Friday, 3 December 2010

Chaplin At Keystone: Buy It You Mugs

As if I needed the BFI to give me another reason to love them like they were a benevolent uncle (the kind who keeps his hands to himself), up they pop and kick me up the bum in a slapstick fashion with no less than 34 reasons spread lusciously over four DVDs, plus extras, in Chaplin At Keystone.
The product of an eight-year restoration programme between the BFI, Cineteca Bologna and Lobster Films, Chaplin At Keystone showcases the very first films the clumsy genius ever made - for Keystone Studios in 1914 - and does it with the kind of love and dedication that's such a cockle-warmingly common facet of the BFI's restorations of early cinema. It's no exaggeration to say that without intervention many of these films would eventually simply have decomposed.

The significance of some of these shorts cannot be underestimated.  There's the first film Chaplin ever made (Making A Living), the first one in which he played his signature tramp character (Mabel's Strange Predicament), the first that he wrote and directed (Caught In The Rain) and the first American feature-length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance (it's no Airplane! but it does feature a fat lady being kicked up the arse and a lot of policemen falling over). What you're essentially witnessing as you watch a pissed-up hobo repeatedly having his backside punished is the birth and evolution of modern film comedy, and it's a fantastic experience.
Although some of this stuff is undeniably crude - Making A Living is basically an awful lot of people doing an awful lot of falling over - there are plenty of ChapLOLs to be had in the carefully choreographed pratfall routines that mark the high points of this collection. And while something like Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. is part slapstick bimbling, it's also part social commentary on the exciting new moving picture craze and part fascinating document of a bemused crowd's genuine reaction to an insane vagabond dicking about in front of a camera.

All the films have new music composed by tip topples accompanists (including The Incredible Suit hero Neil Brand) and there's a ludicrously informative 58-page booklet included which is full of potential pub quiz trivia. I had no idea, for example, that Caught In A Cabaret was restored using a nitrate dupe negative, a nitrate positive print, a 16mm dupe negative and a 16mm triacetate dupe negative. Did you?

Chaplin At Keystone is released on Monday 13th December, but if you were to pop back to this very blog this coming Monday you may well find yourself in a position to WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES!! Oh yes. We've come a long way since I failed to give away a Prince Of Persia poster.
Chaplin junkies in need of more of this stuff should already have bookmarked the BFI Chaplin microsite. It's amazing.

1 comment :

  1. Chaplin was a genius. He was a brilliant actor, comedian and knew more about film craft than anyone in his time. I can't explain why but I don't like him. It may be because he is needingly asking or even demanding that we love him. It is pathos rather than humour to me. Given the choice I would rather watch Ricky Gervais whose characters share many pathetic qualities with Chaplin.

    There, I've made a proper Charlie of myself.