“The little movie with the million dollar soundtrack” is how violist and film director Matt Diekman describes his short film Upon The Awful Tree, an original story inspired by an old hymn, the director’s love of Sergio Leone, and an encounter with absinthe prepared by a fellow musician. UTSA professor Matt Dunne wrote the film’s score, which was performed by several San Antonio-area musicians, including members of the San Antonio Symphony.
It was one of those symphony members that first introduced Diekman to what he calls “real deal” absinthe, prepared in an elaborate ceremony using lots of glassware, flame, and ice. The process so interested Diekman that he began writing a story about a mysterious stranger that chances upon a party in the woods. He prepares the drink, and after a night of revelry, the cold light of day is as harsh as the truths the drink reveals.
“The interesting thing about Upon the Awful Tree is that it’s in G minor but the first measure or so is really in G major,” Dunne explains. “It doesn’t turn minor until the second bar. It’s kind of an unexpected note when you hit that B-flat in the second bar. Almost everything in the score comes from either those two opening bars in that hymn, or the little rhythmic figure for Day Is Dying in the West, which is really more like a jig than a hymn.”
Dunne’s music takes up the majority of Upon The Awful Tree because there are no words in the film. Diekman explains: “When I started writing the screenplay, I thought I’d see how far I could get without anybody saying anything. And if somebody needs to say something as I write, I’ll let them. But I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I got to ‘the end’ and nobody said anything, and I thought, that’s cool! I don’t consider it a silent film, I consider it a dialogue-free film.”
"Upon The Awful Tree" premieres at 7 p.m. on June 2 as part of Texas Public Radio's Cinema Tuesdays series. The screening will be at the Santikos Bijou theater.