Fehérlófia (“Son of the White Mare”) is probably not a film on your radar, but it should be.
“I had never seen, nor heard of Fehérlófia prior to preparing for this event,” says Ryan Todd, a local synth-music artist. The film is screening at PhilaMOCA tonight as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival, and Todd has the distinct task of bringing the eclectic and psychedelic nature of the film to life, at least aurally, for those in attendance. It seems a daunting task, as the film is a cacophony of sense stimulation. “I tend to think of music in visual terms, and the animation style of this film, with brilliant flowing colors and moody atmosphere, is easy for me to interpret musically.”
Released in 1981, Fehérlófia is the second animated feature length film from Hungarian director Marcell Jankovics, and is based on the rich mythological traditions of the old steppe peoples and the work of László Arany, a Hungarian poet and folk-tale collector. The film tells the story of Fehérlófia and his two brothers as they set off to defeat three dragons who seized power from the Forefather and took over the world. In the process they also free three princesses, whose curiosity was responsible for unleashing evil into the world.
The advent of earthly evil by human (and female) hands, and other familiar themes represented in this tale will help uninitiated audiences acquaint themselves to the film’s more eccentric qualities, but it doesn’t take long to become enamored by the film’s distinctive charm and style. I, myself, am reminded of D’Aularires’ Book of Greek Myths, a children’s encyclopedia of collected myths that I would constantly take out of the library as much for the vibrant artwork as the stories themselves. Jankovics and Pannónia Filmmstúdió understand the visual nature of folktales, the original form of performance art, and do a beautiful job representing the essence of a timeless story, while adding modern flourishes to the fantastical. The representation of the “dragons” is particularly interesting and unexpected.
The film has dialogue, but the experience of watching Fehérlófia isn’t necessarily enhanced by knowing the exact sequence of events in the story through spoken word. Which is why this film is a perfect candidate for a live score performance, something to translate the bombastic colors and animation acoustically. But how does one go about not only creating a score for a film that is unfamiliar to most, but keeping it interesting for its 90 minute runtime?
“I decided to sit and watch the film on mute, and record little sketches. I then watched the film a second time, accompanied by my audio narration. It helped me to hear and see what worked and what needed to be changed,” says Todd. “My greatest fear is that I won’t do the film justice, or that the music will become tedious. The challenge is keeping it interesting as one musician; there are no fellow bandmates to help me round out the sound.”
It’s clear that stories like Fehérlófia rely on fresh perspective and creative performance for their continued cultural survival. Mythology can be interpreted in so many different ways, numerous times, and while the core elements remain intact, something new is created in the artist’s expression, which exemplifies the dexterity and the synergy of folktales and other performance mediums.
“I’ve watched the film five times in the past two weeks, and I’ve still never heard the original audio or dialogue! I didn’t want to let the original score cloud my idea of what the music should sound like,” says Todd. “This is a completely new experience to me, and I hope the audience is able to become lost in the film and music, forget about the outside world for 90 minutes and leave feeling satisfied and perhaps inspired to go out and create something themselves.”
More information on Fehérlófia, purchasing tickets, and other CFF events can be found here.