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SFIFF: tUnE-yArDs Live Score For Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle Films Did Not Disappoint

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by Sean Gillane
April 27, 2012 4:04 PM
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One of the most anticipated annual events at the San Francisco International Film Festival is the live score performances held each year. While it would be hard to top last year’s Tindersticks live performance of their own Claire Denis scores, this year’s pairing of tUnE-yArDs (led by Merrill Garbus) and guitarist Ava Mendoza with a collection of Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle films did not disappoint.

The evening consisted of four classic films, including “One Week”, “Good Night, Nurse!," “The Haunted House," and “The Cook.” The musicians quickly earned confidence from the crowd during “One Week” as Garbus’s unique vocals standing in for church bells were suddenly drowned out by Mendoza’s wailing guitar, signaling a villainous force entering the frame. During the performance, the musicians faced the films, respectfully interacting with the on-screen action instead of having it play backup to their own act. Collisions, trap doors, and storms all got their appropriate musical counterpart.

There is an inventiveness to the music of tUnE-yArDs that perfectly suits the surprises and twists that the Keaton and Arbuckle films offer. The scoring typically followed a pattern of Garbus-generated vocal and percussive loops (a tUnE-yArDs staple) backed with Mendoza’s elusive guitar melodies. The rest of the band pulled their weight, filling out the sound as the films unfolded, and when actual tUnE-yArDs songs hijacked the flow. Pairing the bank robbery scene in the Keaton-starring “The Haunted House” with the song “Gangsta” might not have been the most creative combination, but for fans that attended the show with an equal interest in the band and the film legend, it helped to crystallize the spirit of the event.

Those looking for another taste of tUnE-yArDs at the festival can check out the “Made in USA” shorts program, which includes Bay Area director Mimi Cave’s music video for “Bizness.” Or you can just watch it below.

Later in the festival fans of the live music/film combo can look forward to the world premiere of director Sam Green’s new film “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” which will be accompanied by a live performance by Yo La Tengo on Tuesday, May 1st. The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 3rd.

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