Early Chaplin

A Film Johnnie, from http://www.bfi.org.uk/southbank

Opening tomorrow at the BFI South Bank is the first month in a planned six-month retrospective of the work of Charlie Chaplin. The BFI National Archive, in partnership with the Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films, is restoring all of Chaplin’s films made for the Keystone company in 1914, as a follow-up to its earlier work on the Chaplin Mutuals. All of the surviving Keystones (Her Friend the Bandit remains lost) are being shown over August and September in nine programmes, as follows.

Here’s the blurb from the BFI site (and programme booklet):

The life of Charles Chaplin is the cinema’s greatest ‘rags-to-riches’ story. Bryony Dixon of the BFI National Archive presents a season of his early films showing how Chaplin became the world’s first movie megastar.

From the Victorian workhouse and the south London slums to the heights of Hollywood and movie stardom, the life of Charles Chaplin is cinema’s greatest ‘rags-to-riches’ story. It is less well known that the 20th Century’s greatest screen star was already a celebrity on this side of the Atlantic before he ever made a film. The fact is that we would never really have known the degree of Chaplin’s genius if he had not gone into films and if they had not survived.

The BFI National Archive, together with the Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films, is restoring all of Chaplin’s earliest films made for the Keystone company in 1914. These fascinating films document Chaplin’s rapid progress as a screen performer and director as well as furthering our acquaintance with a host of great comedians such as Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, Al St John and Mack Sennett himself. The films – which have previously been seen only in mutilated copies – are brought back to life by painstaking restoration.

After acting in several Keystone films, Chaplin took control and directed most of his films thereafter. After 35 films for Keystone, Chaplin negotiated a better deal for himself with the Essanay Company and had a high degree of control over his comedies. He began to refine his character and further developed the ‘little tramp’ persona during his stay with the Mutual Company in 1916/17. It is during this period that many of his best-loved films were made. Chaplin described those years as the happiest of his life. In the following years Chaplin produced fewer but longer films for First National and in 1921 directed his first feature, The Kid.

This film more than any other laid the ghosts of his London childhood. Shortly after its release and after seven years of solid hard work and 72 films, Chaplin decided to go home for a visit. His reception on arrival in England was astounding.

Chaplin continues to be an important figure for us in Britain. His early films can illuminate our irretrievably lost comic traditions – they are an important part of our cultural heritage despite being made in the US. His life and works tell us about the development of screen comedy, about his adaptation of the music hall comedy of 19th century Britain to the 20th century American film, as well as recording the development of an individual artist and performer of genius.

As David Robinson, Chaplin’s biographer says, “The clothes he wears may have come from American sweat-shops; the streets in which he moves are at once no city and every city, but the origins of that hat and cane, boots and baggy pants, and shabby tenement streets, are unmistakably to be sought in his boyhood London.”

And here’s a list of the Chaplin Keystones being shown over August and September:

Programme 1: 9 & 13 August
Making a Living
Kid Auto Races in Venice, Cal.
Mabel’s Strange Predicament
Between Showers
A Film Johnnie

Programme 2: 16 & 20 August
Tango Tangles
His Favourite Pastime
Cruel, Cruel Love
The Star Boarder

Programme 3: 23 & 26 August
Mabel at the Wheel
Twenty Minutes of Love
Caught in a Cabaret
Caught in the Rain

Programme 4: 28 & 30 August
A Busy Day
The Fatal Mallet
The Knockout
Mabel’s Busy Day

Programme 5: 6 & 10 September
Mabel’s Married Life
Laughing Gas
The Property Man
The Face on the Bar Room Floor

Programme 6: 11 & 13 September
Recreation [fragment only]
The Masquerader
His New Profession
The Rounders
The New Janitor

Programme 7: 14 & 16 September
Those Love Pangs [incomplete]
Dough and Dynamite
Gentlemen of Nerve
His Music Career

Programme 8: 20 & 22 September
His Trysting Place
Getting Acquainted
His Prehistoric Past

Tillie Punctured Romance 21 & 24 September

3 responses

  1. And to accompany the film season we are displaying a selection of Chaplin memorabilia on the Mezzanine floor at the BFI Southbank from the collections of the BFI and the Bill Douglas Centre. There are some fascinating toys including a toy music hall theatre with a Charlie puppet and an original poster for a film show in remote Perthshire which shows the reach of Chaplin films in the last year of the Great War. Oh, and the actual hat and cane.

  2. Hello!

    I found it appropriate to mention this in a Chaplin post – here are some photos of the Chaplin monument in Gabrovo, Bulgaria that I promised to supply some time ago:
    I have to apologise beforehand for the quality of the photos – it was an incidental travel through the city of Gabrovo so I had no equipment but my phone. Anyway, it is a beautiful statue and I hope the images manage to convey it to some extent.

    All the best!

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