Chicago International Film Festival

Right now, the Chicago International Film Festival is going on. It’s an annual event that is now in its 50th year. Films from all over the world, mostly new but some old, are playing downtown for about two weeks. I absolutely adore it. I try to go to a couple of movies because the movies can be amazing and may not make it to other theaters. It’s where I saw Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, the animated story of Sita from the Hindu classic The Ramayana. See it here:

Last year, I discovered that there are some silent films in the festival, which was really exciting. So this year, I’m going to the two silent films and one film from Latin America. Yesterday, I went to the “Centenary of the Tramp.” It’s been 100 years since Charlie Chaplin debuted on the big screen. It was a bit of a history lesson combined with three shorts. David Robinson led the session; he wrote one of the definitive books on Chaplin. Mr. Robinson also runs a major silent film festival in Italy each year. Someday I plan on going.

It was a great history lesson into the life of Charlie Chaplin. The first short was “Kid’s Auto Races.” Back in the day, movie studios would film public events, like parades, races, etc. and do improvisational comedy in front of it. This short was about a man who discovers they are filming the boxcar race and won’t leave the camera alone. It’s not a terribly great film; it’s rather dull but it’s the first instance of Charlie Chaplin (I think) in his legendary outfit on the big screen. Mr. Robinson made the argument that the Tramp himself did not really emerge for a year or so. He showed us the beginning of Mable’s Mistake (or something like that). In this scene, Chaplin plays a drunkard in a hotel who is propositioning ladies. However, Mr. Robinson pointed out, he’s wealthy enough that he can give a tip to the clerk so the hotel doesn’t throw him out. He can’t be playing the Tramp there. Many of the characters that he plays in his first movie contract varied widely. Only later with another studio did he develop the Tramp, the lovable everyman.

One really exciting thing that I learned was that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton acted together in a comedic movie called LimeLight. It’s from 1952 so it’s a different era. It’s supposed to be fun. Mr. Robinson talked about the supposed rivalry between the two but they both were keen to work with each other. Allegedly, Chaplin was told that Keaton was down on his luck and immediately called for him to be in the movie. Of course, Keaton was doing well in TV. I have to see this film now. It sounds like my cup of tea.


The final and longest short that we saw was The Immigrants. Spoilers ahead. It’s a film about Charlie Chaplin, as the Tramp, who comes over on a ship to America. On board, he gets up into mischief but also meets a young lady and her mother. It’s an uneven film; it ends a bit abruptly. But it has some nice scenes. At one point, they are in a café with a rude and brutish head waiter. A fellow customer is short on his bill so the entire restaurant staff beat him up. It’s hilarious in the way that only physical violence in comedies can be. There is also a wonderful scene with the waiter involving Charlie Chaplin’s hat. The whole bit is based on the practice that men should take their hats off indoors. Would that there be more humor surrounding hats!

However, I take issue with the ending. The lady and Chaplin wander outside in the pouring rain when they find a marriage license office. Now, the two are clearly falling for each other. Chaplin suggests that they get a license. She demurs. After a few minutes of conversing, he picks up her kicking and pulls her into the office. While they clearly like each other, I felt that it was disturbing. Clearly, she doesn’t want to get married yet. This was played as a gag a long time ago but it rings false now.

That’s all for now!

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