Northampton Press

Sunday, August 25, 2019
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBuster Keaton, “The General,” accompanied by the Allentown Band, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17, Miller Symphony Hall. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBuster Keaton, “The General,” accompanied by the Allentown Band, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17, Miller Symphony Hall.

Allentown Band is all on board for Buster Keaton classic

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

The Allentown Band is on board to perform a live soundtrack for the 1926 Buster Keaton silent film, “The General,” to be shown on the big screen, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

“I’m using Civil War music whenever I can,” says Allentown Band Conductor Ron Demkee, “but also the kind of background music that fits the action onscreen. There are obvious chase scenes.”

“The General,” a comedy-action-adventure film based on a true story that happened during the United States Civil War, was adapted from the memoir, ”The Great Locomotive Chase,” by William Pittenger, and stars Marion Mack (Annabelle Lee) and Keaton (Johnnie Gray), who co-directed the film with Clyde Bruckman.

In the storyline, Johnnie loves his train (“The General”) and Annabelle Lee. The General is captured with Annabelle on board. It’s Johnnie to the rescue.

The film entered the public domain in 1953 because its copyright registration was not renewed in the 28th year after publication.

“The General” is regarded as one of great American films and was included in the first class of the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1989.

“I viewed the film many times,” says Demkee, who estimates he’s watched “The General” 20 to 25 times.

The approximate one-hour and seven-minute film includes a train plunging off a collapsing bridge, said to be the most expensive single-shot scene of the silent film era.

“The General,” budgeted at $750,000, was filmed in Cottage Grove, Ore. Three vintage Civil War era locomotives were purchased, including one for the train wreck.

Keaton performed dangerous physical stunts on a locomotive, including jumping from the engine to the tender to a boxcar; running on the roofs of railcars; pulling out a railroad tie lodged on a railroad track, and sitting on a coupling rod of the locomotive as it gathered steam.

Demkee chose and timed the music that the Allentown Band will perform for “The General.”

“It’s really splicing a lot of it together after many viewings. I have a lot of the recordings in my library,” says Demkee.

Last year, the Allentown Band performed music for Lon Chaney’s “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) in a Miller Symphony Hall screening.

At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Miller Symphony Hall, the Allentown Band performs a soundtrack composed by Steve Reisteter, principal clarinet, Allentown Band, for a screening of “Nosferatu” (1922), the Count Dracula film directed by F.W. Murnau.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715