Sunday, June 5, 2011

Phil attends CHARLIE CHAPLIN DAYS at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum-June 4 & 5, 2011

During the year of 1915, the world of cinema was making history. D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION  changed the landscape of cinema forever. Producer/distributor William Fox founded the new Fox Film Corporation. Also in the small town of Niles, California, a little comedian came into town, made about five films in three months, and then left. However, those five films helped paved the way for Charlie Chaplin's signature character The Tramp to become one of cinema's most beloved icons. This past weekend, the town of Niles, as well as the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, celebrated its most famous actor with its annual Charlie Chaplin Days, which are held every year on the first weekend of June.

Charlie Chaplin
Before I begin, let me tell you how Mr. Chaplin found his way to Niles real quick. In late 1914, Essanay Studio co-founder G.M. Anderson (also known as Broncho Billy, the screen's first cowboy superstar) signed the then yet well known comedian Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin had been discovered by Mack Sennett, founder of Keystone Films, the home of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, and the infamous Keystone Cops. Anderson offered the young comedian complete creative over his films: he would write, direct, and star in his films. To sweeten the deal, Anderson offered Chaplin a $10,000 signing bonus, which was a large sum of money back in late 1914. Chaplin made one film for the Chicago Essanay Studio branch, but he didn't get along very well with co-owner George Spoor. Chaplin soon left to make films out in Niles. During this time he made an astounding five films in just three months, as well as discovering his leading lady Edna Purviance. However, Niles was a little too boring and country-ish for Chaplin, who loved the city life. So with Anderson's permission, Chaplin took Purviance and a small crew to Los Angles, where he finished up his contract. The following year, Chaplin singed a deal with Mutual Pictures, where they offered him more money, his own production company, and a $150,000 signing bonus. But it was his time in Niles is where he developed his Tramp character. By combining pathos, sympathy, while still bringing a smile to our faces, Chaplin's Little Tramp became an overnight sensation, and thus creating one of cinema's most treasured characters.

Charlie Chaplin in THE TRAMP (1915)
On both Saturday and Sunday, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum showed all five of Chaplin's films he made here in Niles: A NIGHT OUT (co-starring Ben Turpin), THE CHAMPION, IN THE PARK, A JITNEY ELOPEMENT, and his most famous film THE TRAMP, featuring the most iconic image and ending in film history of the Little Tramp walking away in Niles Canyon. One of Chaplin's most important films he ever made.

Also shown on Saturday was an interesting documentary entitled THE BOOT CAKE. Directed by Australian filmmaker Kathryn Millard, the film is about the small town of Adipur, India, where a group of Charlie Chaplin impersonators called The Charlie Circle celebrate Chaplin's birthday with a big parade and a screening of THE GOLD RUSH. Millard was actually doing research for another film project when she discovered the Charlie Circle and invited her to participate in their festivities. What I found touching is that even the most remote city of the world, Chaplin's films have touched the people of Adipur, and because of him, their lives are that much more rewarding. A really interesting and touching film, even Chaplin would have been honored to see it.

For the Saturday Night show, the museum screened Chaplin's first full length feature film THE KID, which also starred Purviance and five-year-old Jackie Coogan. I'll detail that film in another blog.

Also shown on both days was the Internet sensation: Google's CHAPLIN DOODLE. Released on April 16, 2011 on the Google website, the short was made to celebrate Chaplin's 122nd birthday on that same day. The short was filmed here in Niles and was a real treat to see it on the big screen. The Google Doodle team was in attendance on Sunday, participating in a fun Q&A session. After the Q&A, the museum held its annual Chaplin Look Alike Contest, which was amazing to see both young and old impersonating Chaplin. It was a blast!!

This was such a fun filled weekend! It was a lot of hard work, but everything went well and everyone had a great time! I can't wait for next year's Chaplin weekend. However in the meantime, there are plenty more excitement happening at the museum. Next weekend they're showing a Mary Pickford feature called STELLA MARIS, which is one of her best films. The weekend after is their famous Comedy Shorts Night. The last weekend of June is their annual Bronco Bill Film Festival! So don't delay! Come on down to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, where silent films live forever!!

To learn more about the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, how to become a member, and to view their film schedule, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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