When you ask someone who their favorite silent film comedian is you’ll probably get the go-to answer of Charlie Chaplin. There’s a simple reason for that: because Chaplin is indeed one of the greats. There were, however, other silent-film comedians who were just as prolific as Chaplin. Personally, I have a fondness for the big three: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. With the Dryden Theatre at the Eastman House showcasing a collection of Charlie Chaplin films during the month of June, I thought there was no better time for me to share some random thoughts on my favorite comedians of the silent film era.
Chaplin in a scene from 1936′s ‘Modern Times’.
For me, Charlie Chaplin is a ballet dancer. Watch the roller skating scene in Modern Times and tell me that Chaplin couldn’t have easily become a world-renowned dancer if he hadn’t been an actor. Where his comedy comes from is in the way he used those elegant movements and then combined them with absurd situations and melodramatic story elements. Chaplin is perfection on the big screen and there’s a reason that nearly one-hundred years after his first film debut audiences are still delighted at what he does.
If Chaplin was a ballet dancer then Buster Keaton was an acrobat. Keaton designed and performed stunts of such outrageous construction that it’s amazing that he was never seriously hurt while performing them. Buster Keaton’s trademark stone-face that never once showed a single trace of emotion adds an action hero aloofness to his act that is hard not to like. In spite of Keaton’s emotionless demeanor you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to connect with the actor.
Then of course there’s the lovable Harold Lloyd who is perhaps more forgotten to today’s audiences than either Chaplin or Keaton. Lloyd’s personality is that of the everyman and he so perfectly personifies the self-motivated, go-getter attitude of the American audience in the 1920’s. With his boyish charm and round glasses to see Harold Lloyd is to instantly love him. Lloyd, like Keaton, was very much an acrobat and his stunts were so dangerous that I’ve witnessed even today’s audience’s gasp at his death-defying feats.
There were others of course. Harry Langdon still has his devout followers and Laurel and Hardy are still well known. But Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd are the best of the best. With the advent of services like Netflix and cable channels like TCM it’s easier than ever to find these silent comic gems, but like the comedic films of today half of the fun is watching them with an audience. This is why the George Eastman House and the Dryden Theatre are so important to our Rochester community.
Throughout June, you’ll have a number of chances to share with an audience the great humor of Charlie Chaplin. The big ones will be there: The Kid, The Great Dictator, and Modern Times, but don’t miss his early shorts and lesser-known movies.
Tuesday, June 07 2011, 8:00 pm Sunnyside / Payday / Shoulder Arms
Thursday, June 09 2011, 8:00 pm The Great Dictator
Sunday, June 12 2011, 2:00 pm The Circus
Tuesday, June 14 2011, 8:00 pm A Woman of Paris
Thursday, June 16 2011, 8:00 pm A King in New York
Sunday, June 19 2011, 7:00 pm Modern Times
Tuesday, June 21 2011, 8:00 pm Monsieur Verdoux
Thursday, June 23 2011, 8:00 pm The Kid
Sunday, June 26 2011, 7:00 pm City Lights
Tuesday, June 28 2011, 8:00 pm The Idle Class / A Day’s Pleasure / The Pilgrim
Thursday, June 10 2011, 8:00 pm Limelight
Buster Keaton appears in a cameo with Chaplin in 1952′s ‘Limelight’- their only on-screen pairing.
Editor’s note: Originally appeared in Democrat & Chronicle Rochester Young Professionals blog page.
Jeff Mason is a technical communications specialist for Lenel Systems
International. He also teaches a class in professional communications at the
Rochester Institute of Technology. He serves on the Eastman Young
Professionals’ Steering and Media Committees.