An Evening of (Charlie Chaplin) Humor, History and Haute Cuisine

Hanna Kennedy and Leonard Maltin at LACO’s Silent Film Gala at UCLA.

While country singer John Rich and Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin duked it out to get a Donald Trump “hire” on the Celebrity Apprentice finale, others chose to view another form of entertainment.

Angelenos and those from round the world gathered at Royce Hall for the 22nd Annual Silent Film Festival. And what a treat the evening was! The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra serenaded all night. Walt Disney’s opening cartoon, Trolley Troubles, opened the spectacular with an original score composed for this event by Alexander Rannie, who led from the keyboard. Two of Charlie Chaplin‘s films, A Dog’s Life and Shoulder Arms, were screened. Both films were distributed by First National Exhibitors’ Circuit.

Although honorary chairman Dustin Hoffman could not make the event, he sent his special recipe for Mac and Cheese served at a dinner under the stars on the Royce Hall patio. It was so delish that guests forgot that the Oscar-winning actor was not in the house. Many had seconds of his infamous dish!

Film historian and Toluca Lake resident, Leonard Maltin, who co-produced and hosted a Chaplin DVD, spoke to the crowd. “There’s a wonder of nature of live performance. But it does not give you a fraction of what it is like to be here and listen to the talented musicians playing that score and getting everything right on the nose.”

He added, “These movies were meant to be seen like this: in an audience, surrounded by like-minded people, in a darkened theatre with a screen that’s larger than life. That’s how Walt Disney made his films. Some of the films I’ve seen recently seem to be intended for iPhones!

“They’re shooting exceptionally good looking actors and you can count the pores on their skin. They may be projecting ahead to what everyone is going to be watching on a hand-held device. That’s not the case here.”

Chaplin started making his movies in 1914 and was unknown. Within one year of his debut, he was world famous. This was before television, radio, internet and all the other modern forms of communication.

The iconic actor was a man before his time. He had the foresight to build his own motion picture studio in Hollywood. (The current tenant is Jim Henson Productions. You can see a statue of Charlie Chaplin outside the studio.) At the age of 28, Chaplin was his own writer, director, producer and star.

Maltin says, “The first reels started at 10–13 minutes. The two-reel films ran 20–25 minutes. That was a very popular form of comedy. Chaplin got restless and wanted to explore. He put a little drama into his comedies and started to make longer films.” In the teens, feature films were relatively new. “While people were not seeing feature films on a regular basis, not everybody was convinced that comedy could sustain that length. Charlie took his time to extend it.”

Few know it, but Chaplin composed the music for most of his feature length films. Timothy Brock conducted the evening with a special adaptation he devised. It was performed for the very first time.

If we didn’t know any better, we’d think Chaplin was smiling and grooming his moustache from above.

Sue Facter writes about all things A-list for publications worldwide. Follow her on Twittter @TheFacter.