Connections: Alvino Rey, The Bat, and Arcade Fire

Of all the film adaptations of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1907 novel, The Circular Staircase, the 1959 version of The Bat holds a special place in my heart. Most critics consider it inferior to the 1926 silent film, The Bat, produced and directed by Roland West, and The Bat Whispers (1930), this time with sound, again directed by West but produced by Joseph M. Schenk. The 1959 version, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, really scared me when I saw it on TV around the age of 10, but more than that, it filled me with a sense of intrigue. It struck a chord in me, with its secret panels, hidden rooms, and suspicious character sneaking in and around the mansion known as “The Oaks,” the interior of which looked very much like grandparents’ home, complete with a grandfather clock in the living room,  dark landing at the top of a staircase, and rococco furnishings. Another cool thing about the film is the jazzy opening theme song, which includes a strange sound effect, which is also heard during suspenseful moments later in the movie. Instead of the sinister organ music of old horror films, or the unearthly Theremin glissando of science fiction, The Bat distinguishes itself with weird electric slide guitar effects performed by the extraordinary Mr. Alvino Rey (July 1, 1908 – February 2, 2004).

 Alvino Rey was both a musician and an electronics wizard. At Big Band Library.com, Christopher Popa tells us that when Alvino Rey was 15 years old, he “invented an electrical amplifier for the guitar, but didn’t have it patented. He did patent several later improvements.” In 1935, the Gibson Guitar Corporation hired Rey to design a prototype pickup for electric guitars with engineers at the Lyon & Healy company in Chicago.  You can read more about Alvino Rey at Big Band Library.com.

This brings us to one of my favorite indie bands, Arcade Fire, winners of the 2011 Grammy Award for album of the year. Many of their videos have a weird, dark vibe. Some people might call them nightmarish, but I call them dreamlike because I like that kind of thing. Their Neighborhood # 2 (Laika) reminds me of a Jeff VanderMeer book cover, with its orange and brown October leaf tones, a coffin being swallowed by what appears to be a narwhal, and some kind of blackbird picking at everything. Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels) looks like low-budget science fiction noir (and I mean that in a good way).

What is the connection between Alvino Rey and Arcade Fire, you ask? Wikipedia has the answer: Rey’s daughter, Liza Butler, is the mother of Win and William Butler, members of Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire. The bands debut full-length album, released in 2004, was called Funeral because several band members had recently lost members of their families: Régine Chassagne‘s grandmother died in June 2003, Win and William Butler‘s grandfather (swing musician Alvino Rey) in March 2004, and Richard Reed Parry‘s aunt in April 2004.

You might also want to check out this bizarre vintage clip I found at L.A. Weekly.

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