The Gold Rush: 90 years of classic cinema

The Gold Rush, a silent comedy directed by and staring the brilliant Charllie Chaplin, is celebrating its 90th anniversary. The filmmaker has stated on various occasions that he wished to be remembered for this film. The fact that it is now considered a classic explains why.

This happy occasion has been the pretext for the first Chaplin Festival taking place in Havana this July, with screenings of 11 feature length films and 21 shorts, as well as five documentaries about his life and work will be held in various cinemas, among them Cinema 23 and 12, home to Cuba’s national film archives.

Obviously chosen for the premier was The Gold Rush, a film which appears on all lists of the top ten best films of all time. The Gold Rush is a beautiful film, full of unforgettable moments such as “The roll dance,”as it is known, with forks stuck in two dinner rolls.

In The Gold Rush, Chaplin plays a gold hunter in Alaska, 1898. This film offers some of legendary comedian’s best moments in a perfect fusion of poetry and humor.

The comedian relates the horrors of hunger and cold, describing with precision loneliness, taking elements of expression from pantomime and convincing us that happiness is found in down the routes of love and solidarity, in the framework of magnificent economy of means. Chaplin masterfully combines humor, irony and satire, with profound drama. He brings out comedic surprises, contrasts, blunders, the absurd and grotesque, to the point of turning the film into a wonderful compendium of visual jokes. A masterpiece.

The unforgettable character, The Tramp. Photo:

Chaplin was born in 1889 in London and died in 1977, in his Corsier-sur-Vevey home in Switzerland. He cinematic debut came in 1913, and he played the character of The Tramp, wearing wide trousers, enormous shoes, a blower hat and bamboo, for the first time in Mack Sennett’s 1914 picture, Kid Auto RacesAt Venice; a role he would play in more than 60 other films.

InCrónicas, (Letras Cubanas Publishing, Havana 1976) renowned authorAlejo Carpentier describes the legendary character as such: “His silhouette alone encompasses a drama: he is the incarnation of decent misery. One last scratch of elegance revealed in his frayed tie, too-small but always buttoned jacket, his cane – refuge for all his dignity – and the ineffable bowler…”

Among the Charlie Chaplin films shown during the Festival will be the famous and memorable The Kid (1921) and City Lights (1931), one of the best films of all time, which despite being made since the introduction of sound to cinema is basically silent except for one song. It is impossible to forget Modern Times (1935) with its memorable gags, or The Great Dictator (1940), Chaplin’s first true talking picture.

And who hasn’t sung or hummed along to “Limelight,” the theme song to the film of the same name? This unforgettable composition won an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1973, 20 years later, following the film’s re-release.

Also included in the program is Chaplin’s last feature length film: A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Chaplin, and Tippi Hedren. The picture was harshly received by critics to whom Chaplin responded “Critics need an objective lesson in humor, comedy and style. The majority of them have no imagination.”

In addition to the films, the Chaplin Festival traverses a wide variety of artistic formats, with expositions, concerts and a circus performance.

Noteworthy among which is the exposition of objects belonging to Chaplin, part of Australian Paddy McDonald’s private collection formed of hundreds of documents and items related to Chaplin (posters, lobby cards, magazine covers, toy, books, postage stamps) which will be on display at the Charlie Chaplin Cinema, and the ICAIC Cinematographic Cultural Center and the National Museum of Fine Arts Library.

Another tribute will be realized by the National Symphonic Orchestra which will offer, in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre, a concert with original music by the one and only Chaplin (including “Limelight,” “Smile” and “This is my song”) in addition to some of his favorite scores under the direction of maestro Jorge López Marín, with solos by soprano Bárbara Llanes.

Circus art, immortalized on screen his classic picture The Circus (1928) could not be forgotten among these tributes, with a special function dedicated to Chaplin during the International CIRCUBA Festival 2015, scheduled for Saturday July 11, in the Carpa Trompoloco, with the presence of his son Eugene Chaplin, invited to be a member of the event judging panel.

Alejo Carpentier (Letra y Solfa: Cine, Letras Cubanas Publishing, Havana, 1989) highlights one of the key reasons why Chaplin’s film are timeless “…he never leaves us…with a bitter expression. His comedic or heart-warming adventures make up the many phases of human experience, and while sarcasm, mockery, malice are absent from his works, they can still leave us feeling melancholy, but never hopeless…If the present…usually seems bitter and hard, never loose faith in the promise of tomorrow.”

If there is perhaps one phrase by Charlie Chaplin that could stay with us forever, it would be… “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”