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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

PIANO MAN

Yesterday, Nephew and I caught that Buster Keaton double-feature at the Film Forum in New York (where Nephew is studying filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts). The movies screened were two fine silent comedies, "Spite Marriage" and "The Cameraman." There was live piano accompaniment on the latter film.

I must admit that I was a little nervous when, prior to the film, it was announced (via a slide) that the music would be an original composition by the pianist, Steve Sterner. I was worried that whoever this person was, he might not do it right. In this realm, I had been mildly burned once, and a good friend was seriously burned another time.

Back when VHS was still a novelty, a version of the silent 1925 "Phantom of the Opera" starring Lon Chaney was released with an introduction by Christopher Lee and a new score by Rick Wakeman. Brother Brinie and I thought this would be awesome, man. But Wakeman's score utilized modern sound effects that conflicted with the period film; did not particularly match the action; and even added vocals at inappropriate intervals! Me 'n' Brinie bailed after about a half-hour.

Another time, my buddy Flagstaff Hippie went to see a silent classic with live musical accompaniment by a band. (Since I wasn't there, and I can only go by Flagstaff Hippie's report, I won't share the title of the film or the band's name.) In theory, it had sounded real cool to me. As a band guy, I imagined how cool the challenge of "scoring" a silent classic would be ... to coach my guys to capture the emotions and punctuate the action. But Flagstaff Hippie said the band just played its songs, with no attempt to actually augment the film. What's worse, he said, the audience was spiked with the band's fans. So really, this wasn't a screening of a film accompanied by a band; it was the band's show, with a silent movie playing in the background. If you were there to see the movie, and not the band, you were out of luck. Flagstaff Hippie was furious.

But in the case of yesterday's Film Forum screening, I had nothing to worry about. Yes, this was an original composition, but it sounded like it could have been written in 1926. Pianist Sterner obviously studied every minute of the film; he really helped to tell the story. It was like a collaboration with Buster! While playing, Sterner never took his eyes off the screen. It was glorious. In fact, I have to say that of all the entertainment events I have attended in my life, this screening ranked up there with the greatest. That includes the 1983 ARMS show with Clapton, Page, Beck, et. al.; front row at the Rolling Stones; and "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway in 1972.

I'm happy to report that Sterner received a rousing ovation after his performance with many shouts of "Bravo!" But he pointed to the screen as if to say, "I'm only the piano player -- THAT was Buster Keaton."

3 Comments:

Anonymous Sue Frankel said...

Hi Mark-
I don't know if Mike remembers, but we saw Steve Sterner on several occasions at Film Forum, mostly accompanying Lon Chaney films. The man is a genius and I have not encountered anything like him, anywhere, since. Boy, do I miss Film Forum. So glad you got to have such an awesome experience!
Love,
Sue Frankel

6:01 PM, October 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Voger,
I believe you left out one great performance. The Who in 1975 (I think the year is correct). A group that was somewhat successful in putting their music to movies.

Love,
"The guy who saw JC Superstar with you in 1972"

12:20 PM, October 17, 2006  
Anonymous Voger said...

"The guy who saw 'Jesus Christ Superstar' with me in 1972"? Is that YOU, Uncle Al?

10:52 PM, October 19, 2006  

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