Absurdity marks Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, a cornerstone title by the surrealist master from ’62, so there’s usually a chuckle of three as the film unpacks its mysterious tale. But I don’t ever remember the viewing process being as engaging – or maybe as flat-out charming – as it was with Gary Lucas’ real-time score bolstering Buñuel’s send-up of a passive bourgeoisie on Friday at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. The guitarist improvised on a series of sketches that gave a buoyancy to the on-screen confinement of guests at an upper-crust dinner party trapped in a sitting room post-feast. They’re able to physically move – and certainly bemoan their fate with a bevy of existential quips – but psychologically unable to make the leap back to their daily lives. Despite Buñuel’s wit, it can get a tad claustrophobic.
That’s where Lucas’ music assists. With his finger-picking on acoustic and electric instruments setting up an external rhythm, and the echo effects of his strings enhancing the narrative’s eerier aspects, the guitarist ups the ante on the director’s art. Lucas has been refining his approach to film accompaniment for decades – don’t miss his pas de deux with The Golem it the opportunity arises – and the nuanced way he wiggles his strings into the on-screen emotions is pretty damn impressive. He stands outside the piece as an observer, formally commenting on the action, but the real trick is how well the music is embedded into the scenes. By the time the group’s desperation reaches its provocative peak, it feels like Lucas’ insights have helped them turn the key. This was the US premiere (Cuban fans heard it in 2011); fingers crossed that there are many more performances.