Posts tagged ‘Charlie chaplin’

Sound and Vision: Charlie Chaplin and the Sound of Silence

First things first: this post is in conjunction with the Park Circus Charlie Chaplin Blogathon … for which I am shamefully late. The blogathon wrapped two days ago, but I absolutely HAD to contribute. Park Circus does amazing work: a UK-based organization dedicated to bringing classic films back to their home on the big screen. Not being a part of their Chaplin blogathon would be unforgivable!

So. That being said…

I thought it would be fun to explore Chaplin’s fascinating love/hate relationship with a little thing called … sound. Chaplin may have been the one filmmaker to hold out the longest against sound, but he also happened to be one of the earliest filmmakers to embrace it. A fitting contradiction given Chaplin was a man of so many contradictions. Read more ►

My Somewhat Neurotic Relationship with Buster Keaton Movies and Why They Make Me OK with Being Me.

Image ©2011 ~TheBalloonMan

So here we are, day one of Project Keaton. Submissions are pouring in and The Pictorial is buzzing with excitement. The Project’s Tumblr and Facebook pages are up and running and … this is gonna be awesome, guys.

So for the first official Project Keaton post, I’m going to be a total prima-donna and grab the mic for a minute and reflect back on why the heck Keaton matters very much to me in the first place.

But I’m gonna leave the sociological and academic analysis of his films and their seismic influence on the framework of modern cinema to the Leonard Maltins and the David Thomsons out there, and instead, simply confess that the reason I love Keaton is because of something he excelled so very much in:


Now, as you all know, I am a massive Charlie Chaplin fan. MASSIVE. In many ways, Charlie is the love of my life. I was 10 years old when I fell in love with Charlie. A wondrous, marvelous, romantic age to discover anything.

I was 14 when I saw my first Buster Keaton film.

Being 14 sucks. In fact… few things suck more than being 14. (Except, maybe, 15.)

Which is why Sherlock Jr. absolutely rocked my world when I first saw it flicker on the old movie channel one random weekend. If anyone’s life sucked more than mine, it was Buster’s. That sweetly honest stone face that just couldn’t catch a break. The woman in his life was weak, his boss was a jerk, his future prospects were dim, he’s painfully awkward and the only ray of sunshine in his life involved celluloid fantasies.

Yeah. I knew that guy.

Here I am at the cusp of 30 and I realize that I will always know this guy. And when chaos consumes, and all I have to keep my sanity is my sense of humor, there is nothing more therapeutic than a Keaton film. That’s when I switch on Steamboat Bill Jr to watch Buster battle hurricanes, or Seven Chances to watch him dodge a gang of pissed off jilted brides, or The Cameraman to watch him fight urban turf wars.

It’s absurd.

But so is life.

Buster knows it. His films get it. And, in so many ways, he is all of us. Buster doesn‘t always get the girl, beat the bad guy or ride off into the sunset… and somehow, it’s still OK. Which is why 116 years after he was born, we’re still so deeply affected by his work. And only one of the countless reasons the Pictorial is championing that deeply human comedy of his in our month-long celebration of all things Keaton.

Thanks, Buster, for always keepin’ it real.

The 21st Century REALLY needs you.

And so do 14 year olds.

*puts down mic, disembarks soapbox, and lets the festivities begin*

Charlie Chaplin's Studio: Then And Now

Charlie Chaplin, 1918. Autochrome photograph taken outside his as-yet-unfinished Studio on La Brea Avenue, Hollywood. I live exactly three blocks north from that studio's edge. The red brick of his studio, the deep blue of the sky and the quiet slope of the Hollywood hills remain exactly today as they were then ... oh how cruel time can be.

Every morning I pass Charlie Chaplin’s studio. And I hate myself for letting it have become routine. When I first moved to Hollywood five years ago, it was reverent Holy Ground. And, oh, it still is! When I remember it’s there, that is. Rushing to work with a head full of figures and deadlines succeeded in, momentarily, dulling its wonder.

Well. Penance is being paid for such disrespect.

These Autochrome photographs were taken during the construction of Charlie’s studio empire. The studio is still there, fully functional and quite unchanged these past 85 years since its dedication.

In a city where history is so easily and readily disposable, it is quite a testament indeed that the Tramp has so truly triumphed against time.

Chaplin on his studio backlot, 1918. Deep in production for A DOG'S LIFE .

Charlie on the backlot, in costume for A DOG'S LIFE-- the precursor to his groundbreaking classic THE KID.

Terrific autochorome shot of Charlie out front of the studio steps.

The Jim Henson Company is the reverent tenant occupying the Chaplin Studio today. Pictured here: Their absolutely charming homage: Kermit the Frog as the Little Tramp

The Chaplin Studio-front, 1922

Kermit the Tramp -- the Chaplin Studios today.

Looking north on La Brea Ave, 1918

Looking north on La Brea Avenue... 21st Century.

Charlie had a swimming pool at the north end of his studio. Here he is smiling (far left) while his moviestar best friend Douglas Fairbanks takes a dip. What's depressing about this shot is that the pool is now a parking lot for a Ross Dress for Less.


Harold Lloyd's Safety Last and the Triumph of Silent Film

The Orpheum Marquee: Harold Lloyd ... Robert Israel ... and Hugh Hefner. Only in L.A. ;)

Wow. So the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory tend to have the same thing in common: silence. First with the TCM Festival’s triumphant screening of Buster Keaton‘s The Cameraman in April. And now two months later, with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s closing night film of their 25th Annual “Last Remaining Seats” series, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last.

