The band leader has a sneaky feeling for the hat check girl

A piece of trivia for Sunday morning: 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin in film.

His first appearance as the Tramp, 1914

Like everything else in the last century, the film industry has progressed by leaps and bounds in 100 years. Crazy to think that back then, cameramen had to constantly crank their cameras and editors literally edited film with scissors and tape. Watching some of these early movies, 1914 really does seem like a whole different world, where cars and electricity were a luxury, and films were accompanied by live music because records weren’t even a regular thing.

Because I couldn’t go to the Chaplin Centennial in SF yesterday, I celebrated instead by watching some of Charlie’s very first movies, which luckily are on YouTube in abundance because they’re all public domain. [Important to note: these were before Chaplin started writing/directing his own films, so by default they are super silly, what with the slapstick and Keystone Kops and all.]

Making A Living – this was Charlie’s first starring role, in which he plays swindler instead of the Tramp. It’s pretty ridiculous, but there are some cool shots of early LA!

Kid Auto Races At Venice – the first movie where Charlie appeared as the Tramp. It almost seems like an extended screen test…no real plot to it (basically just the Tramp being attracted to the camera) but funny nonetheless.

Tango Tangles – I just love this one, because it features adorable little Charlie without the mustache and baggy clothes. Also starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. This was the best quality I could find on YouTube, although the title cards are poorly re-written. My favorite part is definitely the coat-flailing fight scene from 8:15 to the end. I’m almost positive that the term “kick your ass” comes straight from these silent movies, in which there was a lot of literal ass-kicking.

In all, Charlie starred in something like 25 movies in 1914, which is a lot even considering how short they were. Maybe if I keep up my blogging I can use this year to do some more in-depth posts about Charlie’s movies, year by year. It’s cool to see how they went from slapstick to motion picture.

Got to run now…but I’ve got some more posts queued up so hopefully I’ll be back soon!

Life is a comedy in long-shot

In celebration of Charlie Chaplin, who was born on this day in 1889, here are some home videos of the Tramp being downright dashing (these are from the Unknown Chaplin series, basically a treasure trove of footage):

“‘Why can’t we take all the leaders of the different countries who are opposing each other in war, strip them down to their trunks, put them in a ring and let them fight it out?’ he used to say to me whimsically. ‘You would see all shapes and sizes – short and tall, lean and pot-bellied and knock-kneed – everything. And it would be such a ridiculous sight it would end strife right there.'” – Charles Chaplin, Jr.

Hynkel, Garbitsch, and Herring

This past weekend I bought the Criterion Collection version of The Great Dictator, which, if you have not seen, I HIGHLY recommend. I think it might have just bumped out City Lights and become my favorite Charlie Chaplin movie.

The Great Dictator is hilarious, thoughtful, clever, but above all, it’s a brave film. To make a comedy/satire of WWII as it’s happening is one thing, but to take a stand and speak out against one of the most fearsome men in history takes balls. The film was released in 1940, in the height of Hitler’s power. Hitler reportedly watched it, twice. I wonder what he thought of the ending speech (excerpt below):

“…The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people, will return to the people and so long as men die liberty will never perish…

Soldiers – don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you – who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder.

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate – only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written ” the kingdom of God is within man ” – not one man, nor a group of men – but in all men – in you, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers – in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

(Side note: while watching it, I always get distracted by Charlie’s ability to not blink for like 5 minutes.)  That speech is so universal and powerful, I can’t help but get chills whenever I hear it. Obviously a movie made in 1940 can seem dated in some ways, but so much of The Great Dictator is timeless. I love that about Charlie’s movies: beneath all the slapstick and humor, he always cuts to the core of humanity.

Give a silent film actor a voice and you might be surprised at what you hear….

Happy autumn!

[Random note: Loving the new blogger look! Super chic and easy to use :)]

Anyway. With the start of autumn, I thought I’d revive this blog a little (I’ve missed you, blog!). And what better way to celebrate the new season than curled up on a big comfy chair with a new book? Here are the latest books on my to-read list:

Sunnyside. Glen David Gold.
I have an obsession with 1920s Los Angeles (plus, Charlie Chaplin!). Just started this one – so far it’s really interesting.


Just Kids. Patti Smith.
I love autobiographies/memoirs. I love music. I love books that take place in New York. Hence, this.

And last but not least, on my URGENT!!!!!MUST BUY/READ!!!!! list:

by Olivia Harrison
I looked through it at B&N today and pretty much squee’d through the entire thing.
So. many. beautiful. pictures.

syntax! extrareferential!

This quarter I took a really cool class called Psychology of Film Music, and for my final paper, I compared Chaplin’s City Lights and The Great Dictator (didn’t see that coming, did ya? :P). One was a silent film and one was a talkie, but it’s interesting how much they overlapped in certain aspects. For instance, with the exception of a couple of lines (also, if the title of the film wasn’t so blatantly there), it’d be hard to tell if the following clip was from the silent movie or the talkie:

I think it’s cool that Charlie still used a LOT of silent film techniques even in his later movies, and that it was still super effective. It’s one of the reasons I love him. :)

Supplementary videos:
– More from The Great Dictator: Hynkel and Napaloni
– Contains spoilers, but AHHHH it’s just so good: City Lights ending. If I’m in the right mood, this scene will make me cry, no joke. And the music really does add a lot, especially the part where she realizes who he is.
– Someone made a Great Dictator remix using the final speech and scenes from the rest of the movie. It is AMAZING.

autobiography reviews

…Just what you wanted to see, I’m sure. Haha. I’ve definitely gotten back into reading for fun lately (by “lately” I mean the last year or so, and by “fun” I mean instead of schoolwork), but when I look at the books I’ve read since then I realize they were almost all autobiographies. What can I say – I love reading about people’s lives, haha. It’s like I said in some earlier post, regular researchy biographies bore me, but I am fascinated by almost any autobiography. I love the idea of someone telling you their own story. Without ever having met them, it’s the closest you can get to knowing the true person, through their memories and reflections.

