A Weekend with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

I’ve been a classic film lover my whole life but some genres appeal more to me than others. Give me a comedy anytime but a war picture? No thank you. Then there are some genres that have grown on me over time. Take silent film. Initially, I didn’t understand how anyone could watch a movie without talking but thanks to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd I soon fell in love with silent comedy. Now I’m open to anything and welcome the opportunity to view silent classics at home and on the big screen. Recently, I spent a weekend indulging in just that when I attended two screenings featuring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Retroformat is a recently formed non-profit devoted to “educate and inspire enthusiasm for the art and history of silent film” and has been holding a range of screenings around Hollywood. I’d been long intending to attend one when I lucked out and won a pair of tickets through their Instagram page. Before I knew it I was headed to the Hollywood Legion Theater to attend a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush.

You may recall I mentioned visiting the theater during last year’s TCM Film Fest. It’s a beautiful, historic venue that’s been recently restored. Seating around 500 it was at full capacity for The Gold Rush. A sold out crowd! That’s almost unheard of for a silent film.

Accompanied by Cliff Retallick The Gold Rush screening was a memorable experience. The audience was awed by the 95 year old film and and Chaplin’s innovative antics kept everyone in stitches. Retallick’s accompaniment beautifully accented the film and and I was blown away that he was able to keep the momentum for nearly two hours. It was an evening I won’t soon forget and I’m looking forward to future Retroformat screenings

The following day found me headed to San Gabriel for a screening of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. at the Mission Playhouse.

The Mission Playhouse, a 1927 Spanish-style masterpiece, regularly shows silent films through their series Silent Sundays (I previously wrote about their screening of The General). This season focuses on three comedic masters, Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin, and opened with two of Buster’s best – Cops and Sherlock Jr. Although not sold out the screening was generously attended by folks of all ages. I’m so happy to see that silent film still has a strong following!

Buster Keaton is my absolute favorite silent star and you can’t beat seeing him on the big screen. Both features were accompanied by Bill Campbell on the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ and, like Cliff Retallick, he’s a master at his craft. The zippy sounds of the organ perfectly accompanied Buster’s acrobatic antics and the audience responded with lots of laughter. Watching a Buster Keaton film on the big screen is pure joy and I fully recommend catching a viewing whenever you can.

Although both these screenings have passed there’s still plenty of chances to catch a silent film on the big screen. In fact, Retroformat will be screening Mary Pickford’s Pollyanna on February 15. It’s the 100th anniversary and it’s sure to be a treat. In addition, Silent Sundays return on March 22 with a screening of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. it’s my absolute favorite Lloyd film and the screening is not to be missed!

1 Comment

  1. Lyle February 6, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this post. I attended three screenings at the Legion Post at last year’s TCM Festival and it is one of the finest venues for the festival now (IMHO). The Sound of Music in 70mm was amazing at this theater! The downstairs club and bar area is also very nicely refurbished and I believe they mentioned the bar was used to partly film the scenes in the The Shining (1980).

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