Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for a sneak peak at CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE

Film collector/historian extraordinaire and friend of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum was in town all last weekend, and Friday night he shared the fruits of his 6 year effort to restore the works of Charlie Chaplin in his first film contract--at Mack Sennet's Keystone studios. The DVD will come out in October, but we were the first audience to see these beautifully restored films (no more blurry, faded, scratched up prints run at the wrong speed, this is the real deal). I have to say, the beautiful quality of these restorations have reopened my eyes to the early years of Chaplin. These are actually darn good movies. Here's the rundown (all from 1914):

MABEL'S STRANGE PREDICAMENT: Chaplin's first role wearing the Tramp outfit (he said he didn't know what he was doing when he put it on, but new the character by the time he got to the set). We see him as a drunk (his "inebriate" act was a favorite in his Music Hall days) who chases Mabel Normand around a hotel after she gets locked out of her room. And her predicament gets stranger when she hides under another guest's bed.

CAUGHT IN THE RAIN: Chaplin's first time writing and directing a whole film. Oddly another story of a mistaken tryst in a hotel between Chaplin and another man's wife.

THE MASQUERADER: Chaplin (again writing and directing) takes a poke at Keystone itself with this behind the scenes spoof (including Keystone star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle) where he messes up several scenes and is fired. He returns in a "feminine pantomime" (i.e., drag) act. And don't take this the wrong way, but he makes a pretty good looking lady.

THE ROUNDERS: Chaplin and Arbuckle as drunks about town. They get into wild shenanigans, of course.

THE NEW JANITOR: Charlie's first take at invoking pathos, and proves he can bring the audience to tears as well as laughter. He's a humble janitor in a big company. He throws a bucket of water out the window, soaking the boss, and so is fired. But ultimately he triumphs by saving the company safe from getting rob (and the company secretary from danger)

HIS MUSICAL CAREER: Charlie and Mack Swain as piano movers. They're supposed to deliver a piano to house 666, and repossess one from 999. Or is that the other way around? Hi-jinx ensue, of course.

DOUGH AND DYNAMITE: Charlie is a waiter, but not much of a baker--as he finds out when the regular bakers go on strike. And things get really strange (and kind of political) when the bakers sneak a stick of dynamite into a loaf of bread.

Total Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 209,302
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