Despite the lovable exterior of his famous character The Tramp, Charlie Chaplin was a consummate control freak. He kept his sets closed (shades of Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas) and did much of the work himself, using only a small group of regular players and whatever actress was his current wife. Besides starring in his films, he also wrote the scripts and directed and produced them. While he would appreciate that Club Dada has made a holiday traditional of screening his 1925 film The Gold Rush, which follows The Tramp in his search for a great gold discovery and the love of a dancehall girl named Georgia, he probably wouldn't approve of how the screenings are done.
Instead of using Chaplin's original narrative and compositions, local electronic-experimental band BL Lacerta rescores the film -- as an improvised performance, no less -- as the movie unspools. "We do a brief improv introduction to the film, then we improvise the score," says Kim Corbet, who provides vocals, keyboards, and trombone for the band. "There's one intermission, and then we finish it up. By now we know the film so well, we know what's coming up. We sit behind the screen and watch it coming from the other side and play with it. We punctuate the dramatic parts such as gunfire, but mostly we just provide a backdrop for the movie like regular soundtracks do."
BL Lacerta, which also includes Bruce Richardson and Chad Evans, began the Chaplin film screenings 10 years ago, though Corbet admits they've missed a few years. Each time, the music is different, and this year they'll combine electronic drums with manipulated samples, live vocals, trombone, trumpet, keyboards, and other electronics to create a soundtrack to The Gold Rush, which contains some of the most famous Chaplin images, including scenes during which he sticks forks into dinner rolls to make dancing legs (copied by Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon) and boils one of his shoes for Thanksgiving dinner. With Chaplin's graceful steps and well-choreographed fights, the actors onscreen look as though they're involved in a comic dance rather than acting in a movie with a plot. And instead of sounding like a new soundtrack dubbed onto an old movie, BL Lacerta's music makes the scenes appear as though they were designed with the beats, drone sounds, and nonsense samples on hand. Or, in the words of Corbet: "We consider ourselves environmental amplifiers. We interpret what is going on in the space."