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To coincide with the screening of Chaplin’s Keystone films, there is also an incredible (and free) exhibition of Chaplin merchandise and artifacts on display at the BFI Southbank. A combination of items from both the Bill Douglas Centre and the BFI’s own collection, it includes a fascinating array of original posters, toys, games and postcards. Titled ‘Chapliana’, it conveys how far Chaplin became embedded in popular culture during the 1910s and 1920s.

The prized piece in the collection is Chaplin’s original hat and cane. There are a few genuine hats and canes in existence since Chaplin used several throughout his career. This particular hat and cane is dated before 1921, the time at which Chaplin returned to England for the first time since leaving for America in 1912. Also featured is the costume worn by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role of Chaplin (1992).

The Chaplin screenings at the BFI Southbank are set to last for 6 months as all his short films from before 1921 are played in chronological order, an incredible 72 in total. Be sure to get there quick since the display is set to end on 31st August.

photos by the author

Originally published at A Year in the Dark

Citizen Kane holds the weight of cinema on its shoulders. Often cited as ‘The Greatest Film of All-Time’, the film maintains an unusual place in film history. This post attempts to outline one particular way in which the film gained its unique reputation.

The accolade in fact refers to the Sight & Sound poll taken every ten years. Kane took the top spot in 1962 and has not budged in over 40 years. In 1952 it was De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves that came out on top and at that point Kane did not even feature.

Although critics were enthusiastic about the film on its release in 1941, Kane was not a particular success with audiences. It had become partly-notorious for an attempt to suppress its release by William Randolph Hearst, the tycoon who took offence at the parallels between Kane’s life and his own. The film did however gain several major Oscar nominations alongside other key titles of the year such as How Green Was My Valley, The Little Foxes and The Maltese Falcon, claiming one win for Best Screenplay.

So something clearly changed between 1941 and 1962 for Kane to be selected as the pinnacle of all cinema. This shift can perhaps be pinpointed to post-war France where all the American films that had been prevented entry during the war suddenly flooded its screens. So its audiences were experiencing Hollywood cinema of the early 1940s in a condensed period of time, an experience that clearly had an effect on many of its young viewers. When the French magazines Cahiers du cinéma celebrated popular Hollywood cinema throughout the 1950s it was perceived as a strange affectation by other contemporary European film magazines such as Britain’s Sight & Sound.

However, when these very critics, such as Truffaut and Godard went on to spearhead the nouvelle vague in 1960, their films became praised as milestones in contemporary cinema. This therefore posed problems for Sight & Sound critics who were enamoured by the films of the nouvelle vague yet against the popular Hollywood cinema that the New Wave filmmakers celebrated.

‘The French Line’, a 1960 Sight & Sound article, took a look at the ten-best lists published by Cahiers du cinéma. They were pleased to find revered titles as Ivan the Terrible (1944), Les Quatres-Cents Coup (1959) and Wild Strawberries (1957), but were very surprised (and dismayed) to find titles such as Rio Bravo (1959), Run of the Arrow (1957), Wind Across the Everglades (1958) and Vertigo (1958). The author wrote, ‘One’s first reaction might be to conclude that these men must be very foolish’ [1] but based on the evidence of their films found it was hard for the writer to accept Resnais, Truffaut, Chabrol and Godard as fools.

Classical Hollywood cinema was therefore being reassessed in the 1960s and indeed many of our contemporary perceptions of cinema were cemented at that time. It was also a period during which the reputations of Hollywood figures were being reconstructed. For example Humphrey Bogart became a romantic cult hero for young movie fans – as reflected in Jean-Paul Belmondo’s adoration of Bogart in A Bout de Souffle – and retrospectives of Buster Keaton’s films elevated him out of the shadows as a master of cinema. Similarly Orson Welles became seen as a crucial cinematic icon.

One of the defining characteristics of Orson Welles’s cinema is a struggle for control. Indeed a great number of Welles’ films were taken out of his hands and re-edited (or chopped up), including The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady From Shanghai (1947), Othello (1952), Mr. Arkadin (1955) and Touch of Evil (1958). Then there were all those projects that never made it, either unfinished or doomed from the start, such as It’s All True (circa 1943), Don Quixote (circa 1955) and The Other Side of the Wind (circa 1972). [2]

In Welles’ persistence to make films in the face of resistance from studios and financiers he became an inspirational hero for filmmakers and cinephiles, his cinema ingrained with a message of never giving up for cinema’s cause.

