It may be Robert Downey, Jr.'s fault that I like Charlie Chaplin so much. Did you see his performance in Chaplin? He should've won that Oscar.
Actually, the guy who really got me into silent film comedies is Harold Lloyd. I should write about him one of these days because it seems Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin had better agents and publicists.
But Charlie Chaplin is the most famous of all silent movie stars. He did it all: he wrote, produced, directed, scored, and starred in his movies.
Every year, Strathmore celebrates Charlie Chaplin's birthday by screening some of his films with live orchestral accompaniment. Last February, I attended this event for the first time because 1) The Kid, my favorite Charlie Chaplin film, which has a moving, memorable score, was billed as the main attraction; and 2) Strathmore sent me an email, offering $85 center orchestra tickets for $20. Score!
First on the evening's program was one of Charlie Chaplin's short films, called The Idle Class, from 1921. This film was new to me and has some wonderful moments. In one scene, for example, his wife sends him a note, warning that she won't stay with him unless he changes his alcoholic ways. Check out his heartfelt reaction:
The Idle Class (crying scene): http://youtu.be/W5vdV6-T4KM
You can watch the full half-hour film online on the Internet Archive.
Also from 1921, The Kid is Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length film. In it, he plays his iconic character, The Tramp, who finds an abandoned baby. He raises the child until the boy's mother rediscovers her son and wants him back in her life. As you can imagine, this film is a mix of comedy, tragedy, and lots of heart. It makes me laugh and cry.
I can't find a singled-out favorite scene for this movie, but here's a compilation of clips that gives you a good taste. Keep in mind that the last clip shared in this collection is not the end of the movie; oh, the drama!
The Kid (medley of scenes): http://youtu.be/RUMDfIaCEu8
You can watch the full 53-minute film online on the Internet Archive.
What's great about silent movies is how universally understood they are and how they bring people together for a unique, shared experience. Watching a silent film isn't like watching a foreign one. Silent movies only use words to set up scenes, like "A lost boy looks for a home..." or "A city girl visits her uncle in the country..." Viewers can easily follow what's happening in scenes by just watching the actors. Everyone in the audience of these events is either a fan of silent films or someone being introduced to silent films by a friend who's already a fan. I was surrounded by people of all ages, from children to seniors, and we laughed together at jokes from nearly 100 years ago.
That's staying power, Charlie!
Credits: Chaplin movie poster © Tristar Pictures (1992); films and film clips © Charles Chaplin Productions (1921)