Saturday, June 2, 2012

Phil attends CHARLIE CHAPLIN DAYS at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum-June 2 & 3, 2012

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.

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.

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 both days was the documentary short WHEN THE MOVIES GO WEST, the 1974 PBS short that was also shown during the big 100th anniversary celebration back on April 1st. The other documentary short, the 1964 KPIX WHEN THE MOVIES CAME FROM NILES (also shown at the 100th anniversary celebration) was shown on Saturday afternoon.

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 review.

On Sunday afternoon the museum held their annual Chaplin lookalike contest. Afterwards the museum staged the "Pie Fight of the Century." The fight was co-sponsored by the Laurel and Hardy Film Appreciation Society Sons of the Desert Midnight Patrol Tent and the Niles Pie Company. All proceeds from this event will go towards the production of a new silent film entitled THE CANYON created by the museum. Archivist, author and historian David Kiehn will make the film using the same 100-year-old movie equipment that Anderson and Chaplin used in Niles. For more details about THE CANYON and how to make a contribution, please visit

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 the museum will be screening THE MAN WHO HAD EVERYTHING, starring Mary Pickford's younger sibling Jack Pickford. The weekend after is the monthly 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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