Critics and cinephiles believed Welles to have been greatly misunderstood and mistreated by a Hollywood who could not see the brilliance in his work that was so clear to them. Welles’ tragic fall from grace and his role as an underdog against the system only heightened adoration for him. He became seen as a neglected ‘genius’ whose opportunity to flourish had been crushed by a system so clearly against originality.  And it was Citizen Kane that defined this tragedy, becoming the iconic film that represented much more than the film itself.

The Sight & Sound poll reflects this shift and in 1962 we find the point at which Citizen Kane cemented an extraordinary reputation.

 

Notes

[1] Richard Roud, ‘The French Line’, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1960 p.167.

[2] For more information on this see the illuminating documentary The Lost Films of Orson Welles (Germany/France/Sweden, dir: Vassili Silovic, 1995) which includes many clips from both unfinished films and curiosities.

The Auditorian (photograph by Gill Allen)   

Wilton’s Auditorium (photograph by Gill Allen)

If you know where to look in London, you can find some astonishing places. Winding through the backstreets of the East End you may come across a faded building, its front scuffed and peeling, more reminiscent of a Venetian side-street than a London alley.

It’s humility hides the fact that this door is a portal into Victorian London. Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest surviving music hall in the world and to step through the door is to immerse yourself in Victorian entertainment culture. Opened in 1859, it held a crowd of 1500 at its busiest, and featured music hall stars of the day such as Champagne Charlie. The auditorium is now faded, with its scuffed walls and balcony suggesting a grander past. But in many ways this is a far more vivid representation of what it once was than if it were superficially gilded and restored.

The current show playing there, Wink the Other Eye (until 16th August 2008), is a great introduction into music hall culture. Hosted by the ebullient John Wilton himself, you are led through an evening’s entertainment that features songs, comedy and drama in the old music hall style. Played out by the stars of the day, such as Dan Leno and George Formby, Sr., it is essentially a night out at the music hall combined with a strong sense of history. Taking you through the decade in one evening, it demonstrates how the music hall was affected by emerging technologies (electricity), new trends (moving pictures) and world events (The Great War). Not forgetting a reference to a young Charlie Chaplin, the show is highly recommend it if you can catch it in time.

A true study of the cinema is to look closely at other traditions, histories and cultures. The music hall was central to the development of areas such as the star system and film comedy, and filmgoing culture came out of the tradition of visiting the music hall. If you want to get a far deeper understanding of film, investigate other avenues. Graces Alley, London, is a perfect place to start.

Have you ever wondered how Hollywood studios made so many movies and you never saw the same set twice? Well it’s just a case of looking closely. Check out this scene from All Through the Night, produced by Warner Bros. and featuring Humphrey Bogart. It was release on 2nd December 1941.

Now compare the set to another film starring Humphrey Bogart, this time released only a couple of months earlier on 18th October 1941. Also produced by Warner Bros. and again starring Humphrey Bogart, a little film known as The Maltese Falcon.

Same lift, same hallway, same room. You’re going to have to do more than move the furniture around to fool me…

If you know of any other examples of this, drop me a line at classicfilmshow@gmail.com.


This is a real treat for fans of Chaplin and silent cinema more widely. All of Chaplin’s 35 films from his work at Keystone during 1914 have been reconstructed and restored by the British Film Institute and the Cineteca di Bologna. They will all be screened at the BFI Southbank in London during August and September. 

In the past these films have been branded as ‘primitive’, but in many cases the severely degraded quality of the prints worked against a proper appreciation of these early titles. The incredible popularity of these titles, as well as their lack of copyright, resulted in a heavy duplication and deterioration of the prints. In many cases the films were chopped into a variety of alternative versions with different titles which then went on to circulate for decades. This made the job of restoring and reconstructing these titles a particular challenge. Indeed the Keystone films are the last of Chaplin’s shorts to have been restored by the British Film Institute, following on from the Essanay and Mutual restorations.

Keystone was known for its breakneck comedies featuring quick thrills and chaotic chases, and in many ways these titles live up to that reputation. But the Charlie you see here is not the sensitive soul found in his later feature films. Here is character is rude, abrasive and violent while his virtuoso performances are wild, thrilling and unexpected. Chaplin’s performance style is unique to him: he manages to be many things at once. Not only does his dandyish gestures contradict the state of his clothes, but his body can often belie his face and vice-versa.

I was lucky enough to preview some of these restorations at the Charlie Chaplin Conference in 2005 and indeed they were revelatory. I will be attending every screening myself over the next two months (I will probably be the one taking notes) as a way of re-aquainting myself with these films.

