BRATTLEBORO >> Local composer, musician, woodworker, and activist Dan DeWalt teamed up with Latchis Arts to create a new score for an old film. On Thursday, DeWalt will perform live his new soundtrack on the Latchis' acoustic piano in accompaniment with a screening of Charlie Chaplin's last silent film in 1936, "Modern Times," How apropos. As a self-described activist, DeWalt was amazed at how the film, as a social commentary on human survival from 80 years ago, is still relevant today, noting the anxieties of the '30s are not much different today with concerns about child welfare, violence, police brutality, unrelenting factory work, and poverty. Though dark topics to base a screenplay on, Chaplin manages to pull it off with his usual flare for great, whacky humor and symbolism.
"Modern Times" was chosen as one of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films of All-Time (No. 78), From the opening scene of sheep jammed together as they proceed forward, symbolically transposing into factory workers pouring out of a subway entrance to head for work, to the factory scene where Chaplin runs into one mishap after another to keep up with the automation, to the final scene of Chaplin and his homeless girlfriend optimistically walking off into the sunset together, "Modern Times" is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Chaplin's slapstick humor pokes fun at industrialized America at a time when unemployment was high. For DeWalt the movie was wow! He said that he liked to compose and to work on free improvisation, and he appreciated Chaplin's sense of timing.
DeWalt's compositions are a reflection of that wow! He replaced Chaplin's original score that remained emotionally uniform throughout the film with his own that is derived from his emotional response to the scenes. DeWalt's taste in musical styles ranges from African diaspora: jazz, Afro-Cuban, calypso/reggae and various other styles of African music to name a few, so his score to "Modern Times' cannot be defined as any single genre. A press release described the music as: A combination of composition and improvisation. It may be "jazzy," "dissonant," "impressionistic" or heavily rhythmic at times, but it cannot be categorized as any particular type of musical score. It simply is what it is."
DeWalt simply said he had super fun composing it.
He did include the scene "Titina" when Chaplin sings and his voice is heard for the first – and only – time in the "Little Tramp" series, an immensely funny scene where he forgets the words to the songs to the delight of the audience.
Already presented at Williamsville Hall as a benefit, the film screening with DeWalt's live piano acoompaniment went over well and he said he had a ton of fun.
A multi-instrument musician, DeWalt currently plays in various bands in the region, locally he works with Simba, Creacion Latin Big Band, and in various musical theater productions in southern Vermont. He is also a member of the Rock River Artists.
Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" accompanied with a live performance by DeWalt will take place 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Latchis Theatre, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. Admission is by donation.
For more information, visit latchisarts.org.
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.