Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From Venice to Bologna

Three points in my timeline are about to be joined. In Bologna, Italy.

The first point is February of 1914. That's when Charlie Chaplin stepped in front of a camera in Venice, California, not long after Mack Sennett called the young Englishman to Los Angeles to try out his talent in the new medium called "movies." The name of the film was "Kid Auto Races in Venice." In that short film, Charlie appears as a character that would soon, with modifications, become famous around the world as The Little Tramp. Or, as Chaplin preferred to call him, The Little Fellow.

The second point is June of 1960. Just out of the army (ours), I lived in San Francisco and began to frequent a bar/restaurant on the waterfront in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. I went there on Tuesday nights, when they showed Chaplin shorts on a worn screen. The prints were scratchy, jumpy, pieces missing, often faded. They were silent; no accompanying musical tracks. With all its faults, I was mesmerized by the unique character and his antics - and imagination. At the still impressionable age of 25 I had discovered The Little Tramp.

David Robinson
The third point focuses on Zanesville, Ohio, fifty years later, in October of 2010. Thanks to the efforts of Lisa Stein (now with a Haven at the end), an International Chaplin Conference revealed to me just how deep and widespread the allure of Chaplin was. This was the "Charlie in the Heartland" gathering. I met people whose books, articles and restorations sat on my shelves at home:  David Robinson, Chuck Maland, Hooman Mehran, Frank Scheide, David Shepard. Countries represented included England, France, Japan, Austria, Belgium. I  couldn't believe how vital the Chaplin culture was. 
With Joe Delmore and a
genuine Chaplin derby and cane.
Chuck Maland

Most of the group. That's Lisa Haven in the
front row, 5th from the right.

It all comes together in  Bologna, 
beginning June 25th and continuing until the 28th.
Bologna, strangely enough, is just 165 km south of Venice. No auto races there, however. This is a 4-day event featuring a Who's Who of the World of Chaplin, silent films, and movie history. Besides the above mentioned, the esteemed Kevin Brownlow will be there. I met him at a Buster Keaton celebration a couple of years ago, a big day for me, a man I had admired since I had read "The Parade's Gone By...," his remarkable 1968 volume on the early history of the film industry.
The line-up for this 100th anniversary of the first appearance of The Little Tramp is too lengthy for this blog. Here's a link to information for the event.  Birth of The Tramp Celebration

I'll tell you how I feel about this celebration. It's like going to an All-Star game and getting to meet Mantle, Dimaggio, Williams, Musial and Ruth. Sorry about the sports analogy, but it'll give you an idea of the stature of these people. 

Thanks to all the dedicated people involved in putting this event together, beginning with Kate Guyonvarch, director of Roy Export S.A.S (Archives) in Paris, and Cecilia Cenciarelli and the Cinetecca Bologna. 
The Little Tramp is bigger than ever.