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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Barnhart goes to the movies @ St Augustine's, Darlington - September 15

Jeff Barnhart (piano, vocals); Buster Keaton (star of the silent screen)
(Review by Russell) 
Jeff Barnhart made a quick return to St Augustine's to present his Silent Comedy Film Festival show. The American's introductory remarks made it abundantly clear that not only is the American piano virtuoso a fan of the silent movie era comedic greats - Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton et al - he is something of an authority on the subject.

Barnhart's sole piano-vocal number Take your girl to the movies if you can't make love at home (comp. Bert Kalmar/Edgar Leslie, 1919) opened proceedings in the Larchfield Street Parish Centre to yet another large, enthusiastic crowd. The American insisted that from this point he would adopt a subservient role, the on-screen action, principally Buster Keaton's filmmaking genius, taking centre stage. 


Joseph M. Schenck presents 'Buster' Keaton in 'The Scarecrow'. Released exclusively through Metro Pictures Corporation.

All eyes turned to the screen suspended high above the stage. As the action unfolded, Barnhart, positioned to one side, fixed his eyes on the 1919 black and white short film (25 mins). For the most part, his piano accompaniment took the form of syncopated ragtime improvisations with dramatic/melodramatic flourishes keeping pace with Keaton's on-screen antics.

Barnhart is no stranger to this kind of entertainment. He has presented his Silent Comedy Film Festival show coast-to-coast in America and, would you believe, Rwanda?! As film critic Barry Norman was fond of saying...And why not? 

The all-Keaton presentation continued with One Week, a 1920 two-reeler (19 mins) with Keaton directing and co-editing the story of a hapless newly wed's attempt to assemble a self-build white picket fence dream home. One audience member, later to reveal he was a joiner, quipped: It's like one of my jobs!

The second set comprised one film (56 mins) from 1924. At the conclusion of Sherlock Jr. (dir. Keaton) Barnhart suggested the star of the film wasn't Keaton but rather his four-legged 'co-star' named Lucky, whose owner was one Fatty Arbuckle. 

Barnhart's earlier assertion that he would take second billing to Keaton didn't quite hold true as his virtuosic piano playing frequently drew the eye of the viewer/listener to the keyboard. In addition to the ragtime soundtrack the American couldn't resist a few bars from familiar numbers including We're in the Money (itself from a movie - Gold Diggers of 1933) and Jingle Bells. As the curtain fell (metaphorically, at least) Barnhart graciously took a few questions from the floor and, sure enough, the informed American answered at length and with no little enthusiasm for his subject, Buster Keaton.               


Russell.

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