The late Roger Ebert once called sad-eyed Buster Keaton “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.” On Thursday night, April 18, Not So Silent Cinema – a project created by Philly/Boston composer Brendan Cooney, dedicated to presenting vintage silents with newly minted live musical accompaniment -- will put Ebert’s decree to the test, offering up four early ‘20s Keaton gems: “The High Sign,” “The Goat,” “Cops” and “One Week.”
Cooney, a founding member of the West Philadelphia Orchestra, plays piano for the evening’s screenings, joined by Andy Bergman on clarinet and Kyle Tuttle on banjo. The Not So Silent Trio’s new work for the Keaton shorts is rooted in, yes, American roots music – ragtime, old-timey blues and bluegrass, Klezmer and hot jazz.
These Keaton pieces are absolutely wonderful. In “The Goat” (1921), Buster is mistaken for Dead Shot Dan, a “highly intelligent and kindly faced murderer,” and comic mishaps ensue. In “The High Sign” (1920) he plays a truly conflicted dude – a drifter hired to operate an amusement park shooting gallery who then gets recruited to both protect a businessman and kill him. The opening inter-title sums up the existential dilemma: “Our Hero came from Nowhere -- he wasn’t going Anywhere and got kicked off Somewhere.”
In “Cops” (1922), our sad sack hero is mistaken for a bomb-slinging anarchist, pursued by the entire police force. And in “One Week” (1920) -- the film that launched the Great Stone Face’s solo cinema career – he and his new bride (the beautiful Sybil Seely) try to assemble a prefabricated home. But Sybil’s jealous ex has renumbered the crates, making things difficult – and hysterical – in the extreme.
For info on Not So Silent Cinema’s Buster Keaton night at International House, go to: http://ihousephilly.org/events/not-so-silent-cinema-presents-buster-keaton-shorts/ or http://www.notsosilentcinema.com/