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Common threads

Common threads


Music heightened the action and emotions in the works of an actor and a cartoonist.

May 1 & 2
Dewan Filharmonik Petronas

YOU might not make the connection, but Lat (real name is Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid) and Charlie Chaplin do have much in common. Granted, both employ different mediums, but they essentially employed humour to highlight and comment on the social issues of their times.

A gulf of time and milieu separate the great American silent movie actor from our very own cartoonist, but there is no denying how both use their respective art forms to question and create awareness of issues that plague society.

Last weekend’s celebration of both Lat and Chaplin at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) in Kuala Lumpur was an exercise in both entertainment and nostalgia.

Three animated vignettes from Lat, collectively titled Lat’s Window to the World, were premiered and Chaplin’s Modern Times was screened, both backed by brilliantly performed live music by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO).

Three animated vignettes by cartoonist Lat, titled Lat’s Window to the World, premiered in Kuala Lumpur on May 3, backed by live music by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

While the Chaplin movie featured its original music, including the famous Smile later made popular by singers like Nat King Cole, Petula Clark and Barbra Streisand, the music for the Lat animations was composed by Carl Davis, who also conducted the orchestra.

The 1936 Modern Times looks at the plight of the American worker at the height of the Great Depression, employing the usual Chaplin trademark of slapstick and (sometimes grim) humour to highlight social inequalities and the sheer randomness of life-changing events.

The silent movie featured the final appearance of Chaplin’s The Tramp, his lovable, never-say-die Everyman who constantly struggles to better himself regardless of the hand life deals him.

Window to the World features the cartoonist’s endearing – and enduring – Kampung Boy. For many Malaysians, much of the Kampung Boy evokes nostalgia, a harkening to a simpler, idyllic past that is uncoloured by modernity and its consuming trappings.

In the vignettes, there is less focus on the social issues that would compel later Lat’s art, but they are useful reminders that he is the oftentimes-forgotten giant of our national land- and mind-scape, who fully deserved the warm ovation that greeted him at the DFP.

Musically, the soundtracks for both Lat and Chaplin work to create mood and atmosphere, and heighten tension.

Take a bow: Carl Davis and Lat at the Dewan Philharmonic Petronas.

Davis’ creative music for the Lat animations echoes the activities of the Kampung Boy as we watch him as a child in the village, a school boy in town and the adult travelling to far-off lands.

The music admirably captures the heart of the action, complementing but never overwhelming the simplicity of the stories that recreate the Kampung Boy world which most, if not all, Malaysians can identify with.

The Modern Times soundtrack is credited to Chaplin (although there have been doubts about this) and, like all great music for movies whether silent or not, merges seamlessly into the action. It added life and spirit to the movie, driving the emotions that stir the audience to laughter, excitement and pathos.

Davis, who was last in the DFP for the orchestra-accompanied screening of Swan Lake last season, proved as considerate a conductor as he was composer for Lat’s works.

Under his guidance, the MPO was an essential but unobtrusive presence. With the audience’s eyes glued to the screen above the orchestra, the players accompanied the action with verve and style but never intruded into the tales unfolding before us.

It was, all said, fabulously entertaining. Kudos to the DFP for the courage and foresight to plan such an enticing event. I suspect many of those who filled the hall to capacity went home to hunt for their old copies of Kampung Boy and Charlie Chaplin.

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