies.  
-Ending up with the kind of girl your mother must have been is, in some ways, inevitable.
-You can judge a man's character by the company he keeps.
-When somebody offers to buy you ice cream, it's in bad taste to invite a friend.