Not only do you get to watch the glorious Chaplin himself as vivid as ever on-screen, you get to witness his early development as performer and director. You also get to see a slice of American cinema history that instantly poses several overlapping questions: what was popular American cinema like in 1914? What were films by independent studios such as Keystone like? What was the studio brand and how do they differ from the films of the larger studios that would emerge just after the war? Why were these films, and more importantly Chaplin himself, so popular? How far were these films and Chaplin’s performances performed by the British music hall from which he came?

The still above from A Film Johnnie offers a glimpse of movie posters outside a cinema in 1914. Interestingly they feature films from the studios Keystone, Essanay (a Bronco Billy title) and Mutual, the three studios that Chaplin himself would work at between 1914 and 1917.

Book below with the full schedule for August. The September schedule will follow.

 

Early Chaplin: Programme 1

  • Sat 9 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 13 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Ninety minutes of early Chaplin, including his Keystone debut.

Early Chaplin: Programme 2

  • Sat 16 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 20 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

A programme of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone shorts.

Early Chaplin: Programme 3

  • Sat 23 Aug 16:10 NFT2 
  • Tue 26 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Our third programme of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films.

Early Chaplin: Programme 4

  • Thu 28 Aug 18:20 NFT2 
  • Sat 30 Aug 16:00 NFT2 

Our fourth programme of the Keystone movies of 1914.

The internet often feels like an uncontrollable mass of information that is both impossible to navigate and difficult to justify. But amidst that constant junk-stream lie glittering collections that would remain otherwise unavailable. I wanted to point you towards an audio resource that not only encompasses film, radio and entertainment history, but is also incredibly funny: the Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis radio shows.

Podcaster Brian Noe is doing a great job of putting together the entire collection for listeners, making the episodes accessible to us and providing continuity and context between the episodes. Not satisfied with producing the all-encompassing The Frank Truth Sinatra podcast, here Noe provides us with regular installments that give us an authentic old-time radio listening experience that takes us back to 1949, the year when the series began.

Some would argue that the many films of Martin & Lewis often struggled to capture the chemistry that made them successful. It would seem as though it was the radio shows that captured that raw, sparkling interplay between the two. The inclusion of a live audience is key: Dean and Jerry would thrive in playing off the audience – and you can hear their response – an element naturally lacking in their features. There is a great vaudevillian spirit to these shows, with loosely-scripted exchanges driven by a ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ mentality. When it sounds under-rehearsed it only makes it more refreshing.

But not only do you get the interplay and the great lines—

Jerry: I have a system I used one time when I was trying to find Errol Flynn.
Dean: Oh yeah, what did you do?
Jerry: Well I just said, ‘Now if I were Errol Flynn, where would I go?’
And I went there.
Dean: Well Jerry, did you find him?
Jerry: No, but I sure had fun.

—you also get guest appearances by great stars and character actors of the day: Lucille Ball, Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, John Garfield, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Billie Burke, George Raft and Bing Crosby. On top of that each episode features songs performed in Dean Martin’s uniquely exquisite style.

Get subscribed, via iTunes or via RSS/XML.

Turn on TCM right now! For the entire month of August, Turner Classic Movies (U.S.) hosts its annual Summer Under the Stars festival.  Summer Under the Stars is a month long event that celebrates the most legendary names in film by dedicating 24-hours each to their films, meaning at least 12 of their films each day in August. Days are dedicated to stars such as Claude Rains, Greta Garbo, Richard Widmark, Peter Lorre, Kim Novak, Fred Astaire, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyk, Spencer Tracey and even Marie Dressler. And that’s just for starters. Perhaps the most imaginative, ambitious and exciting classic film programming possible, this is a massive slice of Hollywood history in a single month, containing very rare films. The volume of it makes it a classic film lover’s dream but also pretty much impossible to record all of them! Charlie Chaplin is on today! A great selection of shorts followed by every single feature film he made. You could be a Chaplin expert in a mere 24 hours. Stop reading this now. Go, go, go!

Charlie Chaplin, August 2

6:00am             The Knockout
6:30am             The Rounders
6:45am             A Dog’s Life
7:30am             Shoulder Arms
8:15am             Sunnyside
8:45am             A Day’s Pleasure
9:15am             The Kid
10:15am           The Idle Class
11:00am           Pay Day
11:30am           The Pilgrim
12:15pm           A Woman of Paris
1:45pm             The Gold Rush
3:00pm             The Circus
4:15pm             City Lights
5:45pm             Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin
8:00pm             Modern Times
9:30pm             The Great Dictator
11:45pm           Monsieur Verdoux
2:00am             Limelight
4:15am             A King In New York

Find more info about the Summer Under the Stars season.

Contact Me

Christian Hayes
classicfilmshow@gmail.com
christianhayes.net
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