Sunday, October 3, 2010

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) at the Coolidge Corner Theater

Last week I got a chance to see the Buster Keaton classic Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) on the big screen, at the Coolidge Corner Theater (a pretty amazing Art Deco cinema) with live musical accompaniment by Peter Blanchette. It was a great experience. This was the second of a series called Sounds of Silents that the Coolidge Corner Theater is presenting with the help of several very generous sponsors. They are bringing silent films onto the big screen with live music. How cool is that? Unfortunately, I missed their first event which was the Alloy Orchestra performing with Metropolis (1927).  I really love Metropolis and was very impressed with the Alloy Orchestra when I saw them perform with Phantom of the Opera (1925) on Halloween.

I was not having the best of nights when I went to this. I had gone with a group of friends but I was in a very anti-social mood. After my friends gave me a hard time about seating (I have a weak bladder, I need an aisle seat and they weren't making things easy for me), I escaped for a breather and to go to the bathroom. The lobby was crowded and being in my anti-social mood I wanted to avoid as many people as possible so I tried sneaking into the handicapped bathroom which was away from the lobby. Unfortunately, there was a lovely old couple already occupying the bathroom and I had interrupted an older gentleman helping his wife off the toilet. I was mortified. When I closed the door and I turned around, another man (who may or may not have noticed that I interrupted the couple in said bathroom) saw me and mentioned something about there being other bathrooms downstairs (through the lobby). After a while, I realized that the man who spoke to me was the musician himself. D'oh! Another embarrassment, in a long series of embarrassments and humiliations that had plagued me that day, wasn't making this experience all it could be.

Once the film and the music started, I relaxed a bit. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) is a hilarious film with Buster Keaton at the top of his game. It would be the last film in which Keaton had full creative control. The music was superb, a complex mix of Americana and honky-tonk with everything from electric guitar to mandolin to piano to banjo (this made me think of John & Eberle!). Blanchette mixed recorded music along with live performance (all of the music he performed in one way or another). It was great to watch a silent film in it's original form but accompanied with a whole new and different type of musical style. Before the show started, Blanchette told the audience that when he composes his music for a silent film he thinks about instruments and sounds for each of the characters but he also tries to give the music a unifying theme.

I can't wait to go to future Sounds of Silents and see how other musicians interpret silent films with their music.

If you want to experience Peter Blanchette's musical interpretation of Steamboat Bill, Jr. in your very own home, he's graciously put up some clips on his YouTube channel. Check them out!


  1. I'm sorry you had such a rough time. :( At least you live where you can see silents on the big screen! "Steamboat Bill Jr" is a really funny movie - my favorite part is when Buster is trying on hats and his porkpie gets thrown into the mix! :D

  2. i'm glad you at least enjoyed the film itself, it truly is a gem. i saw it yeeeeeeears ago at yale university, i couldnt have been more then 7 or 8 years old but i remember the experience very well!

    btw, that theater is incredible!!!

  3. The sight of the Coolidge Corner brings back memories of seeing Kurosawa's High and Low there about 16 years ago. It looks better now than I remember. Steamboat Bill Jr. is a big film that's worthy of big-screen revivals today. I got to see Metropolis on a big screen with a Mighty Wurlitzer last week, and I wish opportunities like that arose more often.

  4. It does sound like you had a rough time--but seeing a silent film w/live music accompaniment is such a joy, & a good film too. The series sounds great, & thanks for the shout out!

  5. You are so lucky! I have never gotten to see a Buster Keaton movie on the big screen. And the Coolidge is an absolutely gorgeous theatre.

  6. Elizabeth - I love the hat scene, but my favorite is the storm scene. I love when Keaton is trying to walk into the wind. It's so hilarious! He was such a good physical comedian.

    Artman - Thanks! Yes that theater is really gorgeous. Next time I go, I'll take more pictures.

    John - How could I not be cheered up by some Keaton funny?

    Kid - Thanks!

    Mercurie - You need to come up to Boston! I will take you to all the great repertory houses.


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