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Dave Douglas and Fatty Arbuckle: Keystone Cop

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas has a soft spot for the abused and forgotten. Couple that with the trumpeter’s passion for innovators and creative mavericks, and perhaps it was inevitable that he was drawn to Fatty Arbuckle, one of the greatest stars of the golden age of silent film. Unfortunately, Arbuckle is mostly remembered today not for his pioneering comedies but for the scandal that destroyed his career in 1921. For Keystone, the latest CD for his now-Internet-only Greanleaf label (greenleafmusic.com), Douglas wrote and recorded scores for several early films by Arbuckle, pieces commissioned by the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, N.Y., where he premiered the work on Oct. 1.

“Aside from liking the movies, one of the things that encouraged me to do this project was to vindicate Roscoe Arbuckle,” says Douglas, using the comedian’s given name instead of the appellation that the heavy actor disliked. “I think that he really ought to be considered with Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd as one of the masters of the genre. The films I’m doing are from 1915 to ’16-very early, so there’s a sense of technical exploration, where you can see them having fun making the gags and capturing them on film. There’s a guy running out of the right side of the frame and then he runs in the left side, and nobody had really done that. I love that, and it’s the way that I make music, trying to think of something new. Arbuckle’s films are not only fast-paced; he was a brilliant director in terms of getting the comic sense across in an innocent, stealthy, beautiful way. I started temping some of my music to his films, and it seemed to work right away; I was getting all kinds of musical ideas from watching the images.”

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