Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Champion (1915)

WHO: Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, edited and of course starred in this picture.

WHAT: Of the five one- and two-reelers that Chaplin made while working at the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company's studio in Niles, California, this was one of the biggest hits of its time, and still gets laughs from audiences of all ages today. A boxing-themed picture that is sometimes seen as an early precursor to the astounding boxing sequence in Chaplin's 1931 City Lights, but perhaps not quite as meticulously timed for the proper frame rate (as I just heard silent accompanist Ben Model speak about) as he had the means and time to do sixteen year later. 

Joyce Milton's biography Tramp: the Life of Charlie Chaplin is not generally admired by Chaplin fans who are more interested in his artistry than his celebrity, but it does include some interesting information in its focus on his many lawsuits, scandals, etc. According to Milton, it was The Champion which inadvertently launched the famous wave of Chaplin imitators, when a legal attempt to block the distribution of a collage film mashing-up The Champion and a fantasy film called Daughter of the Gods provoked a soft decision from the judge: the pastiche film could be distributed as long as it was not advertised as a Chaplin picture. This judgement opened the door for imitators to make their own films; some of these imitators, Oliver Hardy and Harold Lloyd, for instance, would parlay their experience making such films into a successful career using their own more original characters.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today at 12:30 PM at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

WHY: This weekend has been the annual Charlie Chaplin Days celebration in Niles, California (a small town that became incorporated into what is now Fremont back in 1956. But almost hundred years ago it was for a few months the home of the most famous silent film actor ever, Charlie Chaplin.

Today, each of his five films made in town will screen, for a suggested donation of fifty cents apiece, at the Museum's Edison Theatre, the same room where Chaplin himself watched films when he was in town. They screen in chronological order, with his first Niles film A Night Out at 11:30 AM, and his last, The Tramp, at 3:30, with plenty of time in between showings to browse the museum or its giftshop, or to take in some of the other activities happening on Niles Boulevard today.

HOW: 16mm print, with live musical accompaniment.

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