Friday, September 21, 2007

Easy Street and City Lights

Radio West hosted their annual silent film night. In it's third year, tonight's show showcased the Tramp himself, Charlie Chaplin.

After a live broadcast of Radio West where they discussed the life and influence of Chaplin, we were treated to Easy Street accompanied by a live organist and then City Lights on glorious 35mm. (if you listen to the broadcast, I actually asked the last question of the evening about Chaplin's connection to Salt Lake City.)* The conversation on stage was enlightening, as is the norm for Radio West and as soon as the program is uploaded, I would recommend you all check it out.

Easy Street was the first on the program and I'm not sure if I've ever laughed so hard in my life. This was a short that came out in 1917 and featured Chaplin's Tramp enlisting as a police officer because he needs a job. Obviously, wackiness ensues when he is able to temporarily subdue the large, wrecking ball of a man tearing everyone apart on the street near the police station. It's a one-reeler comedy and delivers the laughs and isn't afraid to go out on a limb (no, really, Chaplin does battle with a speed-shooting, would-be rapist. Seriously.)

The main feature was City Lights (1931) and I can't imagine they could have picked a better pairing of films. City Lights is perhaps one of the saddest and sweetest films I have ever seen and encapsulates so much of what made Chaplin amazing. He has physical pratfall sorts of bits that showcase his prowess, mistaken identity bits that feature his amazing command of the craft of silent film and emotional moments that truly wrench the heart.

In fact, the love story in this film rivals the great love stories of all time. The blind girl is one of the most sympathetic and adorable love interests to embrace the screen and it tears your heart out of your chest when she's laughing at Chaplin at the end of the film. And when she finally recognizes him.... Jeez.... There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The most interesting thing I found about this film, though, is that it's only mostly a silent film. It's a sound picture, but it's a pantomime. There are sequences where the soundtrack is vital to the film and couldn't be separated from it (the gunshots and the bit with the whistle, for instance) and those sounds and sequences in time with the action on the film is almost shocking and startling when you first see them because you don't expect anything but a music track.

Seeing a films like these with a sold out crowd in a 1000 seat theatre with a live organist accompanying the short was an experience nothing short of breathtaking. It's very easy to see why Charlie Chaplin was the largest star of his time or, arguably, of all time.

*In a bizarre side note to the day, the rebroadcast of Radio West from earlier in the day to fill the time slot vacated by tonights special event, I also called in for a question and comment for the show. So I was on both broadcasts of Radio West today. Not even Doug Fabrizio can say he did that. If you click here, it's about 1/3 of the way through. It was a show from more than a year ago about Nature Deficit Disorder. Derek should be happy, I was talking about Pirate Club and using popular media to encourage kids to play outside.

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