Saturday, July 27, 2019

Phil attends the CHARLIE CHAPLIN DAYS Event at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum - June 28-30, 2019

Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp (1915)
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 this year on the last weekend of June.

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.

The festivities began Friday evening at the museum, but the fun actually started in the early afternoon in San Francisco. Conducted by my old friend and a staple at the SF Silent Film Festival Rory O'Connor (under the auspices of the Friends of the Library City Guides), The WALKING TOUR OF SF SILENT FILM LOCATIONS took the group all over the city, showing the buildings, parks and locations where Chaplin filmed his movies.

Then at the museum, the fun began at 7:30 pm, where we had special guest visiting us, Dan Kamin! If you didn't know, Kamin created the Chaplin moves for Robert Downy, Jr. for his film CHAPLIN and worked with Johnny Depp for his role in BENNY AND JOON.  Then was saw 1918's SHOULDER ARMS, which was a video transfer from an vintage film print. The great Jeff Rapsis provided the musical accompaniment. Afterwards, we saw the short film CHAPLIN STUDIO TOUR from 1953. This was exciting because not only this was very informative and cool, but this was a 35mm film print that we were watching! I visited the studio back in 2011, and it's now known as the Jim Henson Studios. Chaplin's cinematographer Rollie Totheroh was the host in the film, giving us a tour of the famed studio.

On both Saturday (in the expansion are of the museum) and Sunday (in the main theater), 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.

On Saturday morning in the main theater, the museum screened BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET along with the documentary of the making of the 2012 silent film. Then the afternoon consisted of the following: CHAPLIN AND HIS MUSIC with host and moderator Nigel Dreiner, where he discussed the music that Chaplin written for his films, the documentary short THE MOVIES GO WEST, the 1974 PBS short that was narrated by the late, great Hal Angus, THE IMPORTANCE OF CHUCK REISNER, who contributed with Chaplin in several of his films and was conducted by author Hooman Mehran, then it was the repeat screening of the short film CHAPLIN STUDIO TOUR.

Later that night, the museum screened one of Chaplin's overlooked films THE PILGRIM from 1923. In the film, Chaplin's The Tramp is an escaped convict who is mistaken as a pastor in a small town church. Also shown was Chaplin's short HOW TO MAKE MOVIES from 1918, the short CHAPLIN STUDIO TOUR again, and A DOG'S LIFE released by First National in 1918, which was introduced by Hooman Mehran.

On Sunday the day began with the aforementioned Chaplin Essanay shorts from 1915. After the screenings, the museum held their annual Charlie Chaplin Look-a-Like Contest! Later, it was the special screening of the 2019 documentary entitled CHARLIE CHAMPION, which told the story of Dr. Ashok Aswani, who helped create the Charlie Chaplin Fan Club over in India.

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. In the meantime, there are plenty more excitement happening at the museum. 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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