Sunday, June 6, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for Charlie Chaplin Days

You can see a little write-up about it in the respectable press.

Anyway, this past weekend the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has been celebrating Charlie Chaplin, resident of Niles for a few months while he worked for the Essanay studio.

The museum store was packed. As one of my fellow volunteers said, I was as busy as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest. But it was fun, people had a good time, we had a few Chaplins show up (I worked Saturday, but the official look-alike contest was Sunday at 2 pm). I was too busy to even see the daytime shows of all the films Chaplin made in Niles/San Francisco (A NIGHT OUT, IN THE PARK, THE CHAMPION, A JITNEY ELOPEMENT, and THE TRAMP). But I could tell the crowds filing in and out between shows had a good time (and more importantly, they bought stuff).

I did manage to catch the documentary THE BOOT CAKE. Australian filmmaker Kathryn Millard found out about the Charlie Circle in Adipur, India. They adore Chaplin, and every year they celebrate his birthday. A few years ago, she traveled to India to celebrate with them, and they asked her to bring the cake--specifically, a cake in the shape of a boot, to celebrate the famous scene in THE GOLD RUSH. And she documented the whole thing, and it's pretty weird. At first, it's a trip to see all these Indians talking excitedly about Charlie, dressing up as Charlie, the doctor (and Charlie Circle founder) who prescribes Chaplin VCD's to his patients, etc. But pretty soon, the cultural differences disappear and these are just obsessed fans like any others anywhere else in the world (okay, the Charlie Doctor is pretty weird, and so is the impersonator in white face.) But damn, I wanna go and celebrate his birthday (April 16th) with them some year.

So then I got a little break while the museum/gift shop finally closed for a couple of hours so we could get dinner. I got a slice of pizza at Broncho Billy's, got a beer at the Florence, and was back for the Saturday night movies, which of course were all Charlie's. First, up a couple of shorts:

A BUSY DAY (1914): Charlie in his Keystone days, just before signing with Essanay. More importantly, Charlie in drag, playing a wife who chases her husband around. The weird thing is they never play up the fact that she's a man in drag, it's just some frenetic hi-jinks (which ends with "her" pushed off a pier and I assume drowning).

WORK (1915): Charlie made this while working for Essanay, but shortly after leaving Niles for Los Angeles. He's really starting to hit his stride here, as a put-upon assistant of a handyman hired to fix up a house. The hi-jinks start with his struggle just to get there (Charlie is the "horse" pulling a cart with his boss and all their equipment) and just gets hi-jinksier (higher-jinks?) when they get there and start destroying the house.

And then an intermission, and finally the feature, which is definitely a classic (and the first silent film I ever bought on home video)

THE GOLD RUSH (1925): Ya know, I'm not even gonna bother recapping the plot. Charlie's a prospector, wacky hi-jinks mixed with very human drama (besides eating his shoe, he gets his heart broken a bit). And it's every bit deserving of it's classic status.

One final note, the museum has recently come into possession of more films than we can store in our vault, and we desperately need money for a cold storage unit. So if you're inclined to want to help preserve silent film, you can go right here for more information and to donate to our cold storage fund.

Total Running Time: 216 minutes
My Total Minutes: 187,633

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