Some of the autobiographies I read were rather silly and the result of my obsessions at the time (for example, I not only read Charlie Chaplin’s autobio but also those of his son and second wife, haha). I’ll spare you all the details and instead just pick a few to mention. So if you’re ever interested in reading about any of these people, here are some short reviews with little to no credibility:

Wonderful Tonight – Pattie Boyd. Haven’t you always wanted to hear about the infamous George-Eric-Pattie love triangle? …Ok if not, maybe you won’t want to read this book, haha. Nevertheless, it’s a great account of the swinging 60s and two of the greatest guitarists to ever live. Separate entry about this book here.

I’m A Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music, & Madness – Micky Dolenz. This wasn’t so much an autobiography as a collection of memoirs and hilarious anecdotes (my favorite being when Mike punches the wall). There were some great stories about growing up in show biz and partying in the 60s. Short and simple, yet very entertaining.

John – Cynthia Lennon. As the title suggests, this is Cynthia’s account of her life with John Lennon. Not gonna lie, it’s a pretty depressing read. You can tell they loved each other in the beginning, but most of the book is just about how John was a bad father and how Cynthia obviously doesn’t like Yoko. It’ll make you dislike all three of them, haha.

My Autobiography – Charles Chaplin. This was a pretty dang long book, but I couldn’t put it down. It takes you from the streets of London to the high life in Hollywood to retirement in Switzerland and everywhere in between. It’s funny and almost unnatural that Charlie speaks so verbosely when you’re used to seeing his silent tramp character. Lots of cool stories about dinners with Einstein and Rachmaninoff, parties at the Hearst place, meeting Ghandi, etc. Really interesting!

My Wonderful World of Slapstick – Buster Keaton. Compared to Charlie Chaplin’s book, this one was much more colloquial and down-to-earth, which was nice. It was just as if Buster was your (supercool) grandpa telling you his story. It was very insightful, giving both honest and entertaining accounts of early Hollywood. It made me realize how much I love Buster Keaton as a person; he was so humble and never took his fame for granted.

Sunshine and Shadow – Mary Pickford. This was a nice read, but nothing too memorable. My favorite parts were when she talked about Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin and how they would “run around Pickfair like 10-year-olds”. Mary gives the impression of being kind of snooty, but also very aware of Hollywood life and the whole business side of it, which I definitely respect her for.

Harpo Speaks! – Harpo Marx. Autobiographies are a really good indication of one’s personality, and this book taught me that Harpo Marx was one of the sweetest, kindest, and funniest men to ever live. I didn’t know anything about him prior to reading this, but became a faithful fan thereafter. I even wrote a long entry about it here. Highly highly recommended!

On the to-read list: Bob Hope, Marion Davies, Lucille Ball (for a second time), and Bill Clinton. Oh yes.

This summer I’ve been reading books about New York (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Bonfire of the Vanities, Forever) to get more excited about my NY trip. It’s working! More reviews to come soon someday…

fool’s gold

My most recent Netflix movie was The Gold Rush (Disc 2, to be exact). It’s the only Charlie Chaplin film I hadn’t seen and I’m not sure why; a lot of people say it’s their favorite.


Awwwwww. I loved it! There are two versions of the film, one is the original 1925 silent movie, and the other is the re-released 1942 version, with Charlie’s own score and narration. Even though his music is a hundred times better than the original, everyone seems to hate the narration. I’ve only watched part of it and I have to agree. Nothing against Charlie’s cute, often-melodramatic English accent, but it’s not a silent movie when there’s talking!! Besides, the “capslock rage” title cards were one of my favorite parts of the original, haha.

Another interesting tidbit: the ending was altered in the 1942 version. Below is the original, where Charlie kisses the leading lady Georgia Hale. Apparently there was a lot of drama between the two of them in real life, and he later omitted the scene out of spite and/or embarrassment.

Anyway, point of this post: if you ever watch The Gold Rush, watch the SILENT version. It’s way better. The end.

90 years later….

I’ve realized that I love when people make Charlie Chaplin tributes on YouTube. They usually combine a lot of silly clips with some unexpected song (Sexyback, I’m On A Boat, Shoes, etc.) and the result can be pretty great. I guess most of them are a little more normal, and those are great too.

This one is dedicated to Charlie and Edna Purviance, the leading lady in almost all of his early short films. She’s my favorite! I love watching these clips because it looks like they had so much fun making those movies:

In conclusion, I love YouTube. I love Charlie Chaplin. The end!

Show People

Tonight I had the pleasure of going to the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood with my friend Jon. It’s this awesome little place on Fairfax: one theater, totally old-fashioned, great food, live music, and silent movies, what could be better? We saw Show People, a 1928 Marion Davies film about the charms and vices of Hollywood in the early days, kind of like a light-hearted version of Sunset Boulevard. There were cameos by Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, King Vidor (the director of the film), and of course my favorite:

(YouTube removed the original, BUMMER.)

I loved that part, except for the super-long title card, haha. I guess that’s part of what made the experience too; all the glitches and imperfections of seeing an 80-year old movie on film. I also have to give major props to the pianist, who had no score but instead watched the movie intently the entire time while matching the scenes perfectly with music. Ahhh, I love watching old movies on the big screen, and I’m so glad there are plenty of places around here that still show them.

ALSO, I have super exciting news to share but I guess I’ll hold off until further plans have been made. BUT I AM SO EXCITED.