YORK composer, pianist, busker, tutor and Buster Keaton aficionado Kieran White will be Breaking The Silents at Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1.
Accompanied by White’s expressive, playful, gag-driven piano score, the Stoneface silent classic Steamboat Bill, Jr, will be shown at 7.30pm “as it was originally intended to be seen in an authentic re-creation of the early cinema experience in the picture houses of the 1920s”.
Let Kieran make his case for why someone would want to see a black-and white, silent 1928 Buster Keaton film in 2020, the age of endless reheated Disney classics and myriad Marvel movies.
“We live in an instant world. A world governed by consumerism and technology. What we want, we can get just by clicking a mouse. We have forgotten how to slow down. How to breathe,” he says.
“But Buster takes us back to a time when time itself was a different thing entirely. A time when moments were savoured, rather than squandered.”
From past experience of his Breaking The Silents shows, White anticipates a largely middle-aged and older audience, but he believes Keaton’s comedic elan should appeal to “anyone with a love of history, a nostalgia for days of yore and an unfettered imagination”.
“Breaking The Silents offers a wonderful evening for all the family,” he says. “A lot of belly laughs. An appreciation of Buster’s incredible athleticism and craftmanship but, most of all, a reawakening of that state of wonderment that children have but never know they have.”
The relentless pace of Keaton’s comedy on screen leaves no gap, no rest, no breath, in White’s score, but still he finds room for quickfire references to the Steptoe And Son theme music, Porridge and The Barber Of Seville.
“The joy of Steamboat Bill, Jr is the raw energy,” says Kieran. “You know that if the stunts went wrong then would be no take two.”
White’s piano has accompanied screenings of Keaton’s 1927 film The General at locations as diverse as Helmsley Arts Centre, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park and City Screen, Fairfax House and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York.
Last September, he presented a Breaking The Silents double bill of The General in the afternoon and Steamboat Bill, Jr in the evening at the JoRo. White’s labours of love had necessitated 11 days of writing for The General, a little longer for Steamboat Bill, Jr, drawing on his love of both Keaton’s comic craft and the piano.
“I was very inspired by my grandfather,” he says, explaining why piano was his instrument of choice. “He was a superb pianist and made the most complex music sound effortless.
“Ever since a very early age, I’ve been fascinated by puzzles too, particularly chess. Watching Pop play was like sitting inside a gigantic engine, seeing gears mesh, listening to the sound of tiny hammers. Music chose me!”
Where next might Breaking The Silents venture? “I think what I do is unique. Ultimately, I’d love to perform all over the world,” says Kieran.
In the meantime, here is a recommendation from York filmmaker Mark Herman, director of Brassed Off and Little Voice, to head to Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1 for the Keaton and White double act.
“Kieran White’s score and his live accompaniment raises an already almost perfect film to fresh heights,” he said after seeing The General. “It’s a shame that Buster Keaton never knew that his flawless performance could actually be enhanced.”
The next film to receive the White piano touch will be Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger. “It’s another silent but not laugh dependent!” says Kieran. Watch this space for updates on its progress to a screen near you.
Tickets cost £12, under 18s £6, on 01439 771700 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk.