“The Gold Rush” at New York Film Festival
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.
Posted on October 12, 2011, in Classics, New York Film Festival 2011 and tagged Alaska, Alice Tully Hall, Charlie Chaplin, classic, Gold Rush, Little Tramp, New York Philharmonic, silent classic, silent movies, Timothy Brock. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.