SF Silent Film Fest marks an icon's 100th anniversary
The Vagabond (1916) is the most melodramatic of the bunch; it follows a violin-playing hobo who encounters a waif being held captive by what the glossary of unfortunate movie stereotypes would call "gypsies." (Campbell plays a whip-cracking patriarch.) The Tramp rescues her, but not before a passing artist paints her portrait and helps her reunite with her (rich) family — like The Kid, The Vagabond contains themes of economic disparity, a favorite Chaplin topic. Far more lighthearted are Easy Street (1917), in which the Tramp finds religion (thanks to an angelic church worker) and a backbone, after becoming a cop and defeating the local heavy (Campbell, adorned with spectacularly "evil" eyebrows); and The Cure (1917), in which an wobbly "inebriate" checks into a health spa, toting a huge suitcase full of booze. His fellow patients include a comely lass and an angry, towering brute.
The simple stories of all three shorts are elevated by flamboyant comedy set pieces, so effortless-seeming they mask what had to have been elaborate preparations and choreography. Any time there's a bucket of water, or a hole in the ground, Chaplin is bound to fall in eventually — but there's great delight in watching him teeter around and prolong disaster as long as possible. He also never met a revolving door he could pass through just once. And there's never a stretch without some little moment of subtle hilarity, to counteract all the broad slapstick: Watch as Chaplin pretends to share his hymnal with an infant in Easy Street, then shrugs when he's ignored. (That film also contains one of the oddest moments in Chaplin's filmography, when the tramp accidentally sits on a heroin addict's needle and leaps up, infused with drug-fueled super strength — pre-Production Code sordid humor at its finest.) All three films feature accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis on piano.
The final program is 1925's The Gold Rush — like The Kid, an essential feature that no Chaplin fan minds revisiting, and an ideal vehicle for newbies to make his acquaintance. As a prospector seeking his fortune in the frozen Yukon, the Tramp fights a hungry bully and falls in love with a pretty girl (of course), but he also performs the oft-imitated tableside "roll dance" — and gnaws on his own boot. Priceless. And since lively music is a huge part of the experience: Timothy Brock once again conducts the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, playing Chaplin's own score. *
"THE LITTLE TRAMP AT 100: A CHAPLIN CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION"
Sat/11, "Our Mutual Friend," 1pm; The Kid, 4pm; The Gold Rush, 7:30pm, $10-$22
429 Castro, SF