Silent Reflections – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920): Revisited
by HELEN GEIB
I saw Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the first time as part of a John Barrymore film series. You can read my review in this post, but the gist is that the best thing about the film is the way it’s photographed, followed by the transformation scenes.
While that defines the film’s limitations, it’s not a put-down. The transformation scenes are still as creepy as they’re intended to be, and the movie is very well photographed. The lighting, cinematography, staging, and tinting combine to create the illusion that the scenes are source lit by the period-appropriate gas lamps, candles, and hearth fires. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric effect.
This isn’t a movie I intended to watch a second time, but when I was presented with the opportunity last night to see it accompanied by local musicians performing an original, partly improvised score, I felt I had to go. And I’m really glad I did because I enjoyed the movie much more on a second viewing. I didn’t discover anything new in the work and I’m still not crazy about John Barrymore. Turns out the only thing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde needs to be a good time at the movies is really great live accompaniment.
The music served to energize the story and push it forward at a faster and faster pace as the climax neared, but the best part was that the performance was a collaboration by two groups: one took Jekyll and the other Hyde. The Jekyll theme was melodic and jazz-influenced, performed by a trio on guitar, accordion, violin, and bass. The Hyde theme was raw and discordant modern music by a large ensemble; music-makers included theremin, saw, and toy piano alongside more customary instruments. The opposition within collaboration was an ideal musical expression of the Jekyll-and-Hyde story.