Film Review



Southbank Centre presents



Written and Directed by Charlie Chaplin


Music Composed by Charlie Chaplin


Starring Charlie Chaplin

Performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra

and Conducted by Carl Davis


Royal Festival Hall

January 3, 2011








A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

It is only possible to review a true work of art by considering it after the fact, for when in close proximity to such rarities, it is neigh on impossible to pinpoint the source of their magic. Chaplin's work is even more of a paradox than most, as it is in many ways, autobiographical, from its little tramp huddled in doorways with only his hidden heart of gold to keep him warm, through the resourcefulness and staunch optimism of his poverty and gentleness disguised as fool-heartiness, even in the face of ridicule and abuse. This 'millionaire tramp' (autobiography title) originated from London's great unwashed, and never relinquished his grimy roots, rather mining their rich ore to shed light on the often tawdry, but glittering multi-faceted aspects of life.

It is 1898 and as the film opens, heaving masses of men labour up the steep slopes of Chillkoot Pass in the frozen Klondike in search of gold. It comes as more than a surprise after scenes of such hardship to find the little tramp ambling alone down the slippery byways in his shabby tuxedo, cane in hand, flat outward facing feet stuck to his path. Chaplin's unexpected appearance after such an epic buildup is a truly hilarious, golden moment in cinematic history which strikes at the funny bone, as hearty laughs all around, from adults and children alike bore out, and the tramp wanders on, blissfully unaware a bear is following him. Un-selfconscious laughter is perhaps Chaplin's greatest gift to us. There is a sense of unbridled joy on seeing Chaplin in this guise; the little tramp is a fool, to be sure, but he is also an unwitting wise man who will eventually win out, if only by virtue of his sheer lack of guile, strong sense of wing and a prayer faith and the cyclical nature of fate. So the message of The Gold Rush is, those who never give up or give in will win out, however unlikely that may seem during their sentimental moments of 'When You Wish Upon a Star' hoping - just the thing to keep cinema goers going through the hardships of WWI, (when Chaplin first appeared) The Great Depression and WWII.

Chaplin's performing career originated in London Music Halls as a child actor and despite subsequent years of poverty thereafter, the archetypal characters of his films reflect that tradition. There is invariably a damsel in distress, (whether she realises it or not), a big bully, a gentle giant, a ladies man and the little tramp who will, inadvertently, save the day and, somehow, get the girl.

The comic balance of this classic film is supported by swift transitions between its cast of thousands opening sequence and more confined spaces, as in huge savage nature versus small town/tiny cabin in the wilderness, the latter being the setting for some of Chaplin's most seminal cinematic moments, like his laughably elegant boot eating sequence and daintily executed dinner roll dance. In terms of the film aging gracefully, it's also uncanny how much the young actressess in it, from leading lady Georgia Hale and her girlfriends, seem on a par with contemporary young women, a phenomena that simply doesn't exist in most films today, or most films in memory for that matter. There's generally an unspoken, but instantaneous them and us division when it comes to actors on celluloid from any era which isn't breached. But the winning innocence of Chaplin's tramp and over-riding herd stupidity of those lampooning him seems so familiar, that it easily slips into timelessness. Appraising Chaplin's co-stars one notes the rotund belly and comically expressive face of Mack Swain as the tramp's cabin companion, prospector Big Jim McKay , who, incidentially, supplied the hair for Chaplin's first moustache, the mean demeanour of trapper turned criminal Black Larsen akaTom Murray, which could easily be a mug shot of Scrooge or an absconding banker, and the painted, self - absorbed smile of Georgia Hale as Georgia and her troupe of friends, among them a lone pudgy gal, who of course, feigns constant joviality. Malcolm Waite is suitably loud mouthed, oversized and oily as ladies man Jack, which is obvious, despite lack of sound.

Although the film was released in 1925, Chaplin revisited it in 1942, adding his own narration and score and changing its ending, extracting a lingering last kiss with leading lady Georgia Hale which film historians put down to his personal circumstances at the time. But purists credit the original 1925 release as the classic and seeing the film on a large screen above a full orchestra playing Chaplin's marvellous score, apart from comedic use of 'You Take the High Road (and I'll Take the Low Road)' and Coming Through the Rye' for the little tramp's glacial wanderings, is about as close to the context of the original as one could ever hope for, especially eighty six years after its release. A thrill ran through the theatre as the orchestra began to play under Davis' conducting and the film titles appeared onscreen. To Chaplin's great credit, The Gold Rush is a timeless joy to be savoured and this rare screening, accompanied by the ever excellent Philarmonia, led by Davis enabled that. Enthusiastic applause and cheering at the end was shared in sprit by Charlie Chaplin himself, whose image appeared onscreen and was gestured to by Davis in order to aim credit where due.

Self made star Chaplin also composed music for many of his films, if not at the time of their original releases, in subsequent decades as each classic was re-released. In this case, the orchestral score, especially composed by him when the film was re-released with the addition of sound, in the form of music and sound effects is alternatingly sweeping and bittersweet, with the tramp's own theme tinged with a pleasing mix of pathos and light-heartedness. As a tender gesture to the film's leading lady, Georgia Hale and her character Georgia, then the object of both Chaplin and the tramp's affections, a scrapebook like page with flowers and 'Georgia' in a lovely inscription appears prior to each of her scenes. Chaplin's most noted songs from his films are 'Smile' from Modern Times (1936) and 'Love, This is my Song' from the film A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando which he directed in 1967, the song from which became a UK no. 1 as performed by Petula Clark. The score of Limelight (1952) won an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1972, when the film was finally re-released following years of shelving after Chaplin's political problems, which had barred him from re-entering the US following a European tour.

In addition to being as fine a physical comedian as you could ever hope to see, Chaplin also excelled in acting and mime, deftly moving his audience with a look or wave of his hand, and as a result of his passion and dedication, there are also many moments of genuine tenderness in The Gold Rush which catch your empathy when you least expect them to. Chaplin's natural intelligence and imagination allowed him to lead his audience into laughter at the little tramp's stoic handling of his hardships, inspiring tinges of guilt when other characters, many of whom we may have considered harder, laugh at him later, all of which ultimately leads to us silently cheering for this strange little man who always seems to be on the outside looking in, until we eventually realise that the reality is really, in the reverse.

Hang in there, The Gold Rush seems to say, don't succumb to despair or, double dealing, and you will eventually win the day. In a competitive, commercially driven world like ours, such a message comes as a welcome reminder that although we may think we need a lot of things to make us comfortable, what we need most of all comes from within – certainly, something to reconsider….While you're at it, you may want to strike some gold of your own by catching up with Chaplin's own personal favourite film on DVD yourself.

And, if you keep that New Year's resolution not to procrastinate, you can book tickets for the next silent classic at Southbank Centre - Lon Chaney, 'The Man of a Thousand Faces' in The Phantom of the Opera which the Philharmonia will accompany in RFH on March 27th.
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road

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27 March 2011, 3:00pm



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