For the uninitiated, the “Last Remaining Seats” series is a fantastic event each summer in which the Los Angeles Conservancy, LA’s foremost historical preservation society, opens the doors of Downtown LA’s movie palaces to the general public with a series of classic film screenings. It is an extraordinary event and its evergreen– indeed, ever growing– popularity is a true testament to the fact that audiences will always love the old-fashioned joy of a night at the movies. Because “Last Remaining Seats” is all about old-fashioned joy. These palaces were built as veritable escape portals for the masses– with their gilded halls and plush velour, where even the grimiest working Joe could, for an hour or so, feel like royalty.

And boy, did we ever feel like that tonight!

The majestic Orpheum interior

Having missed last year’s schedule completely, I was not about to miss this– even a lingering cold did not foil my plans! Tonight’s screening was greeted to an enthusiastic crowd– a large majority of which had never seen a silent feature film before in their life.  I know because renowned silent film composer Robert Israel, providing the night’s accompaniment, asked for applause from any silent film first-timers– the applause was rather verbose.

Keaton’s charming short Cops was the appetizer, followed up by crowd-pleasing pre-show in the spirit of Sid Grauman‘s famous prologues of the ’20s. The Cicada Club is a downtown Los Angeles world unto it’s own: a tangible time glitch where dames in fringe dresses and faux fur with fellas in tailored tuxes and top hats put on the ritz every Sunday night to the vintage croons of Ben Halpern and orchestral swing of Dean Moira. The Cicada set may have its cliques (vintage purists who happen to wear blue jeans, like me, don’t exactly fit)  but oh can they put on a show! The club’s proprietor Maxwell DeMille presided over the high-spirited prologue which included a hot Charleston number and some delightful standards, from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “California Here I Come!”

Film historian John Bengtson‘s recent book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd is the third in a series of books that are, truly, cinematic archaeology: meticulously unearthing the filming locations of the great silent comedians to create a detailed composite of a city on the come. It was fitting that he took the stage with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, to introduce the film, it’s Los Angeles-centric importance, and the movie-like backstory that surrounded it’s production. (Lloyd married his leading lady just before the picture wrapped.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen Safety Last many a time and have always liked it and admired Lloyd’s physical prowess. But I have always preferred Lloyd’s Girl Shy and The Freshman (with their respective Robert Israel scores, of course) and, while I appreciate the film’s significance, it was never a favorite.

Well, scratch that last.

This film was made for the big screen in every possible sense. The audience literally screamed with both laughter and fright, a deliriously thin line, at Lloyd’s aerial antics– the ferociousness of which simply cannot be truly appreciated on the confines of a television screen. Safety Last is, first and foremost, a MOVIE: intended to be projected on a 20 foot screen and was made for those towering dimensions.

My palms were sweating and fingernails were bitten– even though the outcome was as plain on the nose on my face. It was simply … magic.

The audience’s verbal reaction only intensified the experience. Even when paying 20 smackers for the latest 3D extravaganza, it is very very rare to have an audience so intimately, totally, completely immersed with the film. Ever move Harold made, every slip of the foot, even the most blatantly obvious of set pieces, elicited a gut reaction. Ooohs, Aaaah, Nooos and Eeeeks screamed from the balcony and orchestra seats.

We. Were. His.

And I wonder what it all means. In this unappreciative era of instant information and unearned entitlement, when we are so completely jaded and rarely impressed at the movies… how truly meaningful is it that a silent film, 80+ years old, without gimmicky camera trickery or CGI imagery can make our hearts beat right out of it’s cages and our palms sweat like no Michael Bay extravaganza could ever hope to.

The purity of silent film triumphs once again.

Harold Lloyd in Safety Last

A Walking Tour of Silent Hollywood

Excerpt from John Bengtson's "Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin"

Entertainment journalist Jonathan Melville writes for the Guardian Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Evening News and ReelScotland. That is to say, Melville is quite proudly Scottish. (brownie point#1) Recently traveling the three thousand miles from Edinburgh to Hollywood for the TCM Classic Film Festival (brownie point #2), one item at the top of his itinerary was to retrace silent film history with a walking tour of historical Hollywood (brownie point #3). And who better to lead this noble pilgrimage than the Sire of Silent Hollywood, John Bengtson.

Older, wiser, more mature cities have duly dedicated plaques memorializing places of historic import, whereas Hollywood…. well … we have John Bengtson. For much of the late 20th Century, the City of Los Angeles went out of its way to systematically raze its precious architectural heritage from existence. A fairly recent and resounding call to arms has resulted in a Civic consciousness that has taken great strides to  reverse the pattern to try and preserve what’s left. Or at least, reverse the indifferent attitude that made demolishing history so easy. Which is why  Bengtson’s books, Silent Traces and Silent Echoes, are so vital. A prodigious work of obsessive research,  Bengtson has resurrected early Hollywood with a meticulously curated collection of then-and-now shots of filming locations from the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and (coming soon) Harold Lloyd. Writer John Patterson called it a “mesmerizing lost geography of the emergent city of Los Angeles” and it is with considerable envy (of the most amiable sort) that I post Melville’s walking tour with  Bengtson.

And do be sure to check out Jonathan Melville’s blog– an insightful treat for classic and modern film fans alike.