When Wayne Coyne steps on the stage of Durham’s Carolina Theatre on December 15th, he won’t have a guitar in hand. The Flaming Lips won’t be with him. He won’t be in town to play music at all.
“I don’t really do shows by myself. I don’t really do songs on my own,” he says from Oklahoma City, where he’s driving around town in an electric car so as to charge his iPhone. “I plan to talk a lot, but I don’t think I’ll play a song.”
Coyne will indeed get the chance to speak plenty, as he’ll be in town for the debut of Film:Acoustic, a new series from the Carolina Theatre presented in conjunction with The Modern School of Film. In the series, the theater will screen a film selected by the visiting musician, who will, in turn, discuss the movie with Modern School of Film founder and Duke graduate Robert Milazzo. In some cases, the musician will play some tunes. Previous guests include Kris Kristofferson, Laurie Anderson, Andrew W.K., Moby, Alanis Morissette and Yo La Tengo.
Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Durham could become the first long-term host city for these events. Carolina Theatre CEO Bob Nocek hopes for the series to be monthly, beginning in 2015.
“We’re able to curate a lot of unique film programming, but on the music side, we’re beholden to who’s on tour. We don’t really have an opportunity to create something unique,” says Nocek. “The ability to combine music and film—which are our two strengths—really jumped out at me.”
The Modern School of Film actually hosted an event in Durham, at Duke Coffeehouse in April. Sam Beam, a recent transplant to the Triangle, screened Harold and Maude and played a few songs. Milazzo says he’d been looking for a way to connect the region where he went to school and where part of his family remains with his work.
“I wanted to craft a system where it could be done anywhere throughout the United States,” says Milazzo, who now lives in California. “I think, texturally, Durham is the perfect place to do it.”
For this premiere, Coyne selected The Night Porter, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 film set in a concentration camp and a post-war Austrian hotel. It’s a complicated, nuanced story of Nazi torture and murder, sexual sadomasochism and romantic betrayal. Its reputation is certainly a divisive one. In an essay accompanying its release as part of The Criterion Collection, scholar Annette Insdorf described it as “a provocative and problematic film” before delving into its implications for feminism and psychology at large. In a scathing one-star review from 1975, Roger Ebert called it “a despicable attempt to titillate us by exploiting memories of persecution and suffering. It is (I know how obscene this sounds) Nazi chic.”
For his part, Coyne admits that he didn’t full comprehend the movie the first several times he saw it. He thinks he watched it in the ’80s on VHS at someone’s house while drinking and revisited it a few more times throughout the next two decades. And then, about five years ago, he watched it by himself on LaserDisc at the studio of longtime Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. The plot finally started to click.
“I think I finally got it, but I’m not really sure. There is something about The Night Porter that is subtle but completely fucked up and unsettling,” he says. “Unless you know what it is that’s going on, I don’t think it’s that apparent in the movie itself.”
Nocek understands that the decision to debut the series with The Night Porter might create some controversy. See, for example, the recent fallout from the Metropolitan Opera’s offering of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. But he contends it’s not his role to censor controversial content on his stage.
“We make artistic decisions every day, but it’s not our place to make those kinds of artistic decisions. I wouldn’t want to tell Wayne we couldn’t show that film because we’re concerned about the subject matter,” he explains. “Part of the reason places like the Carolina Theatre exist is to have conversations about the nature of art: What did that film mean when it was released, and what does it mean now? In the context of someone who has deliberately chosen that film and wants to talk about it, I can’t imagine a more appropriate setting.”
Tickets for Wayne Coyne’s Monday, Dec. 15, appearance alongside The Night Porter go on sale Friday, Oct. 31. The cost for all seats is $20, a price that includes all fees if the ticket is purchased directly from the Carolina Theatre’s box office. The screening begins at 7:30 p.m.