Tuesday night I hopped over to the Dal Architecture Building to catch Sageev Oore improvising music to a showing of Charlie Chaplin movies. Figuring on a wait (I like to arrive at venues in plenty of time for a broad range of seating choice), I brought along with my notebook a copy of the current New Yorker. In it, the always puckish film critic, Anthony Lane, reviewed the latest Pirates of the Caribbean. Lane posited the notion that Johnny Depp "knowing he would never cut it as a strapping roustabout" came up with Jack Sparrow as the effeminate leading man. Lane continued. "At the birth of the breed, unsurprisingly, lies Chaplin, with his simpers, his balletic borrowings, and his bustling, wide-kneed run."
Oore, ably paired up with Montreal viola player Jean Rene (in town to play with bassist/composer/singer Pierre Cartier performing his Chansons de la belle esperance Wednesday in the Jazz Tent), ran two Chaplin films. The first, KID AUTO RACE AT VENICE (California), was a 5-minute concept film in which Chaplin tried out his newly minted little tramp character and costume. Simple idea. Chaplin tries to get himself in the picture as an on-screen camera crew films soap-box derby racers. Madly inventive. The near capacity crowd screamed with laughter.
But it was the running of Chaplin's 5-star feature length classic, City Lights, that Lane's reference of the effeminate leading man archetype originating with Chaplin proved bing on. Take, for example, take this scene. Here's the situation. The little tramp wants to raise some quick cash to fund an opertation to restore the eyesight of a poor flower-seller he has befriended. He connives with a boxer he becomes hooked up with to fix a prize fight between them; afterward to split the purse fifty-fifty. Unbelievably a telegram (ancient text-messaging precursor) arrives at the boxing arena's locker room just moments before their bout. The little tramp's co-conspirator is warned to flee as the cops, hot on his trail, are about to swoop in to capture him. The fighter splits. Taking his place is a ferocious bruiser who turns down the little tramp's fight fix scheme. Shaken, the little tramp then goes into an astonishing sequence of coquettish moves directed at the bruiser: fluttering his eyelashes, rolling his narrow shoulders seductively, flashing shameless come-hither looks. Into the scene is carried a cold-cocked fighter who is then laid out limply on the locker room's training table. Panic sets in. The little tramp then unleashes his full arsenal of brazen come-ons. Perturbed, the bruiser begins to doff his shirt, shooting Chaplin worried and puzzled glances. This only encourages more blatant mincings from the tramp. Alarmed, the bruiser steps into a changing stall and briskly draws a curtain to hide behind as he removes his trousers. Maybe you are aware of, maybe not, that Chaplin, personally, was a notoriously priapic Hollywood womanizer. Meaning this scene, this invention of his of the effeminate hero was both fearless, daring and even today, 75 years after City Lights' release, surprisingly fresh.
Oore and Rene, prior to their wonderful improv accompliment performance, had had no rehearsal. Indeed, no musical preconceptions whatsoever. Oore had chosen the films an hour before screening them. "The only discussion we had, " he said later, " was, should we start playing before the movie or wait till it starts?" Answer. They began shortly before City Lights ran. So skilfully did they integrate the music into the viewing experience that an audience member commented that she had not noticed the music until, at one break from playing during the film, she suddenly was aware of it missing.
Caught "alt-folk spoken word artist" Tanya Davis performing "weavings of lyric and narrative through the bold unpredictable beauty of jazz off the cuff". Passably acquitting herself alternatively on acoustic and electric bass guitars, Davis charmed and entertained an afternoon crowd with her self -referential, confessional style poetry. Her band, Chris Pope on electric guitar, Jason Burns on drums and Don Brownrigg on electric piano, provided somewhat ambient modal two-chord patterns as a sonic bed for Davis' verbal offerings.
Describing herself as "an open book person", she mischievously recited scenes of her life as a somewhat unsublte person whose openess "sometimes gets me into trouble. But I kind of like it."
"Is art a path worth following?" she mused in one poem intro, alluding to moments of doubt. Conclusion? Yes. And, buoyed by that, she followed her friend Art. Unfortunately drummer Burns missed providing the requisite rim shot.
I found her material a mite too self-focused for my liking and hope she transcends this stage to allow her muse to take her more into the expansive story-telling forms in which words and music artists like Jack Kerouac, Tom Waits and Buck 65 have shone. She seems to have the talent to bust that move.
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