Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kid Auto Races At Venice, Cal. (1914)

WHO: Charlie Chaplin starred in this.

WHAT: The second film featuring Chaplin ever to have been released, and the first in which he wore the outfit he's been best known for ever since. As I wrote in a new piece on Chaplin published at Fandor (where it and Chaplin's other Keystone films are available to stream) yesterday,
This was the first audience for Chaplin in what would soon be known as his Little Tramp costume, which he’d put together just days prior to film the first shots of Mabel’s Strange Predicament, and we see the crowd reacting to his wanderings on the track, near-misses with racers, and battles with Lehrman and others to get closer to the camera so he can mug more effectively. Most of them appear delighted by his antics, although some shield their own faces from the machine’s stare. They realize just as much as Chaplin’s “odd character,” as he is called in a title card, that the camera can document them for a certain amount of posterity (surely nobody guessed a hundred years), and have an opposite reaction.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens today at the Castro Theatre at 4PM, and at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont at 7:30 PM.

WHY: Today is the precisely 100th anniversary of the day when a small movie crew including Chaplin and director Henry Lehrman went to a racetrack at the popular resort town of Venice, California, and shot this film. Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character had already been captured on film by now, in a few shots for Mabel's Strange Predicament probably taken the day before. But the "Little Tramp" had never been seen by the public until January 11th, 1914. And since Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. was shot in a single day it beat Mabel's Strange Predicament to the screen by a couple of days.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is screening Kid Auto Races At Venice, Cal. as one small part of its day-long Chaplin event today. For more reading on Chaplin produced for the festival, check out the link round-up on the SFSFF blog, and another Keyframe piece, Jonathan Marlowe's interview with Timothy Brock, who will be leading a small orchestra for two of today's three programs. You can also hear him speak about that on this podcast.

Meanwhile, the Niles screening tonight is the second installment in a year-long project to show every one of Chaplin's 1914 films in chronological order, in 16mm, at that venue.

HOW: Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. screens in 35mm at the Castro, before a DCP showing of The Kid with live music by Timothy Brock and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. It screens along with two more shorts, Ghost Town: the Story of Fort Lee and Crazy Like A Fox, as well as a feature film also celebrating its centennial, The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England , a 2012 inductee to the National Film Registry directed by Maurice Tourneur. All the Niles films will screen on 16mm with piano accompaniment by Bruce Loeb.

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