Thursday, January 8, 2009

Addicted to Peter Lorre (That Voice, Those Eyes)

Jack Terricloth, center, and his band, World/Inferno Friendship Society.

Lorre’s craven characters in films like “M” and “Casablanca” have been fodder for comedians for decades, but Jack Terricloth’s aims are more ambitious. As leader of the World/Inferno Friendship Society, a Brooklyn band that mixes Weimar-style cabaret and roisterous ska-punk, he is the driving force behind “Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s 20th Century,” a self-described punk songspiel that is part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival, including a performance at Webster Hall in the East Village on Friday.

Interesting music.

Tall and slim, fond both of dandyish dark suits and heavy, mosh-pit-ready boots, Jack Terricloth looks nothing like the doughy and goggle-eyed Lorre. And despite how much he enjoys imitating Lorre’s voice — he says he sometimes falls asleep listening to recordings of Lorre on the radio — his performance in “Addicted to Bad Ideas” is less impersonation than sympathetic interpretation.

“I find Peter Lorre a strangely charismatic, extremely creepy person, which I think most punk rockers can identify with,” said Jack Terricloth, 38, who was born Peter Ventantonio and grew up in Bridgewater, N.J. “It’s the lure of the other. He’s the underdog, the outsider.”

The Museum of Film and Television, Berlin
Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s 1931 movie, “M.”
Emphasizing that outsider status, the show portrays Lorre as a misunderstood antihero whose life reflected broad political and social tumult. Born in 1904 in what is now Slovakia, Lorre, who was Jewish, had a promising early career in Germany working with Bertolt Brecht and Fritz Lang, but fled Nazi Germany for London and eventually Hollywood, where he was unable to escape typecasting as a sinister, usually foreign, villain. By the time of those 1950s television gigs he often seemed a caricature of himself. He died in 1964.

“Lorre is an excellent way to examine the 20th century historically,” Jack Terricloth said, “and the concerns and problems of every artist who works in the culture wars.”

We are a punk-rock band, and we play punk-rock shows, but our music couldn’t be more different,” he said. “Kids see us and think: ‘Guys in suits and makeup at a hardcore show? Come on.’ But we always have them by the third song, and then we’re something they have to accept about the punk rock scene and about the world. We’ve now entered into the great dialogue that is our culture, which is what any artist should do. I was going to say ‘any good artist,’ but any bad artist too.”

At Montclair State culture clash was part of the idea. The touring contract for “Addicted to Bad Ideas” stipulates that a presenter must make room for a mosh pit, and when fans began tossing themselves around it on the first night, Jedediah Wheeler, the executive director of the series, was at first horrified.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is dangerous,’ ” he said. “But the more I watched, the more I realized that they had tremendous physical respect for each other. It became a dance. I could not believe how beautiful it was.”

“There was a point where we could have gone really theater or gone really punk rock,” he said. “We just started touring all the time, and theater seems kind of fey, so we put the theater world aside for a good number of years.”

Now it is becoming a greater part of the band’s repertory, and he said there was more theatrical work to come. The band’s next project, he said, is a punk version of “A Prairie Home Companion.”

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