DENVER | A black bowler, a cane and a thick, toothbrush mustache.
Even after more than 100 years, those three simple iconic images still easily evoke Charlie Chaplain.
The man who could blend charm and comedy like no one has since was the star of the opening night of the third Denver Silent Film Festival at the King Arts Center on the Auraria Campus on Friday.
Despite the eons that have passed since Chaplain practically invented film making and a sea change of technology that has come and gone, the master of gesture and nuance is as vibrant and funny now as he was nearly a century ago. And he was funny.
Festival artistic director Howie Movshovitz told the audience at the King Center screening that the silent masterpieces are often mistakenly relegated as “old” or dated pieces of cinema.
“That’s like saying exhibits in the world’s art museums are a bunch of old paintings,” Movshovitz said. Instead, there’s a palpable freshness to Chaplain’s usually comedic and sometimes poignant antics. Casual observers might remember Chaplin’s slight waddle, and the accelerated motion created by the silent film medium. But a close look at Chaplain, especially behind the warm, sepia tones of a projector instead of a cathode ray tube, reveal an intuitive genius lost to us in life and forever preserved in film.
Opening night of the festival featured three Chaplain pieces: “Kid Auto Race at Venice,” from 1914; “A Dog’s Life,” from 1918; and “The Circus,” from 1928.
The first 11-minute sketch, possibly Chaplain’s first film role, was remarkable only because it revealed Chaplain’s innate understanding of comedy, and how this new medium could capture it.
A “Dog’s Life,” was a substantive short that revealed how Chaplain had quickly perfected the use of suspense, irony and sight gags punctuated with his impeccable timing.
In “The Circus,” feature length movie, Chaplain transcended the medium he helped invent, creating images and evoking emotions with such dexterity and ease, that the venue of his silent film performances became an unparalleled image of humanity. No libretto or soliloquy could ever say as much as Chaplain does in a solo shot during fleeting seconds when he learns that “Merna” loves someone else.
Movshovitz is right that the medium may have fallen from favor after sound and movies were blended, but the art form has never fallen from grace.
On Saturday, the festival opens with discussions with Mike Mashon, and David Separd. Mashon is a microbiologist who was drawn to the film industry and has worked to acquire and preserve more than 1.3 million film and video items and worked on many restoration projects. He was honored this week with the festivals Career Achievement Award. Shepard is a previous Career Achievement recipient and a word renown film preservationist.
Silent films screened during the festival were accompanied by acclaimed pianists Donald Sosin and Hank Troy.
Movies screened on Saturday include Passing Fancy, 1933; Behind the Screen, 1916; The Play House, 1921; Leave ‘Em Laughing, 1928; The Patsy, 1928; and The Docks of New York, 1928.
General admission tickets to the screenings are $5-$12. Some events are free. For more information an a list of Saturday screenings, go to: denversilentfilmfest.org
The King Center is on the Downtown Denver Auraria Campus at 855 Lawrence Way.