To jump-start Creative Alliance Movie Makers' new membership drive, the ultra-eclectic cabaret accordionist and composer Anne Watts and her group Boister will play their original score to Buster Keaton's mind-expanding silent comedy "Steamboat Bill, Jr." tonight at 9:30 at 413 S. Conkling St.
Here are 10 reasons why this is a perfect night out for movie-lovers as well as an ideal event for a group that sponsors independent regional production on film, video or digital.
1. Buster Keaton was one of the great independent moviemakers, and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." (from 1928) was the last picture he made before relinquishing his independence and signing with MGM.
2. Keaton shot the movie in Sacramento, Calif., and placed ingenious sets in real locations with an offhand flair worthy of inspiring awe and emulation by contemporary indies.
3. Few pictures are more energizing than this often-overlooked masterpiece. In the manner of Keaton's earlier "Seven Chances," it starts as a bizarre yet modest farce about the vain attempts of a collegiate son (Keaton) to bond with his river-tramp dad (Ernest Torrence) and builds into a surreal epic that induces euphoria.
4. It demonstrates how Keaton, as star and as director, united comedy and moviemaking. The setup beautifully exploits his peculiar ravaged dignity, and the performances, images and cutting coalesce to form the filmmaking equivalent of a droll delivery. Keaton's compositions are as charged and formal as old comic-book panels; his angular poses complete them like stylized punctuation marks - and detonate the gags.
5. Unlike most of today's comedy hit-makers, Keaton doesn't push anything. He trusts the integrity of even his slightest jokes, while enlarging the frenzy in a climactic cyclone sequence to apocalyptic proportions. The escalating frenzy feels inevitable: It's an astounding set of variations on Keaton emerging unscathed from every sort of door, window or opening as buildings blow away or slide around him or collapse on top of him.
6. Keaton's ability to translate physical humor into the graphic art of the movies inspired comic-book draftsmen and makers of comic-book movies (such as Richard Lester in "Superman II" and "Superman III"), as well as avant-gardists like Luis Bunuel, who adored the way this singular man expressed his being through moviemaking. He wasn't only an independent moviemaker; he was also a personal moviemaker nonpareil.
7. Creative Alliance Movie Makers are presenting "Steamboat Bill, Jr." with a live original score by Anne Watts and Boister. Those who have never seen a silent flick with flesh-and-blood musical accompaniment will be astonished at how viscerally immediate and full of implied sounds a non-talking picture can be.
8. Watts and Boister wisely don't compete with Keaton for your attention. Their score, which quotes everything from "Stormy Weather" to "We Are the Champions," rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the reluctant hero's adventures.
9. "Steamboat Bill, Jr." inspired Walt Disney's first Mickey Mouse cartoon with sound, "Steamboat Willie"; "Mickey Mouse music" swiftly became the term for scores that mechanically echoed every bit of action on the screen. Luckily, there's nothing Mickey Mouse about Watts and Boister's music. Their segues from ambling pastoral themes to percolating urban riffs underline the Oedipal conflicts of a Boston-bred son and a barnacled Big River-riding dad.
10. With the right bohemian yet unpretentious crowd, seeing "Steamboat Bill, Jr." can bring back what James Agee eulogized as the lusty innocence of silent movie-going: "the laughter of unrespectable people having a hell of a fine time, laughter as violent and steady and deafening as standing under a waterfall."
The membership kick-off program begins at 8 p.m.; "Steamboat Bill, Jr." follows at 9:30. Tickets cost $10 for the public, and $5 for Creative Alliance members; the program is free for new members.
Also this weekend:
The Luzhin Defence," about a chess master preparing for his big match while also perhaps falling in love, is this weekend's Cinema Sundays offering at the Charles. Chess master Troy Roberts will discuss the film. Doors open at 9:45 a.m.; the film begins at 10:30. Admission is $15.
For information: 410-727-3464 or www.cinemasundays.com.
A selection of at least six short films by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, a legend in local underground film circles, is scheduled for 9 p.m. Sunday at the Charles. The selection includes "Diszey Spots" and "Funny Farm Summit Meeting."
Riders," a big hit at the Maryland Film Festival, will play Easton's Avalon Theatre Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Director Doug Sadler, who grew up in Easton and shot much of the film there, will be on hand. Ticket information: 410-820-0779.