(1925) dir. Charles Chaplin
For those 1 or 2 of you that actually read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I am showing both my children and some friends of theirs silent film comedy classics. It’s been one of the most worthwhile experiments of my life. Showing the kids the films is one thing, but I read the intertitles to them, explain certain historical or cultural anachronisms, and occasionally help explain the narrative. The kids have loved it. Sitting on the couch, talking them through it, hearing their roars of laughter at great, wonderful films made a distance in time that is closing in on a century, I can’t really fully express how amazing the experience of watching these films has been for me. I enjoy it more than I would on my own, more than I would in an audience of anonymous film fans, more, in some ways,…than anything.
Mostly, we’ve watched Buster Keaton films (The General (1927) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)), which I think I prefer. But I thought it would be worthwhile to expand to the other masters of silent film comedy, going with Charlie Chaplin, the perhaps more iconic master and going with one of his best-known, best-appreciated films. Initially, the kids thought that they would prefer Buster Keaton, but as soon as the film got going, it went beautifully.
For me, The Gold Rush is deeply iconic, with the scene of Chaplin eating his shoe for Thanksgiving dinner, the wonderful dance he performs with the forks in the dinner rolls, the scene of the cabin teetering on the brink of disaster.
I also remember my first introduction to this film. It was in fourth grade, for reasons that I cannot remember, a kid’s father who was a film professor at UF came in and showed us this film…again, I don’t recall the circumstances exactly. It made an immediate impression. It’s great stuff. It is cinema. It’s the most impressive stuff that you can show anyone.
Frankly, I am still more impressed with Keaton than Chaplin, but that may be a sort of film school prejudice. But of my recent experience and you can look back through this blog for my Chaplin experiences (Modern Times (1936) and City Lights (1931)…okay I helped you with hyperlinks there). But the bottom line for me is that I am totally fucking into silent film. It’s a beautiful and diminishingly cultural significance that retains a wonder in experience that has a value beyond anything one can imagine.
I tell you, if you have a chance to expose young people, children, to these films, it could be one of the most wonderful experiences of your life. For you with the film, for you with the kids, for the kids with these films that are so amazing and significant, so far removed from today. I hope that these things embed themselves in a meaningfulness for their future lives. I can’t imagine that they will fail to have an effect in their ultimate knowledge and appreciation of things.
I was saying to someone that I feel almost smug about showing the kids these films. I say that just because I enjoy it so much, I think it’s cool, I think it will develop and influence them in subtle, yet telling ways, so different from the average child of this era.
You can think I am a stupid jerk for saying this, but I love watching these films with my kids. I love watching these films on my own, but with them it’s so much better.
Hey, if you haven’t seen Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, it’s your missing piece. Fill it in if you can, on your own, with a kid, an adult, a retiree. It emanates from a time that is diminishing in our cultural history. Yet, it is an art as profound as anything. See it.