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Two Silent Movie Classics with Live Piano Music for Valentine’s Day

By Fredric Dannen

The Klondike Gold Rush and the United States Civil War are, respectively, the subjects of two silent-movie masterpieces of American cinema: Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) and Buster Keaton’s The General (1926). Both films are action-adventure comedies, and both are spectacles that include large-scale action sequences with hundreds of extras. But at bottom, both movies are love stories, in which the boy, amid all the action and adventure, is really just striving to win the girl.

Silent Movies with Live Piano Accompaniment
Featuring pianist Susan Varcoe
Tue, Feb 14
Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, 4pm–6pm
Buster Keaton’s The General, 7:30pm–9pm
Bellas Artes, Hernández Macías 75, Centro
Advance tickets:
200 pesos for one movie
300 pesos for both
At the door: 250 pesos per movie
On sale at Solutions (Recreo 11)
La Conexión (Aldama 3)
Arthur Murray Dance Center (Salida a Celaya 59)
Online at

This Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, February 14, The Gold Rush and The General will be presented at the second-floor theater in the Bellas Artes, with live piano accompaniment provided by Canadian classical/ragtime pianist Susan Varcoe. The two showings—4pm to 6pm for The Gold Rush and 7:30pm to 9pm for The General—comprise February’s installment of the quasi-monthly Steinway Series, concerts featuring the Bellas Artes’ nine-foot concert grand piano. All Steinway Series events benefit Libros para Todos (,, an outreach program to inspire young people to read, with an emphasis on Mexican students in the campo.

Both movie classics will be presented in digitally restored versions with title cards in both English and Spanish. Discounted advance tickets are now on sale at Solutions (Recreo 11); La Conexión (Aldama 3); and Arthur Murray Dance Center (Salida a Celaya 59). Advance tickets for individual movies are 200 pesos, but a special ticket good for both movies can be purchased for 300 pesos. Tickets can also be purchased online at, for US$10 per movie or US$15 for both movies.

In The Gold Rush, Chaplin, in his “Tramp” persona, is a prospector in the late 1800s, who must brave a blizzard, near-starvation, and a wanted criminal named Black Larsen, in hopes of striking it rich. His morale is given a boost when he stumbles into a dance hall and meets Georgia, with whom he becomes smitten. Both touching and hilarious, The Gold Rush is the movie for which Chaplin said he wished to be remembered.

In The General, Buster Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a Georgia train engineer, whom the Confederate enlistment office rejects when the Civil War breaks out, because he is considered too valuable in his job. His fiancée, Annabelle Lee, shuns him, thinking him a coward. Johnnie enters the fray, however, when Union spies steal his train, setting off a thrilling, extended chase, for which Keaton, risking serious injury or death, performed his own stunts. A sequence in which a burning bridge collapses and a train plunges into a river was the most expensive stunt of the silent era.

Piano soloist Susan Varcoe was born and raised in Alberta, Canada. She was chief répétiteur for the Calgary Opera, a musical director for numerous theatrical productions, and chief accompanist for a modern dance company. Varcoe is an adept improviser and an outstanding ragtime pianist, two qualities that make her ideally suited to create live piano soundtracks for the two movie masterpieces being presented on February 14.


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