“The Gold Rush” at New York Film Festival

The Little Tramp eats his shoe in "The Gold Rush."

On Monday October 10, the New York Film Festival showed a restored print of Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 silent feature “The Gold Rush,” with musical accompaniment provided by members of the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of conductor and composer Timothy Brock.  The event took place at Alice Tully Hall.

I had not seen “The Gold Rush” in many years and did not consider it to be one of Chaplin’s stronger films.  However, seeing the film in such a sparkling print, on a huge screen and accompanied by members of a world class orchestra made all the difference.  The magical thing about seeing a silent movie with great musical accompaniment, is that moment when image and music become one and, for a while, you forget that there are even musicians playing a score.  By the way, “silent” movies were never silent.  At best they were accompanied by an orchestra and, at the lower end, by a single pianist.

When it comes to Chaplin, what can I possible add to the narrative?  “The Gold Rush” is simultaneously romantic, dramatic, hilarious and sentimental.  What Chaplin was able to do, seamlessly, was take basic human emotions and needs such as loneliness, survival and love and weave them into a story about, of all things, gold prospectors in Alaska.  Chaplin plays his iconic character, the Little Tramp, looking for gold in the Alaskan wilderness, and puts him through his paces.  In the course of the film he will have near misses with gunplay, starvation, potential cannibalization and romantic disappointment.  Through it all the Little Tramp remains hopeful.

What Chaplin consistently demonstrated as a director, and as an innovator, and, what is so prominently on display in “The Gold Rush,” was a combination of simplicity and genius.  Chaplin knew how to set up a sight gag and then have the camera step back and observe.  In other words, he knew how to get out of his own way.  Contemporary directors take note. There is no constant cutting.  Yes, a close up, when needed, might be used to emphasize an emotion. For Chaplin, it was always about the master shot.  For example, the first time we see the Little Tramp he is walking nonchalantly on a snowy trail, unaware that a bear, equally nonchalant, is following right behind him.  The gag is simple and, if Monday’s audience was any barometer, hilarious.

The Philharmonic’s musicians played in perfect sync with the  film, providing sound effects as well as music.  Their wonderful contribution emphasized, while not over playing, the film’s combination of pathos and joy. In fact, I was joined by a friend who was, at the start, indifferent.  By film’s end he was a Chaplin convert.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 12, 2011, in Classics, New York Film Festival 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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